Shudder Original review: ‘The Banishing’ is overwhelming.

THE BANISHING

From acclaimed director Chris Smith comes THE BANISHING, which tells the true story of the most haunted house in England. A young reverend and his wife and daughter move into a manor with a horrifying secret. When a vengeful spirit haunts the little girl and threatens to tear the family apart, the reverend and his wife are forced to confront their beliefs. They must turn to black magic by seeking the help of a famous Occultist…or risk losing their daughter.

Portal mirror, dimensions, time loops of residual energy, religious mob, eccentric occultist, spirits with unfinished business… and Nazis? A doomed location and a church’s secret creates a perfect storm for a young family with skeletons of its own. Creepy dolls and things that go bump in the night fracture a fragile family dynamic. While British horror is a strong genre, The Banishing takes a familiar premise and cranks it beyond viability. You’ll be scratching your head as imagery rolls out… and rolls out, again.

The performances are brilliant. John Heffernan as Linus gives a fascinating and nuanced performance. Sexually repressed by choice and the church he is in denial of what is right in front of his eyes. Jealousy leads to rage and Heffernan is downright startling when it rears its ugly head. Sean Harris is a magical creature. Strawberry-dyed hair and a familiar eccentricity make Harris the only guiding light in making sense of this screenplay. I’d watch an entire series of his character’s adventures. That’s the franchise. Jessica Brown Findlay as Marianne is powerful. A palpable fear that only a mother knows seeps from her pores. Her feminist declarations will make you want to stand up and cheer.

The film’s final scene is so abrupt it’s actually irritating. This is clearly a massive plot point that is given but a moment, and that moment is the end of the film? That’s a ballsy way to, perhaps, set up a sequel. You must already have the audience on your side for that to succeed. The film is like taking every season of Ryan Murphy‘s American Horror Story and mashing them together with zero explanation. There is no consistency in the screenplay other than Marianne’s “take no shit”, anti-slut-shaming, mom-boss attitude, and Linus’ vile weakness. When you finally get to the supposed outcome with daughter Adelaide, it screams The Haunting of Bly Manor. The overall look of the film is undeniably gorgeous. Some scenes contain viscerally jarring imagery. Ultimately, Shudder subscribers can decide for themselves whether it’s overstuffed or if we’re more in a 13 Ghosts territory. You could give it a pass being that it’s based on the true story of the most haunted house in England. In my opinion, The Banishing deserves to be fleshed out as a series. Show up for the performances, the set, and the cinematography, and let me know what you think once the screen goes black for good.

THE BANISHING will stream exclusively to Shudder on April 15th in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as via the Shudder offering within the AMC+ bundle where available.

THE BANISHING

Genre: Horror

Country: United Kingdom

Runtime: 97 min

Year: 2021

Rated: NA

Starring Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey), Sean Harris (Mission: Impossible franchise), John Lynch (The Secret Garden, Black Death), and John Heffernan (Eye in the Sky) and directed by Christopher Smith (Creep, Severance, Triangle).

THE BANISHING is a WestEnd Films production.

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Review: ‘HONEYDEW’ is unsettling to say the least.

HONEYDEW

HONEYDEW tells the story of a young couple (played by Spielberg and Barr) who are forced to seek shelter in the home of an aging farmer (Kingsley) and her peculiar son when they suddenly begin having strange cravings and hallucinations taking them down a rabbit hole of the bizarre.

I first heard about Honeydew after its virtual premiere at Nightstream Film Festival. It is a miracle that I was able to avoid spoilers. I am delighted to report the intense buzz was spot on. Honeydew is that good. The sound editing and score consumed me. Combined with some split-screen deliciousness, Honeydew was dizzying madness. Writer-director Devereaux Milburn has taken the most successful aspects of classic and modern horror to create something insanely scary. It gets under your skin in a truly chilling way. The film also boasted one of the weirdest cameos ever. I did a literal double-take.

Malin Barr as Riley is amazing. Sawyer Spielberg as Sam is fantastic. The chemistry between the two actors is electric. Milburn’s dialogue allows them to convey the small cracks that exist in every relationship. These are keenly exacerbated by their bizarre circumstances. Barr and Spielberg are a hell of a pair but are also allowed to shine on their own. You’re constantly worried about them all while fascinated by their individual needs. Jaime Bradley knocks it out of the park as Gunni. What amounts to almost an entirely physical performance, he will disturb you to no end. Bradley owns every frame. Barbara Kingsley is a genius.  As Karen, she walks an extremely fine line between sweet and horrifying, leaning heavily towards the latter. The way these characters are written and the care with which they are performed culminates in one of the most uneasy watches in 2021.

There is a bit of an Ari Aster feel to the film in more than one way. Both the sound and score are keys to ramping up the fear factor. A combination of music, sound effects, and made-made noises like breath and clapping grate your nerves from start to finish. The plot is cleverly laid out for the audience from the very beginning. That does not lessen its impact as the explosive finale arrives. Once that happens, forget everything you know. I was so unsettled I didn’t know which way was up. All I can do now is cringe. Those images are burned into my brain. I’ll be eternally scarred by Honeydew‘s sights and sounds. 

Dark Star Pictures and Bloody Disgusting will release the rural horror film HONEYDEW on VOD, Digital HD, and DVD on April 13, 2021.

HONEYDEW is written and directed by Devereux Milburn (shorts “Stayed For” and “Wade”) and stars Sawyer Spielberg in his feature acting debut, Malin Barr  (Skyscraper, First Love, CBS’s “Bull”), and Barbara Kingsley (The Straight Story, “Jessica Jones”).

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

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