Review: IFC Midnight ‘THE VIGIL’ is a look at the disturbing effects of trauma.

THE VIGIL

Steeped in ancient Jewish lore and demonology, THE VIGIL is a supernatural horror film set over the course of a single evening in Brooklyn’s Hasidic Borough Park neighborhood. Low on funds and having recently left his insular religious community, Yakov reluctantly accepts an offer from his former rabbi and confidante to take on the responsibility of an overnight “shomer,” fulfilling the Jewish practice of watching over the body of a deceased community member. Shortly after arriving at the recently departed’s dilapidated house to sit the vigil, Yakov begins to realize that something is very, very wrong.

With a very similar tone as Relic, down to the infamous front door frame, The Vigil plays upon tradition, lore, and trauma. The trappings of religion are always complex. As a former Catholic, I can attest to the creepiness of essentially being told that it was a blessing to consume the metaphorical body parts of the son of God. I had to kneel at the feet of a crucified Jesus… at an altar. The more I say I say it out loud the weirder and more awful these rituals sound to my 40-year-old self. In The Vigil, Vakov is hired to sit with the body of a deceased member of the Jewish community he has just left. Already haunted by the death of someone close to him, he is consumed by hideous visions and physical manifestations of terror.

Mrs. Litvak, played by the late great Lynn Cohen, is a beautiful go-between for lore and reality. Never is the Alzheimer’s diagnosis exploited, just the mere mention is enough to ignite theories in the viewer’s mind. Cohen is simply a joy to watch. She strikes a phenomenal balance between darling and intense. Dave Davis as Yakov is outstanding. His grief anchors you in place. His vulnerability is absolutely key to this screenplay working as well as it does. His emotional transformation is astounding.

The look of the film is dark. The concept of juxtaposing old-world tradition against the modern is clever. The framing is smart. Wide panning angles force your eyes to scan the room constantly. The audio of The Vigil is a character into itself. Scraping, pounding, creaking are only the beginning of the trail of fear. 30 minutes in and the viewer is in full panic mode alongside Yakov. The idea that victims of deep trauma are the target of this entity is unbelievably cruel. The number of successful jump scares in The Vigil is unreal. Whether driven by guilt or an actual demon, this film will get under your skin. It’s a chilling experience. You’ll hopefully feel as free in the final moments as Yakov does. Writer/director Keith Thomas genuinely manages to provide equal parts fright and catharsis. It’s quite literally breathtaking.

AN IFC MIDNIGHT RELEASE | UNITED STATES | FEB 26TH, 2021 | 90 MINS | NR

Review: ‘WRONG TURN’ is an incredibly smart reboot you won’t see coming.

WRONG TURN

SYNOPSIS: Backwoods terror and never-jangling suspense meet when Jen (Charlotte Vega) and a group of friends set out to hike the Appalachian Trail. Despite warnings to stick to the trail, the hikers stray off course—and cross into land inhabited by The Foundation, a hidden community of mountain dwellers who use deadly means to protect their way of life. Suddenly under siege, Jen and her friends seem headed to the point of no return— unless Jen’s father (Golden Globe® nominee Matthew Modine) can reach them in time.

The reboot (and the seventh installment of the franchise) of Wrong Turn starts with another group of successful 20 somethings hiking the Appalachian Trail. When the local Virginians get aggravated by their presence, and they veer from the trail, things get deadly but not for the reasons you think. This script is completely different than the original, which is the greatest bait and switch from the clever set-up in the beginning. That’s the difference between a remake and a reboot. This cast is diverse and cool. They get to take their initial instigators to task, at least verbally. All the tropes are there but they’re used smartly. The first kill is so brutal you’ll both gasp and respect the decision to go all-in so early. From that moment on, the violence and gore are used for shock value that is carefully intentional in forwarding the plot.

Matthew Modine plays Jennifer’s father who comes searching for her 6 weeks after she goes missing. He is great. He walks this fantastic balance between modern man and totally self-sufficient badass that just feels incredibly believable. This is the updated father figure that will resonate with a large genre audience. It’s yet another successful aspect of screenwriter Alan B. McElroy’s reboot of the franchise. Bill Sage is a nice familiar face. He always lives in whatever role he tackles. This is no exception. Even with a runtime of one hour and fifty minutes, I would have been pleased to see more of him on screen. Charlotte Vega as Jen is outstanding. She has a genuine presence that grows stronger with each scene. There is an unexplainable accessibility to her character. Hollywood should continue to take note of this talent. Also, audiences should keep an ear open for Modine’s daughter Ruby as she sings the film’s final song. Stunning performance.

The score is classic staccato string work. Combined with the handheld camerawork and quick-cut editing, the terror is firmly in high gear. This is a totally fresh take of new world versus the old. The complexity of the script will throw you off-kilter. It challenges the viewers’ sense of morality. Who are the true villains? It’s about intrusion and disrespect of cultural differences on a multitude of levels. It’s quite brilliant in a time a faux “wokeness”. The nuance will knock you off your feet. You will not know where this plot is going. It’s twist after twist. That. Ending. Pure perfection.

Saban Films will release the horror film On-Demand, Digital, Blu-ray, and DVD on February 23, 2021. 

THEATRICAL RELEASE: January 26, 2021

ON DEMAND, DIGITAL, DVD, and BLU-RAY: February 23, 2021

DIRECTOR: Mike P. Nelson

WRITER: Alan B. McElroy

CAST: Charlotte Vega, Adain Bradley, Bill Sage, Emma Dumont, Dylan McTee, Daisy Head, Tim DeZarn, and Matthew Modine.

RUN TIME: 109 minutes

RATING: R for strong bloody violence, grisly images, and pervasive language.

GENRE: Horror

DISTRIBUTOR:  Saban Films

Review: Watch with glee as Nicolas Cage battles evil animatronics in ‘Willy’s Wonderland’

WILLY’S WONDERLAND

When his car breaks down, a quiet loner agrees to clean an abandoned family fun center in exchange for repairs. He soon finds himself waging war against possessed animatronic mascots while trapped inside Willy’s Wonderland.

So we can all agree that Nicolas Cage is now firmly his own genre, right? I can’t believe this is the same guy from Raising Arizona and National Treasure. He is a force of nature. When you’ve reached this cool of a status you can pretty much pick whatever project you want. Bless Nic Cage for providing the masses with his particular set of skills on screen. WILLY’S WONDERLAND is the perfect place for us to experience this latest chapter of “Cage rage’ with some popcorn on our couches.  As “The Janitor”, Cage’s combination of nonchalance and violence is pure badass. This is a dude comprised of mystery and soda. But for a significant part of the film, we’re actually watching him clean this place. This Academy Award-winning actor clean urinals. It’s the weirdest bit of intrigue to witness but talk about commitment. Alongside a vat filled with horror tropes, all used masterfully, this film is sure to be a cult classic. Dare I say, even franchise potential for his character? With a ragtag group of teens, townspeople in on the rouse, evil possession a la Child’s Play, WILLY’S WONDERLAND is a damn good time. The cast is so committed to this story you just get to sit back and watch with giddy energy as the mayhem ensues. The final third of the film is relentless chaos, highlighted by a 3-minute interlude of Cage improvising at a pinball machine. It’s pure magic. This is why we watch movies.

G. O. Parsons‘ screenplay is so batshit it works. A possessed weasel, a fairy, a turtle, an alligator, a chameleon, a gorilla, a knight, and an Ostrich provide us with hilarious and gruesome kills and calamity. The Janitor’s mission of cleaning this damn place will not be deterred. There will undoubtedly be comparisons to the Five Nights at Freddy’s games and The Banana Splits movie but who cares. WILLY’S WONDERLAND has execution that is out of this world. The creature, set, and prop builds are wild. Attention to detail is award-worthy. My mother used to work at a Chuck E. Cheese. The atmosphere built for Cage and company to exist in is spot on. The handheld camerawork is dizzying and fantastic. The lighting is often enhanced with a black light hue that is simply delicious. It’s a funhouse of horrors. This is a genre fan’s dream watch. The practical FX are bloodsoaked and brutal. The soundtrack is epic. You will be singing Willy’s theme over and over because it balances on the edge of maniacal, weird, and wonderful. Where can I buy that and an official Willy’s Wonderland t-shirt? I’m as deadly serious as The Janitor.

WILLY’S WONDERLAND is now available on VOD platforms

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

Shudder Original review: ‘Anything for Jackson,’ the devil is in the details.

Anything For Jackson

After losing their only grandson in a car accident, grief-stricken Audrey and Henry, a doctor, kidnap his pregnant patient with the intentions of performing a “Reverse Exorcism”, putting Jackson inside her unborn child.

The energy that this film has from the get-go is outstanding. It’s dark and disturbing and throws your understanding of morality out of whack. But it’s the nonchalance of it all that will keep you watching. Unlike creepy couples like Mommy and Daddy from The People Under The Stairs or Mickey and Mallory in Natural Born Killers, Henry and Audrey are simply so casual about everything they are about to do it’s all the more bizarre. After they perform what they believe to be a soul transference, things really go off the rails. Something has gone awry. Their grandson is not the only thing to come into their home. The arrival of a gaggle of seriously disturbing ghosts throws all their confidence out the window. Things do not go well for Audrey and Henry going forward. The devil does not care to be used. The things that appear to everyone in the house are more and more terrifying as the fallout continues. It is ceaselessly upsetting.

Performances from our three leads are outstanding. Konstantina Mantelos as young mother Shannon is the final girl we need to balance out the insanity. Her ingenuity and believable vulnerability is sheer perfection. The terror she experiences is visceral. Helped along by the ghastly practical fx and brilliant performances by the actors playing these tortured souls. The contortionist stylings of one, in particular, gave me full-body chills. The chemistry between Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings is simply magic. You believe they’ve been married for decades without a thought. They are charming in their sincerity even if their acts are atrocious.

The structure of the story roots you deep into the drama. You’re genuinely invested in everyone. Upon a second viewing, and as a Mom myself, I understand the lengths each character is going to protect their loved one. It makes the stakes so much higher. The writing and editing are top-notch. The complexity is unreal. This was a carefully crafted piece of work. If you can get me with a jump scare after 40 years of watching horror films, well done. Anything For Jackson got me… and held me down.

You will never see what’s coming from one beat to the next. Anything For Jackson will undoubtedly entertain the hell out of Shudder subscribers. They continue to kill it with their content. Anything For Jackson takes your heart and your head and mangles them both. It’s one of the year’s best genre films.

ANYTHING FOR JACKSON premieres on Shudder December 3rd in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and New Zealand

Review: ‘Thirst’ sinks its teeth into cult status.


The addict Hulda is arrested and accused of murdering her brother. After she is let go because of insufficient evidence, she meets Hjörtur, a thousand-year-old gay vampire. Together they fight a cult while being investigated by a rogue detective.

Gloriously gory and unapologetically in your face, vampire horror-comedy Thirst is a movie about a girl and her unlikely gay best friend. Poor Hulda just wants to stop being blamed for a bunch of murders and find someone to care about her for the right reasons. Poor Hjörtur just wants to play with his food, and as The Prince of Darkness, he can damn well do what he pleases. The performances are wildly funny and the chemistry between Hjörtur Sævar Steinason and Hulda Lind Kristinsdóttir is simply electric. The visual gags, quite literally, are unforgettable. The overt sexualization of the men is genius. If you know nothing going in, you know everything soon enough.

It could have been made by the same filmmakers as genre film fest favorite Fried Barry. The colors, the camera work, the visual mindfuckery. They are cut from the same weird and wonderful cloth. In Thirst, the amount of practical fx and blood are equal parts laughable and joyous. Genre fans will literally cheer. The relationship between Hulda and Hjörtur is what stays with me 12 hours after viewing. You could write an entire television series on their dynamic and I would be there to watch it. The climax of the film is nothing short of a spectacular splatterfest. Combined with the over the top power ballads(which I’m pretty sure is my favorite aspect), this is sure to reach cult status. Stick around once the credits start to roll. Your ears and eyes won’t be sorry.

Direct from a well-received festival run, where it played such fests as ScreamFest 2020, London FrightFest, and Out On Film, Thirst comes to DVD and Digital 12/1 from Uncork’d Entertainment.

From directors Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson, Gaukur Úlfars comes a high-energy thrill fest with some of the most creative films to grace a screen in years. Hjörtur Sævar Steinason, Jens Jensson, Hulda Lind Kristinsdóttir, Ester Sveinbjarnardóttir, Birgitta Sigursteinsdóttir, and Birna Halldórsdóttir star.

Direct from a well-received festival run, where it played such fests as ScreamFest 2020, London FrightFest, and Out On Film, Thirst comes to DVD and Digital 12/1 from Uncork’d Entertainment.

Shudder exclusive: ‘Blood Vessel’ is a genre mashup with bite.

Blood Vessel

A life-raft lost at sea encounters an abandoned Nazi vessel. Boarding the ship, they find a far more daunting enemy.

Totally insane and gleefully brutal, Blood Vessel, a new Shudder exclusive, is the genre mashup that we’ve been waiting for. Nazis and vampires? Yes, please. What is it with Nazi’s and their penchant for screwing with the occult? It will never end well. This ragtag crew of survivors is rife with big personalities, different accents, and abilities. While a few have a shorter shelf life (pun intended) it gives us a ton to focus on as the plot reveals itself. The camera work is awesome, from drone shots of the ocean to maneuvering inside the tight confines of a ship. The costumes are cool and period-accurate. The set design, too, puts you back in time and makes you feel the claustrophobia of the space. Kudos to the makeup team for innumerable reasons.

Performances are badass. Nathan Phillips gives a really grounded portrayal of Sinclair. As much as one can be discovering that a family of vamps are trying to kill you. Alyssa Sutherland, as a nurse who lost her daughter and husband in the war, is the sensible, even-keeled figure and voice of reason. She is fearless and kind and a nice foil for the boat’s majority of overly masculine residents. Ruby Isobel Hall is phenomenal in her timing and perceived innocence. It’s some truly nuanced work. For me, the star of this film is Alex Cooke. Frankly, I could have watched an entirely separate film of the history of his character (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, writer-director Justin Dix and writer Jordan Prosser!) His totally nonchalant epicness deserves more screen time. Cooke kills it in this role.

The most unusual aspect of Dix‘s and Prosser‘s screenplay is that I found myself questioning who the real villains are? A family is kidnapped for profit. Then said family is punished for defending itself. Our crew is merely intervening after a tragedy and gets caught in the middle. I found myself relating to the vampires as a mother, which is both weird and wonderful. While there are definitely a few telegraphed plot points, the majority of the script is super original and wild as hell. Blood Vessel could easily become a franchise based on a very satisfying ending. You’ll undoubtedly hunger for more.

 Starring Nathan Phillips (Wolf Creek), Alyssa Sutherland (Vikings), Robert Taylor (Longmire), directed by Justin Dix (Crawlspace). A SHUDDER EXCLUSIVE. (Also available on Shudder Canada and Shudder UK)

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

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: 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: 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: ‘Rent-A-Pal’ fast forwards to frightening.

Synopsis:

Set in 1990, a lonely bachelor named David (Brian Landis Folkins) searches for an escape from the day-to-day drudgery of caring for his aging mother (Kathleen Brady). While seeking a partner through a video dating service, he discovers a strange VHS tape called ​Rent-A-Pal.​ Hosted by the charming and charismatic Andy (Wil Wheaton), the tape offers him much-needed company, compassion, and friendship. But, Andy’s friendship comes at a cost, and David desperately struggles to afford the price of admission.

The era of Blockbuster store glory also coincided with those weird interaction VHS boardgames. I had one called “Nightmare” where a Gatekeeper character would give you instructions and yell at you through the screen. It was equal parts hilarious and terrifying. Rent-A-Pal is a 90’s throwback filled with psychological terror that uses the same gimmick to the nth degree. Great stationary camera work and color choices really add the somber nature of our leading man’s state of loneliness at the beginning of the film. 15 minutes of brutally sad setup leads to a seemingly simple but chilling turn in the mood. Enter Wil Wheaton as Andy, David’s Rent-A-Pal. This bargain-bin VHS shows up when David seemingly loses out on the Video-Rendevous match of his dreams. His depression is palpable in Brian Landis Folkins’ performance. But, as someone who watched the degeneration of my own grandmother due to dementia, the heavy emotion is warranted. In an attempt to make himself feel better and out of sheer curiosity, David puts in this mysterious tape and “meets” Andy. A first glance, Andy is open and a really good listener. Lying just beneath the surface are clues of the more sinister. Perhaps it’s the language and mindset of the times, but some of his dialogue is almost like today’s incels. It is downright upsetting. Heightened by the editing, we get pieces of the video as David obsesses at learning its timing so his friendship becomes as real as it can be. To a lonely and socially awkward man, Rent-A-Pal is what the internet has now become to so many. Once he feels his luck changing, David is given the chance to take the girl of his dreams out on a date, but that instant connection is thwarted by Andy. The tension built up by the performances and clever structure creates an intensely ominous feeling. You’re constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop as David’s aggression ramps up and his sanity jumps over the edge. Wheaton brings a kind of brilliance to the film that is to be applauded. He has created a fully fleshed out villain without actually interacting with his co-star… as far as we can tell for sure. There were moments where I found myself staring at the screen longer than maybe I should have, wondering if my mind was playing tricks on me or not. Rent-A-Pal will disturb you. You will want to hit rewind again and again.

RENT-A-PAL

Written and directed by Jon Stevenson

Starring: Wil Wheaton (Stand By Me, “Star Trek: The Next Generation”), Brian Landis Folkins (Hoax), Kathleen Brady (“Breaking Bad”)
and Amy Rutledge (Neighbor)

In select theaters and on-demand September 11

Review: ‘The Owners’ is a twisted home invasion.

SYNOPSIS:  A group of friends think they found the perfect easy score – an empty house with a safe full of cash. But when the elderly couple that lives there comes home early the tables are suddenly turned. As a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues the would-be thieves are left to fight to save themselves from a nightmare they could never have imagined.

The film has a simple enough setup but the script goes off the rails in the darkest way possible. There is a thread of manipulation that runs deep with Sylvester McCoy‘s dialogue. It’s not even hidden but it is enthralling to watch. As a Doctor Who and The Hobbit fan, this was so far out of the box for my experience with his persona it made my skin crawl. Can someone be too good at being bad? Maisie Williams holds her own against this maniacal couple and the group of misogynistic thugs in her sphere. The violence in the film is extremely high and she bares the brunt of much of it. Handling it like a pro, we are rooting for her survival from the very beginning. Writer-director Julius Berg (along with co-writer Matthieu Gompel) turns up the weird and evil with a subplot that is downright heinous. You’ll be sweating and yelling at the screen as you watch what happens to every single character. Another interesting subplot is centered around dementia. It goes hand in hand with manipulation but at times, you have to respect the way in which it ties in. It’s just so sick you cannot look away. The practical fx are gag-worthy but completely appropriate. I can easily admit that my anxiety was through the roof while viewing. Rita Tushingham‘s performance, in particular, gave me flashbacks to The People Under The Stairs and more recently, Villians.  Under all the madness is both one of the saddest love stories I’ve ever seen and one of the most ghoulish. The Owners is totally unexpected. The ending is like a punch in the face. There is so much happening in this film that you’ll be stuck in this whirlwind of violence and mayhem just as I was. This one will take a bit to shake.

RLJE Films will release the thriller THE OWNERS in Theaters, On Demand and Digital on September 4, 2020.

THE OWNERS  stars  Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones,” The New Mutants),  Sylvester McCoy  (The Hobbit franchise, “Doctor Who”),  Jake Curran  (Spotless”, Stardust),  Ian Kenny  (Solo: A Star Wars Story, Sing Street),  Andrew Ellis  (Teen Spirit, “This Is England”),and Rita Tushingham  (“The Pale Horse,” Vera). The film is directed by Julius Berg (“The Forest,” “Mata  Hari”) who co-wrote the film with  Matthieu Gompel (The Dream Kids).

Fantasia 2020 review: ‘Bleed With Me’ slowly drains your sanity.

During a winter getaway at an isolated cabin, a self-destructive young woman becomes convinced that her best friend is stealing her blood.

Written and directed by Amelia Moses, BLEED WITH ME is an intoxicating look at social anxiety and self-harm.  Rowan is the third wheel on a weekend getaway with her work friend Emily and her boyfriend Brendan. After passing out night one from too much alcohol, she awakes to find a cut on her arm. With traces of previously inflicted self-harm scars, Rowan seems hesitant to explain how and why it got there. As fresh cuts continue to appear and as Emily continually suggests that Rowan is ill, the three inhabitants are at odds with the dynamics developing in the small cabin. Is Rowan losing her mind? Is there a more sinister plot? Rowan’s supposed sleepwalking might be to blame.

The performances from all three are incredibly satisfying in creating honest discomfort. Aris Tyros as Brendan is a fantastic foil for both Marshall and Beatty. He is genuine and down to earth. His character’s progression is sincere and grounded. I’d love to see more of him. Beatty owns the frame with s simple gaze. Her chemistry with her castmates lies somewhere between type A, seductress, and demure when necessary. It is Marshall’s performance as Rowan that leads us down the rabbit hole. Sometimes, guided only with her heaving breath we are left to interpret what terror she (ultimately us) is in the middle of.  She is the physical manifestation, along with Moses’ script, of a panic attack.

With what feels like a psychosexual undertone, the relationship between Emily, Brendan, and Rowan has a power dynamic that feels skewed towards Emily’s liking. You can see the shift in power as Emily feels like Brendan is connecting with Rowan. While I initially setup would lead you to believe Brendan is a quiet instigator, but that quickly proves false. When untold secrets are revealed, you begin to feel more unsettled. The film’s look, essentially natural light and fireside chats make for an immediate sense of claustrophobia and foreboding. When you’re left with only your own thoughts, and perhaps the idea that someone is drugging and violating you, it can do a number on your perception of reality. I’m still pondering the ending of the film, and that’s most likely the point. I am left just as dazed as Rowan in the end. Moses has given us a frightening and panic-filled story ripe for the Fantasia 2020 audience. I would love to know what other viewers come away with. Whose side are you on? Bleed With Me is a slow-burn into madness.

Find out more about Fantasia 2020 and how to watch Bleed With Me

Fantasia 2020 review: ‘Fried Barry’ is twisted commentary of the dark side of humanity.

Fried Barry is about an abusive drug addict who gets abducted by aliens. An alien then takes his form on a jaunt through Cape Town. Spectacularly edited from the opening to the end credits, Fried Barry is a drugged induced terror trip. The imagery is stunning, using color like a character of its own. The score and sound design by Haezer is menacing and intense. This is genre madness at its finest. This is why Fantasia 2020 audiences show up.

Do not watch this film while high. It’s fucked up enough as it is. Writer/director/producer Ryan Kruger does not need you to tell him you had a complete and total mental breakdown while watching. Or perhaps that would be a compliment. Our leading, Gary Green is unreal as a man clearly effed up by aliens. His physical performance is so bizarre it’s perfection. The film is a study in human behavior from an outside perspective. It’s an actor’s dream. Green’s work is award-worthy. With very little dialogue on his end, Kruger’s screenplay allows for him to be totally weird but somehow completely believable in experiencing the complexities of the human race. Sex, drugs, people talking at one another rather than listening pretty much sums it up.

Halfway through it goes from strange to utterly dark, but you’re so far down the rabbit hole it only makes sense. There is a childlike innocence to Green at this point that will freak you out. A sick turn in the plot will throw you for yet another loop. Fried Barry‘s unpredictability is what makes it so arresting. It’s not the alien that’s frightening, it’s people.

To find out more about Fantasia 2020 and how to watch Fried Barry

Fantasia 2020: Everyone’s a critic in feminist horror ‘The Columnist’

Columnist and author Femke is flooded with anonymous nasty messages and death threats on social media. One day she has enough and decides to take revenge.

When praise is what fills your void in a world where trolls thrive, The Columnist is perfect genre therapy. Fantasia’s own pool of critics and filmmakers alike will go mad for this film for innumerable reasons. Femke is exhausted by vile comments on social media. She obsessed over them. When she decides to do something about it, her newfound violent tendencies unlock her writer’s block. But, it only lasts one article at a time. Under pressure to write a book, this becomes a real problem for Femke. It’s the performance from Katja Herbers that makes this already brilliant script from Daan Windhorst even cooler. Its dark humor could not be more satisfying. Herbers’ delivery is so casual and effortless. Truly award-worthy stuff. I think my favorite thing might be what she decides to take as a trophy. It’s the most appropriate choice that may as well be phallic. Perfection. The Columnist is the definition of feminist horror.

I have to point out a key piece to the script. The tweets and comments are heavily right-wing conspiratorial. They read like they’ve been created by a bot or as if they’re right out of the Qanon playbook; crazy and completely horrible. As a female writer, this film was far more enjoyable than perhaps my male colleagues might have found it. Is this secretly my fantasy? I’ll never tell. Words hurt. Criticism of any kind can be brutal. (And I also get the irony of that statement considering what I write.) But, the best unsolicited advice I can offer after watching The Columnist: Maybe don’t track down ppl hiding behind a small screen and murder them? Although it does make for one compelling film. “Write what you know.” So to speak.

 

NETHERLANDS  /  2020  /  84 MINS  /  OV DUTCH  /  SUBTITLES : ENGLISH
GENRE: Horror

 

Find out more about Fantasia 2020 and purchase tickets for The Columnist

Review: SHUDDER and Jay Baruchel bring you ‘Random Acts of Violence’

Comic book creator Todd Walkley (Jesse Williams), his wife Kathy (Jordana Brewster), assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson) and best friend, Hard Calibre Comics owner Ezra (Baruchel), embark upon a road trip from Toronto to New York Comic Con and bad things start to happen. People start getting killed. It soon becomes clear that a crazed fan is using Todd’s “SLASHERMAN” comic as inspiration for the killings and as the bodies pile up, and Todd’s friends and family become victims themselves, Todd will be forced to take artistic responsibility. Directed by Jay Baruchel. Premieres August 20 on only Shudder (US & UK).

Secretly centered around deep childhood trauma, Random Acts Of Violence, is one of this year’s most visually stunning horror films. Reminiscent of Creepshow with its comic book window integration, actor/producer/writer/director Jay Baruchel‘s newest feature will freak you out. The gore factor is insanely high, the kills are next level disturbing. The killer has a literal playbook. But from page to screen they are all the more unsettling. Bravo to the makeup effects team for building purely maniacal creations. But in truth, they come from Jay Baruchel’s brain. Scary shit, indeed. Performances are top-notch from everyone. The honest intensity and fear will rattle even the hardcore viewer.

The script is filled with just enough breadcrumbs to keep you invested but completely blindsided. The feminist monologue Baruchel writes for Brewster is amazing; throwing the glorification of violence against women in our faces. The psychological trauma being explored makes for such a smart screenplay. The camera work slowly reveals just how sick the premise is, how vile the imagery. And that’s coming from someone who ingests horror more than the average person probably should. Good news for Shudder, this film will reverb in viewers’ nightmares. Random Acts of Violence is anything but random. It is genre art.

RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE is available now on SHUDDER US/UK/Ireland

Review: ‘Sputnik’ is stomach churning, sci-fi glory.

SPUTNIK

Due to her controversial methods, young doctor Tatiana Yurievna (Oksana Akinshina, Lilya 4-Ever) is on the precipice of losing her medical license. Her career may not be over, though. After she’s recruited by the military, Tatiana is brought to a secure science research facility to assess a very special case, that of Konstantin Sergeyevich (Pyotr Fyodorov, The Darkest Hour), a cosmonaut who survived a mysterious space accident and has returned to Earth with a unique condition: there’s something living inside of him that only shows itself late at night. The military has nefarious plans for it. Tatiana wants to stop it from killing Konstantin. And the creature itself thrives on destruction.

This intensely dark and visually frightening sci-fi film will get under your skin and stay there. The lighting choices alone, the perpetually dark and ominous choices will throw you into a state of disorientation from the very beginning. Practical effects, mixed with stunning CGI and creature design make for an enthralling watch. Performances are so strong you will be audibly rooting for our leads. As the tension builds, so does your heart rate. Oksana Akinshina as Tatiana Yurievna is a force to be reckoned with. Her measured tenacity, boldness, and bravery jump off the screen. As the sole female, her energy is what drives this film to success. Pyotr Fyodorov as Konstantin is an entirely different animal (no pun intended). His physical and emotional arch are the perfect foil for Akinshina. The emotional energy displayed onscreen will drain you as much as it must have Fyodorov Even with a runtime of nearly 2 hrs, Sputnik keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering how it will end. So, pop some popcorn, turn down the lights, and get ready for a spine chilling tale from a secret Russian location. Sputnik will make you look differently at the stars.

Release Details: SPUTNIK opens today, Friday, August 14th, in select theaters, digital platforms, and cable VOD, courtesy of IFC Midnight.  https://www.sputnik.movie/

Director: Egor Abramenko (THE PASSENGER)
Writers: Oleg Malovichko, Andrei Zolotarev
Cast: Oksana Akinshina (LILYA 4-EVER), Pyotr Fyodorov (THE DARKEST HOUR), Fedor Bondarchuk (9TH COMPANY)
Runtime: 107 Minutes
Distributor: IFC Midnight

Review: Take the ride of your life with ‘SPREE’

SYNOPSIS: Meet Kurt (Joe Keery), a 23-year-old rideshare driver for Spree, who is so desperate for social media attention that he’ll stop at nothing to go viral. He comes up with a plan to livestream a rampage as a shortcut to infamy – coining his evil scheme “#thelesson”, he installs a set of cameras in his car and begins streaming his rides. Wildly miscalculating the popularity that would come from his lethal scheme, Kurt’s desperation grows as he tries to find a way to overcome the plan’s flaws. In the middle of all this madness, a stand-up comedian (Sasheer Zamata) with her own viral agenda crosses Kurt’s path and becomes the only hope to put a stop to his misguided carnage.

Our favorite Stranger Things ex-boyfriend, Joe Kerry, is taking social media to the extreme. Eugene Kotlyarenko’s new film is what would happen if CAM had a baby with American Psycho. Spree is a found footage post Livestream extravaganza of crazy. It hilariously holds an unfiltered phone screen up to our faces and chokes us with our own carefully curated reality. Approximately 26 minutes in my mouth literally dropped open. It would not be the last time. Spree has incredibly fun kills. The editing is head-spinning. Extra points for the double entendre title.

Joe Keery is amazing. He is in almost every shot of this film. This would not be as successful without him. Cast him in everything from here on out. The nonchalance he has with this level of violence ups the anty. Stockholm syndrome because Keery’s portrayal of Kurt is something I fully endorse. Sasheer Zamata is the audience, the antagonist, and the protagonist. This is only something that will make sense when the credits roll. She is fierce from every angle. The script is so well developed it will blow you away with its sardonic wit. The setup is pure genius. The cast is superb. It’s a nonstop adrenaline ride of gore and laughs. Spree will kick you in the teeth with its irony. And now, the only way to end this… #thelesson #KurtsWorld96 #Spree #FiveStarRating

RED BAND YOUTUBE TRAILER:

SPREE is available in select theaters, drive-ins, on-demand and digital August 14th.

IN THEATERS: August 14, 2020

AVAILABLE ON DEMAND AND DIGITAL: August 14, 2020

DIRECTOR: Eugene Kotlyarenko

WRITER: Gene McHugh, Eugene Kotlyarenko

CAST: Joe Keery, Sasheer Zamata, Mischa Barton, John DeLuca, Josh Ovalle, Lala Kent, Frankie Grande with Kyle Mooney and David Arquette

RUN TIME: 92 min

RATING: NR

GENRE: Thriller

DISTRIBUTOR: RLJE Films