Review: ‘BLACK BOX’ is one of the year’s most intense films.

BLACK BOX

Mathieu is a young and talented black box analyst on a mission to solve the reason behind the deadly crash of a brand new aircraft. Yet, when the case is closed by the authorities, Mathieu cannot help but sense there is something wrong with the evidence. As he listens to the tracks again, he starts detecting some seriously disturbing details. Could the tape have been modified? Going against his boss’ orders, Mathieu begins his own rogue investigation – an obsessional and dangerous quest for the truth that will quickly threaten far more than his career…


The first thing you’ll notice about Black Box is the sharp cinematography work. It’s unmissable as the film opens in one long take. The camera glides from inside the cockpit, down the aisles, into the rear of the aircraft, to land squarely on the titular object. It’s a stunning and terrifying beginning of a taut thriller. Mathieu is a gifted acoustic engineer tasked with transcribing the audio that leads up to the crash of Atrian 800, where 300 passengers and 16 crew members perished. When details begin to shift, Mathieu’s obsession with the truth spirals. 

Paired with the Netflix documentary Downfall: The Case Against BoeingBlack Box is even more frightening. Aviation insider politics adds an additional layer of suspense. My heart was in my throat every second of this film. Writer-director Yann Gozlan, alongside screenwriter Nicolas Bouvet-Levrard, and collaborator Jérémie Guez (The Night Eats The World, one of my favorite films), cleverly compounds conspiracy theories and intertwine them with raw emotion.

Watching the physical process of removing the voice recording apparatus is fascinating. To understand that such a small piece of equipment contains the key to such pertinent knowledge astounds. But ultimately, it’s a human being that leads to a conclusion. 

Pierre Niney as Matthieu gives a brilliant performance, luring you in with measured intensity. The nuance Niney presents hit differently for me as a mother of a neurodivergent child. Niney presents the physical aspects of an individual with Sensory Processing Disorder. Some people with neurotypical children don’t know that this can actually be a superpower. Ultra-sensitive auditory issues are both a blessing and a curse. Niney also brings emotional trauma, heightening Matthieu’s intention. Niney is, simply put, astonishing. 

The recreations of the crash circumstances and recovered wreckage have a visceral effect. The editing is award-worthy. In a narrative where the audience believes they have the entire picture, tweaking that understanding jars the brain. This evolving monster of a mystery slowly and relentlessly squeezes the air out of your lungs. After watching Black Box, I don’t know when I’ll be comfortable flying again. 


Directed by
Yann Gozlan

 

Cast
Pierre Niney, Lou de Laâge, André Dussollier

Opening

NYC – Village East by Angelika – 4/29/2022

LA – Laemmle Glendale – 5/6/2022


2022- France – Thriller – 129 mins
In French with English subtitles


Review: Malin Akerman and Lorenza Izzo star in the taut thriller ‘THE AVIARY.’

THE AVIARY

SYNOPSIS: Malin Akerman and Chris Messina star in the twisted journey of two women’s desperate flee to escape the clutches of Skylight, an insidious cult. Lured in by the promise of “freedom” in the isolated desert campus called “The Aviary”, Jillian (Akerman) and Blair (Lorenzo Izzo) join forces to escape in hopes of real freedom. Consumed by fear and paranoia, they can’t shake the feeling that they are being followed by the cult’s leader, Seth (Messina), a man as seductive as he is controlling. The more distance the pair gains from the cult, the more Seth holds control of their minds. With supplies dwindling and their senses failing, Jillian and Blair are faced with a horrifying question: how do you run from an enemy who lives inside your head?


Two women attempt to escape a cult by hiking through the desert. When plans go awry, deception, confusion, and brainwashing pit them against one another. 

While we only see Chris Messina as cult leader Seth in brief moments, they are undoubtedly impactful. With his calm yet persuasive demeanor, it is easy to see why these characters fell under his spell from the very beginning. Lorenza Izzo plays Blair with unbridled, vibrating energy that is captivating. You clock every single beat in her eyes. Malin Akerman‘s confidence as Jillian makes her a perfect foil for Izzo. Akerman walks a fine line between vulnerable and secretive. She’s frighteningly good. 

The screenplay’s wordplay, score, and scene blocking heightened every moment. There was never a dull moment. The endless mindfuckery rubbed my nerves raw. I found I had left fingernail impressions on my palms without realizing it. The paranoia and tension in the dialogue had my head spinning. Are these women gaslighting one another, is one of them a villain and is this even real? These are some of the questions I had while sorting through the madness that is The Aviary

You cannot ignore the comparisons with Scientology and Rajneeshees. The final 20 minutes had me on the edge of my seat. If you think you know where this story is going, think again. The Aviary is a whirlwind of manipulative tactics. It’s fantastic. 


In Theaters, on Digital, and On Demand April 29, 2022


WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY: Chris Cullari & Jennifer Raite

STARRING: Malin Akerman, Lorenza Izzo, Chris Messina, Sandrine Holt

RUN TIME: 96 minutes

RATING: Rated R for language and some violent content.

GENRE: Thriller


OPENING THEATERS INCLUDE:

NEW YORK CITY – Cinema Village

LOS ANGELES – Lumiere Cinema

 

ATLANTA – Studio Movie Grill Marietta

CLEVELAND – Atlas Diamond Center

DETROIT – Emagine Royal Oak

HOUSTON – Studio Movie Grill Pearland

MINNEAPOLIS – Emagine Eagan

ORLANDO – Studio Movie Grill Sunset Walk

PHILADELPHIA – Westown Movies

TAMPA – Studio Movie Grill Seminole


Fantaspoa 2022 review: ‘FOLLOW HER’ is a clever social media revenge thriller.

Director Sylvia Caminer brings her new film Follow Her to Fantaspoa 2022. It features Dani Barker as social media up-and-comer Jess as she grinds away, posting live videos about her various paid gigs. When a glitch in her facial blur app causes an online frenzy, Jess must navigate not only a barrage of new followers and mixed comments but a new job offer. A meta revenge thriller, Follow Her, will have your heart in your throat.

Luke Cook plays Tom, the man who hires Jess to assist him in writing an erotic thriller. He’s effortless suave and ceaselessly witty. It is tricky to distinguish between written dialogue and what might be improved. The script allows him to play up the maniacal angle. You’re still rooting for him as a genre fan. Cook is exceptionally enigmatic, and Dani Barker keeps up with his energy. 

Barker plays double duty as Jess and screenwriter. She bears a striking resemblance to Kate Hudson and Chloe Fineman and possesses the charm of both combined. Barker understands the complexities of social media and the myriad of baggage that can accompany the lifestyle. She’s given audiences a slick screenplay.

Follow Her would make a great triple feature evening with CAM and Spree. Overall, the meta aspect of the screenplay comes into focus at around the 38-minute mark. The innate anxiety of being a woman alone with a man is front and center. Follow Her had me in full panic mode at 45 minutes. Each consecutive beat skillfully ups the ante. It speaks to the dark side of the internet age, gigging, vulnerability, sexual control, greed, and the consequence-free world we see more and more. Barker cleverly utilizes horror tropes and acknowledges them directly. Fantaspoa 2022 audiences are in for a treat. Genre fans will go nuts for this killer film. I’d “like & subscribe” for franchise development.


FOLLOW HER screens as part of Fantaspoa 2022. For more information on the festival, please visit www.fantaspoa.com.


SXSW 2022 review from Unseen Films: ‘The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See The Titanic’ (2021)

The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See The Titanic

One of the great finds at SXSW, this is the story of Jaakko a  blind movie fan who has a long-distance relationship with a disabled woman he has never met in person. Because he is also in a wheelchair Jaakko’s mobility is limited so they have been unable to work out meetings. When circumstances take a turn Jaakko decides he has to make the trek to his lady love.

Beautiful romance turns thriller as we worry how this is all going to go. Things are made tenser thanks to director Teemu Nikki shooting the film to simulate blindness. Anything outside of our focus is blurry we can’t really see around Jaakko. It’s a genuine claustrophobia that heightens everything.

What makes this film work are the people. Everyone is wonderful. Actually, Petri Poikolainen as Jaakko is magnificent. This is an Oscar-worthy performance. It’s stunning. Poikolainen is so good that I want to see him in more films,  he’s so good that he makes it clear that we need to hire more people with disabilities. (Poikolainen is blind and has MS)

Highly recommended. This is one of the great finds of the festival


To read more of Steve’s coverage of SXSW22, head to Unseen Films!


SXSW 2022 review: Winona Ryder stars in ‘THE COW,’ a twisted thriller you won’t see coming.

THE COW

Upon arriving at a remote cabin in the redwoods, Kath and her boyfriend find a mysterious younger couple already there — the rental has apparently been double-booked. With nowhere else to go, they decide to share the cabin with these strangers until the next morning. When her boyfriend disappears with the young woman, Kath becomes obsessed with finding an explanation for their sudden breakup— but the truth is far stranger than she could have imagined.


A twisted moral mystery, Winona Ryder stars in SXSW22 narrative feature THE COW. Continuing Ed teacher Kath is dating one of her students. He is younger and on a different wavelength. Max suggests a surprise weekend away. When they arrive at a remote cabin, there’s another couple already there. After agreeing to share the space for the night, Max disappears with the other young woman; Kath is now left in the lurch. As she seeks closure, it turns out there’s more to the story. Where did Max go? Who is this mysterious woman? Welcome to the unreal journey that is THE COW.

John Gallagher Jr is charming and a fresh foil for a more level-headed Ryder. Brianne Tju plays Greta with a sharp edge that makes you want to punch her. When you watch, you’ll understand that this is a compliment. Owen Teague‘s performance is more nuanced than at first glance. His emo nature has a grounded backstory. Dermot Mulroney brings a rugged charm that is irresistible. His chemistry with Ryder feels pitch-perfect. 

Winona Ryder‘s journey feels just right. Blindsided at every turn, she keeps her cool for the most part. The way the script is structured we know more than Kath. This keeps Ryder relatable throughout. I know you’ll agree with me even as the screen goes black. Her final moments are pretty glorious. Fans of Ryder’s work, anything from Beetlejuice to Stranger Things, will love seeing her back on the big screen. We’ll take her wide-eyed wonder in any form.

THE COW is sure to intrigue any audience, thanks to director Eli Horowitz, who co-writes the screenplay with Matthew Derby. A great score from David Baldwin and solid editing back up this phenomenal script. HBO should tap these two for literally any upcoming series pitch. They are a hell of a team. A slow-burn plot holds you with tidbits of information in the form of flashbacks. Twist after twist glues you to your seat and the final 30 minutes had me yelling over and over, “What?!”


Director:

Eli Horowitz

Producer:

Raphael Margules, JD Lifshitz, Shaun Sanghani, Russ Posternak

Screenwriter:

Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby

Cinematographer:

David Bolen

Editor:

Arndt-Wulf Peemöller

Production Designer:

Susannah Honey

Music:

David Baldwin

Principal Cast:

Winona Ryder, Dermot Mulroney, John Gallagher Jr, Owen Teague, Brianne Tju


To learn more about SXSW22 click here!


SXSW 2022 review: ‘SOFT & QUIET’ and infuriating and terrifying and brilliant.

SOFT & QUIET

Playing out in real time, SOFT & QUIET is a runaway train that follows a single afternoon in the life of Emily, an elementary school teacher. Emily organizes the inaugural club mixer of like-minded women, and she indoctrinates them into her sisterhood. When they all decide to move the meeting to Emily’s house, they stop at the local store to pick up refreshments, where an altercation breaks out between two sisters and the club that spirals into a volatile chain of events.


Having a film run in real-time is already bold. In Soft & Quiet, that is the tip of the iceberg. Essentially, a group of Karens sharing their super racist views embrace each other at their first official group meeting. The dialogue takes every offensive, cliché, and horrifying thing spewed over the internet, heard on cell phone footage, and in national rallies, especially since Obama was running for office. Government suspicion, recruiting, homeschooling, The Constitution, traditional family, you name it, the subject appears in this script. It’s like reading through the comments section on Facebook or 8chan. It’s terrifying. 

Handheld camerawork immerses the viewer inside the film, moving from speaker to speaker, moving with the action. The amount of rehearsal this must have required is mind-boggling. The subtle digs are clever. Leslie’s jacket reads “Lieben Zu Hassen” which translates from German to English as “Love To Hate.” I have to hand it to this cast. It is the nonchalance that kills you. To say vitriolic things and act in such a vile manner, you have to trust your director and your fellow cast members. The hidden humor of these women traveling in a minivan is unmissable.

As you awkwardly cringe at the horror of it all, your level of anticipation simmers wildly. It’s so uncomfortable your palms will sweat. The film is sliced right down the middle. The first half respects the title, and the second half goes off the rails. As the terror increases, your heart will be in your throat. Soft & Quiet is a powder keg. It is pure rage-fueled, technically coordinated, chaos. This film deserves a hard and loud standing ovation for writer-director Beth de Araújo. This is a thrilling masterpiece. 


Director:

Beth de Araújo

Executive Producer:

Robina Riccitiello

Producer:

Josh Peters, Saba Zerehi, Joshua Beirne-Golden, Beth de Araújo

Screenwriter:

Beth de Araújo

Cinematographer:

Greta Zozula

Editor:

Lindsay Armstrong

Production Designer:

Tom Castronovo

Sound Designer:

William Tabanou

Music:

Miles Ross

Principal Cast:

Stefanie Estes, Olivia Luccardi, Eleanore Pienta, Dana Millican, Melissa Paulo, Jon Beavers, Cissy Ly

Additional Credits:

Jon Cooper: First Assistant Camera, Matt Hadley: Gaffer, Elodie Ichter: Colorist, Bridget Bruce: Costume Designer, Jillian Johns: Costume Designer, Music Supervisor: Ella Sahlman


To learn more about SXSW22 click here!


Sundance (2022) review: ‘WATCHER’ is a slow-burn story of gaslighting and daily dread.

WATCHER

Julia joins her husband when he relocates to his family’s native Romania for a new job. Having recently abandoned her acting career, she finds herself frequently alone and unoccupied.


Maika Monroe has solidified herself as a genre darling. If you somehow missed her It Follows or Villains, she’s a captivating performer. In Watcher writer-director, Chloe Okuno introduces us to a young couple’s international move to Bucharest takes a terrifying turn. A string of local murders haunts Julia as she spends her days alone and becomes aware of a neighbor staring at her from his apartment each night. Watcher takes you on a journey of cultural clash, instinct, and terror.

The film echoes the ingrained fear that women endure daily. We constantly live in a heightened state of awareness and anxiety that is exhausting. But it’s not only that aspect; it’s the gaslighting that might be more impactful than anything else and, its ensuing isolation can feel all-consuming. Monroe is in almost every frame. Her mindset will be all too familiar for the female audience. The sense that someone is a bit too close, looking at you a moment too long, and in many cases, we are helpless. What Monroe brings bravery to Julia that allows the viewer to be cautiously optimistic about her safety. Okuno and Zach Ford‘s script gives her a sense of action while maintaining fragility. It’s the moments of courage that we get to root for while simultaneously biting our nails. It’s a beautiful balance. Benjamin Kirk Nielsen‘s cinematography combined with Okuno’s blocking also put the viewer in Julia’s state of peril. Accompanied by a string-heavy score is everything we need it to be. The emotional manipulation in this film is sheer brilliance. While it’s not necessarily a new storyline, it is the bold approach that sets it apart. Watcher will have you maniacally screaming at the screen in terror and frustration. Sundance audiences are in for a ride.


To find out more about the entire Sundance 2022 lineup, click here!


Blood In The Snow (2021) review: ‘PEPPERGRASS’ is a compelling thriller.

During a pandemic, a pregnant restaurateur tries to rob a priceless truffle from a reclusive veteran.


Peppergrass is a slow-burn thriller that ultimately turns into a survival film. It builds a similar tension that Alone did. Not exactly the horror I was expecting from Blood in The Snow, but it is, nonetheless intriguing as hell. You must have patience for the first third is heavy character building. As our two protagonists botch their unusual robbery, the camera continues its handheld intimacy. Forced into the dark woods, Eula attempts to make it to the car in one piece. This becomes more complicated a task as the landscape is unkind to a pregnant person.

Chantelle Han gives it her all as Eula. As the plot roles out in a mostly real-time fashion, the audience watches her physically and emotionally tap out at certain points. But it is when she barrels through the cold, darkness, and imminent threat that makes her a total badass. Han is the driving force of Peppergrass.

At times, the score is this curious mix of ominous whimsy and borderline grating organ tones. It refuses to be ignored. Peppergrass is nothing like I expected. It places you inside the action because there is literally nowhere else to go. The danger and isolation are palpable. It’s a solid film.


For more info on BITS 2021 click here!


Review: ‘IDA RED’ – a family crime drama where performances rule all.

Crime boss Ida “Red” Walker (Oscar® winner Melissa Leo*) turns to her son, Wyatt (Josh Hartnett), to pull off one last heist to get out of prison. But with the FBI closing in, Wyatt must choose between family and freedom in this high-octane thriller.


IDA RED opens up with honest to goodness tense action. Come to find out, half of it is a whole lot of bait and switch. The script has plenty of surprising revelations. It is undeniably engaging, from the shocking violence to the keen character building.

Frank Grillo, as Dallas Walker, is as epic and as he is evil, with an IDGAF aura. It’s one hell of a performance. Melissa Leo is Ida. Her uncanny ability to own the screen with nothing but a look gets me every time. This crime family matriarch rules from prison with an iron fist and favoritism. And, damnit, the fact that it’s a woman makes my heart skip a beat. More of this, please.

Sofia Hublitz, who is fantastic on Ozark, plays Darla Walker. She’s the youngest troublemaker of this family unit. Hublitz walks the perfect line between innocence and passionate anger. Josh Hartnett, as Wyatt Walker, is the unwaveringly loyal son. Hartnett’s multiple-year hiatus from the big screen was noticed, especially by those of us who grew up alongside him in movies like The Faculty, Pearl Harbor, and Sin City. Whenever I do see him nowadays, I am reminded immediately of his immense talent. He’s got a coolness to him that you can’t teach. As Wyatt, his familial devotion is palpable, to a fault. IDA RED allows him to play the full spectrum of emotions. 

The soundtrack boasts some of the coolest (and strangest) choices. I was obsessed. IDA RED could have been a limited series. As it stands, it’s a solidly done family crime drama, possessing fully fleshed-out, massively flawed characters with incredible actors breathing life into them. I recommend a watch.


Watch the trailer:

Saban Films will release the action/crime/thriller IDA RED in Theaters, On Digital, and On Demand on November 5, 2021.


IDA RED is written and directed by John Swab (Body Brokers, Let Me Make You a Martyr) and stars Josh Hartnett (Wrath of Man, “Penny Dreadful”), Sofia Hublitz (“Ozark”), William Forsythe (The Devil’s Rejects, Raising Arizona), Deborah Ann Woll (“True Blood”), Frank Grillo (Boss Level, The Purge franchise), and Academy Award winning actress Melissa Leo (The Fighter, Prisoners, Frozen River).


 

Review: ‘DASHCAM’ makes your palms sweat in anticipation.

DASHCAM

DASHCAM is a psychological thriller following Jake—a timid video editor at a local news channel who fantasizes about becoming a reporter. While editing a piece on a routine traffic stop that resulted in the death of a police officer and a major political official, Jake is inadvertently sent dashcam video evidence that tells a completely different story. Working alone from his small apartment in NYC, Jake uses his skills as an editor to analyze the footage and figure out the truth behind what actually happened. Has Jake uncovered a conspiracy that he can break on the morning news? Or is he seeing things that aren’t really there?


The film’s release comes in the tumultuous aftermath of a bloody year between citizens and police. A large number of incidents were either recorded by bystanders or bodycam footage. Some kept from the public for too long. We’ve all seen these tapes by now. They were impossible to avoid. In writer-director Christian Nilsson’s DASHCAM, we watch a young, ambitious editor become an armchair detective in real-time. Jake is intrigued by the information accidentally sent via email. Could he have uncovered a larger story? Could this be his big break? 

Larry Fessenden plays Former Attorney General Dan Lieberman. He’s a legend, so it’s no surprise that what is essentially equivalent to a radio play for him is an outstanding performance. Zachary Booth, as Jake, has fearless energy and an intoxicating excitement that passes through the screen to the viewer. I would watch him in anything.

Your pulse will be pounding watching this mystery unfold through live, minute-to-minute editing. If you didn’t respect the process of editing before now, DASHCAM changes that. Bow down to these gods. You can thank Terence Krey for this particular film. Nilsson nails the conspiracy theory vibes. DASHCAM plays on our innate need to discover the truth, whatever that means to each of us as individuals. It’s nothing short of riveting.


Dashcam, written and directed by Christian Nilsson, is available On Digital October 19 from Kamikaze Dogfight and Gravitas Ventures.

Grimmfest (2021) capsule review: ‘Seagull’ captivates with deep trauma.

SEAGULL

After 8 years survival on a beach, Rose returns to her home town to settle unfinished business.


A portrait of mental health, gaslighting, and abuse, Seagull exposes one family’s dark secrets. The script is a slow-burn mystery with a creative, physical manifestation of grief and betrayal. Rose has exiled herself for eight years; her family disowned her. As the plot reveals itself, this dysfunctional family unit must confront its part. While I predicted the overall arc, this does not lessen the emotional impact of writer-director Peter Blach‘s choices. The best performances come from Gabrielle Sheppard as Rose and Adam Radcliffe as Geoff. Sheppard gives power to Rose. Her vulnerability and strength shine off the screen. With James Abbott and Blach’s script, Radcliffe is allowed to play the entire spectrum of emotions. He is terrifying. The cinematography by Rami Bartholdy is breathtaking. The film gets under your skin and lingers there. Seagull has an ending so satisfying, Grimmfest audiences will get their catharsis, and in true genre fashion.




Grimmfest (2021) review: ‘We’re All Going To The World’s Fair’ showcases the terror of living online.

WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR

I want to go to the World’s Fair. I want to go to the World’s Fair. I want to go to the World’s Fair.” Say it three times into your computer camera. Prick your finger, draw some blood and smear it on the screen. Now press play on the video. They say that once you’ve seen it, the changes begin… In a small town, a shy and isolated teenage girl becomes immersed in an online role-playing game.


Voyeuristic intimacy meets horror internet challenge We’re All Going To The World’s Fair speaks directly to the danger of the YouTube generation. Casey is a loner who seeks refuge online. When she takes an internet challenge, something that has had real-life, deadly consequences in recent years, her small world gets vastly stranger. We’re All Going To The World’s Fair tackles many weighty subjects; loneliness, depression, mental illness, identity, and gullibility. There’s the parent/child dynamic that, when present, is filled with fear and emotional abuse. 

Michael J Rogers plays JLB with majorly creepy vibes. From his voice to his subtle physicality, Rogers embodies a chilling persona. The viewer is left to interpret his intentions. It is a disturbing performanceAnna Cobb‘s feature debut is a powerhouse. What a fearless and natural performance. She exudes innocent charm. She’s a loner, clearly not by choice. Once the challenge creeps into her psyche, this becomes something altogether different. Wow, cannot even begin to describe the arc, both physically and emotionally. It’s a stunning turn.

Writer-director-editor Jane Schoenbrun paints a bleak picture of Casey’s hometown. Long takes, some through Casey’s laptop and others handheld, give the film a gritty feel. The lengthy scenes put so much of the film’s success directly onto Anna Cobb’s shoulders. She has a massive responsibility to fill the screen, and she pulls it off like gangbusters. A bonus, the soundtrack is cool as hell. The ending is ambiguous. Something about it is perfectly unsettling. 


[Available October 16, 2021, 1:30 – 11:30 PM] Watch now online…


Review: Go home, ‘American Night’, you’re drunk.

AMERICAN NIGHT

Art and life collide in this stylish and wildly entertaining neo-noir thriller. When a highly coveted Andy Warhol painting suddenly surfaces, it triggers a chain reaction of danger-filled events for a colorful group of characters including: a forger turned art dealer (Jonathan Rhys Meyers); a mobster and painter (Emile Hirsch) with a penchant for scorpions; a seductive museum conservator (Paz Vega); and a stuntman and wannabe ninja (Jeremy Piven). Filled with daring double-crosses and surprising twists and turns, the race for the painting comes to an explosive conclusion…one American Night.


Playing like a graphic novel, with characters’ names scrawled next to their introduction, the gunfire is chaotic and aplenty. I watched this a 2-hour film a second time to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I think I still am. Even after my second viewing, American Night remains confusing in its non-linear storytelling. Listen, I wanted to love this film. The potential is there.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers does his best to make American Night engaging. His character, John, attempts to make amends in love and begin an honest career. He’s strong as ever, in true neo-noir fashion. Though try as he might, he cannot hold up an uneven narrative that relies on cliché over concept. Jeremy Piven steals the show. The seriousness in which his character desires to be a ninja becomes the much-needed levity in all these convoluted shenanigans. I would happily watch an entire film about him. Emile Hirsch is the son of a New York City Mafia boss Michael Rubino, whose love of art plays above all else. That, and perhaps, his ego and an incredibly random love for scorpions. The performance goes from levelheaded to absurd based on the script. Hirsch takes it all in strive with 100% commitment.

Here’s what doesn’t work for me; it takes 1 hour and 25 minutes for the stories to finally overlap after living them from different perspectives. The runtime would benefit from a 20-minute shave. Some of the delivery from ancillary characters reads as hokey. Okay, a lot of the dialogue does. The film includes one of the most ridiculous sex scenes ever. It seems like a laughable excuse to have Paz Vega appear naked onscreen.

Here’s what’s great; the framing of scenes, the use of neon, and the main cast. The final reveal occurs 5 seconds before the credits. Oh, the credits. If the visual continuity of the rest of the film was as snappy as this, American Night would have made a slicker impact. This is the pop art-inspired, cool factor that could have punched up the film into cult status. It’s got a real Pulp Fiction energy, but a lot has to be done for this to be a cinematic work of art.


In Theaters, on VOD, and Digital October 1, 2021


Directed by: Alessio Della Valle

Written by: Alessio Della Valle

Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Emile Hirsch, Jeremy Piven, Paz Vega, Michael Madsen

Run Time: 123 minutes

Rating: R

Genre: Thriller, Action


 

Review: ‘SURGE’ is a portrait of human implosion and an awards vehicle for Ben Whishaw.

SURGE

Joseph (Ben Whishaw, PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER, the upcoming James Bond film NO TIME TO DIE) is trapped in a soulless job, living a life devoid of emotion and meaning. After an impulsive act of rebellion, Joseph unleashes a wilder version of himself. He is propelled on a reckless journey through London, ultimately experiencing what it feels like to be alive. Whishaw won the Special Jury Award for his role in the film at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.


SURGE feels like watching a powder keg about to explode. For a film that might seem to begin with inane tasks, the simmering tension becomes consuming. Once that fuse is lit, SURGE is a relentless display of emotional pyrotechnics. The handheld camera work is dizzying, placing the audience in Joseph’s physical frenzy. There are entire scenes without cuts. This is what a master class in performance looks like. Director Aneil Karia, cinematographer Stuart Bentley, and Ben Whishaw had to have established absolute trust to pull this off.

There is underlying violence that feels inevitable as Joseph begins to break. There may be a suggestion of hidden trauma. Ben Whishaw plays every beat with his whole body. His minute idiosyncrasies create an entire backstory. Compounding micro-aggressions lead to ticks, and then ultimately, a total breakdown in civilized behavior. He becomes manic. This is the epitome of base instinct. Whishaw will have you teetering on the brink of terror and awe. He is sensational.

Your heart will be your throat, unable to comprehend how this film could get any more intense. And yet, the stakes just keep getting higher. It felt like a panic attack. The end of the film is only cathartic in the physical sense. A mysterious sadness still hangs over Joseph’s fate. It’s such a bold choice. The combination of this script, Ben Whishaw’s performance, and Karia’s direction make SURGE an unstoppable force.


Debuts September 24th In Theaters
On-Demand Everywhere October 25th

Director: Aneil Karia
Written by: Rita Kalnejais, Rupert Jones
Story by: Rita Kalnejais, Aneil Karia, Rupert Jones
Produced by: Julia Godzinskaya, Sophie Vickers
Co-Producer: Scott O’Donnell
Director of Photography: Stuart Bentley, B.S.C.
Editor: Amanda James
Genre: Thriller
TRT: 105 minutes


 

GRIMMFEST turns lucky 13 for this year’s hybrid addition. Here are some of the films we’re screaming about.

GRIMMFEST 2021

It’s no secret that the most buzz-worthy films come through only a handful of genre festivals. GRIMMFEST is on that shortlist. The festival turns a lucky 13 this year and it’s ready to rock audiences’ socks with a plethora of titles for every single viewer. After being completely virtual last year, a hybrid platform is back in action with a mix of in-person screenings from October 7th to 10th and online from October 14th to 17th. I can say that this year’s lineup is filled with everything from gore to absurdity, thrills to purest moments of wow. These are the films that will be on everyone’s lips. You can find out about tickets and schedules at https://grimmfest.com/

Do yourself a favor and mark your calendars now. There’s a lot to see.


THE BETA TEST

A Hollywood agent, engaged to be married in a few weeks, receives a mysterious letter inviting him for an anonymous sexual encounter and thus becomes ensnared in a sinister world of lying, infidelity, and digital data.

This genre-shattering film takes aim at Hollywood, toxic masculinity, horror, satire, all with co-writer-director Jim Cummings playing a sharp lead. His last film, The Wolf Of Snow Hollow, has a legit cult following now. Cummings has a distinct voice and I cannot wait to see if The Beta Test becomes another calling card on his resume.


THE RIGHTEOUS

A burdened man feels the wrath of a vengeful God after he and his wife are visited by a mysterious stranger…

There is something so striking about modern black & white cinematography. in The Righteous, writer-director Mark O’Brien also stars as the mysterious stranger in question. This horror film is filled with symbolism and will give any god-fearing viewer the vapers.


WHEN THE SCREAMING STARTS

When the Screaming Starts is a comedy-horror mockumentary about an inept, aspiring serial killer at the beginning of his “career” and a fledgling filmmaker willing to do anything to achieve his ambition.

A little bit of Vicious Fun meets Satanic Panic, I cannot wait to laugh and gag. Horror and comedy pair so well together and since everyone is a true-crime connoisseur who thinks they could commit the perfect murder, I am delighted to consume this one.


THE SPORE

The lives of ten strangers intersect through a terrifying chain of events as a mutating fungus begins to spread through a small town wiping out everyone that comes into contact with it.

Will this film be a little too close to home considering we’re still experiencing a global pandemic? I guess we’ll find out when we’re forced to look through the lens of writer-director D.M Cunningham.


HOTEL POSEIDON

Dave inherited the dingy and dilapidated Hotel Poseidon from his late father. He lives there and works as manager, and rarely seems to leave the place. The days and nights all bleed together. His existence is a hopeless one. When a young woman knocks at the hotel’s doors one night looking for a room, and his best friend shows up wanting to throw a party in the backroom, Dave’s world starts to spiral out of control, and his sense of reality starts to be shaken by recurring nightmares.

I have seen the title sequence for this film and it is hands down one of the coolest in all of cinematic history. I said what I said. If the rest of the film lives up to the initial visual, Hotel Poseidon will wow Grimmfest audiences.


ALONE WITH YOU

As a young woman painstakingly prepares a romantic homecoming for her girlfriend, their apartment begins to feel more like a tomb when voices, shadows, and hallucinations reveal a truth she has been unwilling to face.

Listen, you tell me Barbara Crampton is in a film and I’m watching it. Add on Emily Bennett who was fantastic in King Of Knives last year and I’m sold. Not only does she star, but she co-wrote and co-directed the film. Give me an all-female horror film every day of the year.



FULL VIRTUAL FESTIVAL LINE UP:

● FOR ROGER (Aaron Bartuska, USA)

● FATHER OF FLIES (Ben Charles-Edwards UK / USA)

● SLAPFACE (Jeremiah Kipp, USA)

● THE NIGHTS BELONG TO THE MONSTERS (Sebastian Perillo, Argentina)

● HAPPY TIMES (Michael Mayer, Israel / USA)

● NIGHT AT THE EAGLE INN (Erik Bloomquist, USA)

● VAL (Aaron Fradkin, USA, 77 min)

● THE SPORE (D.M. Cunningham, USA)

● THE PIZZAGATE MASSACRE (John Valley, USA)

● MOTHERLY (Craig David Wallace, Canada)

● SHOT IN THE DARK (Keene McRae, USA)

● NIGHT DRIVE (Brad Baruh, USA)

● MIDNIGHT (Oh-seung Kwon, South Korea)

● FACELESS (Marcel Sarmiento, USA)

● WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR (Jane Schoenbrun, USA)

● THE FREE FALL (Adam Stillwell, USA)

● ON THE THIRD DAY (Daniel de la Vega, Argentina)

● THE GUEST ROOM (Stefano Lodovichi, Italy)

● HOTEL POSEIDON (Stefan Lernous, Belgium)

● FORGIVENESS (Alex Kahuam, Mexico)

● TWO WITCHES (Pierre Tsigaridis, USA)

● KING KNIGHT (Richard Bates Jnr, USA)

● TARUMAMA / LLANTO MALDITO (Andres Beltran, Colombia)

● THE RIGHTEOUS (Mark O’Brien, Canada)


 

Passes and tickets can be purchased from www.grimmfest.com.

Review: ‘Small Engine Repair’ Explores Toxic Masculinity with Thrilling Effect.

SMALL ENGINE REPAIR

Frankie (John Pollono), Swaino (Jon Bernthal), and Packie (Shea Wigham) are lifelong friends who share a love of the Red Sox, rowdy bars, and Frankie’s teenaged daughter Crystal (Ciara Bravo). But when Frankie invites his pals to a whiskey-fueled evening and asks them to do a favor on behalf of the brash young woman they all adore, events spin wildly out of control. Based on Pollono’s award-winning play, Small Engine Repair is a pitch-black comedic drama with a wicked twist and a powerful exploration of brotherhood, class struggle, and toxic masculinity.


Frankie (John Pollono), Swaino (Jon Bernthal), and Packie (Shea Whigham) are working-class men that share a friendship bond going back to childhood. That bond is strengthened further by their co-parenting of Frankie’s beloved daughter Crystal, who has spent a lifetime being raised by a loving– if raucous– male collective. This sets the scene for a fascinating character study of a group of men raised in a culture steeped in toxic masculinity who struggle to push back against it but often fall incredibly short. 

At first, Small Engine Repair seems like a dark family drama with a comedic edge. However, it is not until the second act that the viewer realizes that they are in the midst of a thriller. Complex performances by the entire cast gradually build tension through sharp looks, quick words, and complicated histories until the atmosphere on screen is so thick with menace that suddenly, every word and movement is a threat. It is hard to say more without giving away the shocking twists that a seemingly ordinary whiskey-fueled night in a garage would unleash. So instead, I will say that the tightly directed and brilliantly acted Small Engine Repair had me holding my breath through the finale.


In Theaters September 10, 2021


Written and Directed by

John Pollono

Starring: Jon Bernthal, Shea Whigham, Jordana Spiro, John Pollono, Ciara Bravo, Spencer House


Fantasia International Film Festival 2021 review: ‘COMING HOME IN THE DARK’ will disturb you to no end.

COMING HOME IN THE DARK

Director/co-writer James Ashcroft introduced Fantasia 2021 audiences to a gutwrenching neo-noir. As a family attempts to enjoy a road trip, they are suddenly accosted by two men with an evil agenda. The complexities of COMING HOME IN THE DARK go far beyond a random encounter. This film was created to make you shudder. Redemption, revenge, cruelty, and shock all play huge parts in this journey. This is a film that will have you on the edge of your seat. Ashcroft’s feature debut deals directly with NZ ineptitude in their state-run facilities. This particular aspect of the script could be applied to any country. The abuse of children becomes an ironic twist that comes to haunt the viewer in more ways than one. The intensity that builds in this screenplay is unrelenting. The brutality is unforgiving. With a large amount of dialogue and action occurring under duress, and inside a car, the claustrophobia is palpable. The ability to build fully fleshed-out characters under the circumstances is truly astounding. Performances from this small cast will captivate you. The cinematography is incredibly thoughtful. It isn’t too often that I stop taking notes while watching a film. I didn’t write a single thing down during my viewing experience. I could not take my eyes off the screen. I cannot fully express how my entire body was shaking as I watched this film. I do feel compelled to warn viewers of the level of violence. Coming Home In The Dark is a traumatizing experience.



CAST:

  • Daniel Gillies
  • Erik Thomson
  • Miriama McDowell
  • Matthias Luafutu

Review: ‘Eye Without A Face’ is a twisted psychological thriller.

Eye Without A Face

Henry, an agoraphobic and anxious young man living in Los Angeles, hacks into the webcams of various selected young women who inhabit the city. He watches over them in their daily lives, seeing himself as their guardian angel. When his new charming roommate Eric, a Youtuber and struggling actor pushes him to get out into the real world, he unknowingly puts Henry in danger. And as Henry starts to suspect one of the women he watches, Laura, of being a killer, everything starts to spiral out of control.

 


Luke Cook as Erik is the perfect foil for Shapiro’s Henry. He’s narcissistic and raunchy but also genuinely a good friend. I could not take my eyes off of him. I found myself cringing and doubled over at his antics. Cook provides the much-needed lightness to the dark of this film. Dakota Shapiro as Henry is simply astounding. He lives in the skin of a trauma victim. His idiosyncracies are spot on. Shapiro’s vulnerability is the backbone of Eye Without A Face. The cinematography from Tara Violet Niami is striking. Thoughtful use of color and lighting make for some extraordinary close-ups, especially of Adam’s eyes.


It’s clear to see the Rear Window inspiration in writer-director Ramin Niami‘s screenplay. The tiny flashes of Henry’s backstory heighten the tension. So does Charlie Clouser‘s score. If you think you know where this is going, think again. There is a reason we’re told to put tape over our laptop cameras. We love online these days, much to our own detriment. The key to Eye Without A Face is Henry’s largely unaddressed trauma. It is the complexity of his nature that makes this film so killer.


ON-DEMAND AND DVD AUGUST 10


Featuring stunning cinematography by Tara Violet Niami, and a mesmerizing score by Charlie Clouser, Eye Without A Face is written and directed by Ramin Niami, director of the acclaimed films Somewhere in the City, Babe’s & Rickey’s Inn and Shirin in Love.

Starring hot young actors Dakota Shapiro (“The Affair”), Luke Cook (“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”, “Katy Keene”), and Vlada Verevko (“Beauty and the Beast”), Eye Without A Face will be available On Demand and Digital August 10 from Gravitas Ventures.


Bentonville Film Festival 21 review: ‘The Novice’ pushes past obsession.

THE NOVICE

An obsessive novice rower climbs the ranks of her college’s rowing team.


For me, Isabelle Fuhrman is someone synonymous with a certain horror franchise. Seeing her in a solely dramatic role in The Novice was a new and glorious territory. Determined to be the best novice rower there’s ever been, Alex does everything to excess. Goal-oriented isn’t a strong enough word for this character. The film challenges self-worth, ideals, and pressure to succeed. The complexities hiding inside The Novice will astound you.

Quick take editing alongside exaggerated and repetitive audio gives the film urgency, all while a string-heavy score plays underneath. The culmination of all these elements lands The Novice somewhere between tense and inspiring. Then there is Furhman’s performance. Her obsessive behavior pushes The Novice past genre definitions. Furhman brings a ferocious passion to the role. Writer-director Lauren Hadaway‘s script is ultimately not about rowing. It is about mental health. It keenly delves into privilege, relationship dynamics, competition, and self-harm. The energy of this film is extraordinary. Bentonville Film Festival audiences will be hypnotized by its greatness. It is a must-see.


About Bentonville

BFFoundation is a non-profit organization focused on promoting underrepresented voices of diverse storytellers. We champion female, non-binary, LGBTQIA+, black, indigenous, people of color, and people with disabilities’ voices in entertainment and media. We do this through research, education, and supporting the production and distribution of inclusive content.

The foundation believes that by taking real action with content creators, talent, influencers, advertisers, and content distributors, we can accurately reflect the gender balance and diversity of our country. Our goal is to create a seismic change in how media inspires young minds to do great things.

Our primary research partner is the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Together, we seek to support research that proves these systemic changes are not only the right thing to do—they are also commercially beneficial. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has also clearly shown that the media children consume has an overwhelming influence in shaping their view of the world and their place in it.

The foundation also partners with schools and community institutions, working with children to educate on the challenging effects of stereotyping, unconscious bias, and gender imbalance. We also utilize media-based tools and content to build positive association and equality-based learning models.

BFFoundation is focused on working with its partners to foster inclusivity in media and entertainment to produce a positive influence in the community at large.


SUPPORT

BFFoundation is an organization that provides year-round support for filmmakers who live the mission of highlighting underrepresented voices in media. If you are interested in getting involved with our foundation, please reach out to us at info@bentonvillefilmfestival.com.


Review: ‘John and The Hole’ is a dark look at adolescence and parenting.

In this enigmatic and unsettling meditation on adolescent angst, 13-year-old John (Charlie Shotwell) discovers an unfinished bunker while exploring the neighboring woods — a deep hole in the ground. Seemingly without provocation, he drugs his affluent parents (Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Ehle) and older sister (Taissa Farmiga), holding them captive within the bunker. As they anxiously wait for John to free them from the hole, the boy returns home, where he can finally enjoy and explore newfound independence.

As a former teacher and current parent, I am wondering if my reaction to John and The Hole is in any way different from my colleagues. This is a film I cannot shake. Brilliantly performed, tightly directed by Pascual Sisto, and with glorious cinematography, John and The Hole is not to be missed. Charlie Shotwell plays the psychopathic John. The performance falls somewhere between age-appropriate and terrifying. This role should make him a household name. Michael C. Hall plays John’s father. He’s doting in gifts and a touch too nonchalant in actual parenting. Jennifer Ehle is fantastic as Mom. The ability to reflect goes beyond motherly instinct. Taissa Farmiga‘s older sister role hits the nail on the head. Mostly minding her own business until John’s behavior annoys her is pretty synonymous with being an older sibling. She has some of the most profound moments in the film. The Children’s ISA helps parents to save money for their children so when they grow  they can use it for their studies or buying their first home.

Drugging his family and holding them captive in a bunker aside, toxic masculinity is smartly displayed throughout John’s journey. It appears in a spit fight, inappropriate conversations, and almost drowning a friend. The culmination of these moments keeps you tense and extremely uncomfortable. John and The Hole is unpredictable. I believe the most disturbing aspect of Nicolás Giacobone‘s screenplay is actually the final scene. Not wanting to spoil anything for the reader, I was horrified. The reasons are a complex mix of socioeconomics and Giacobone’s understanding our how the world functions. John and The Hole begs a larger conversation about aggression, pressure, and parenting. Do not miss this film.

IFC Films is pleased to present the psychological coming-of-age thriller JOHN AND THE HOLE, directed by visual artist Pascual Sisto — one of Variety’s “10 Directors to Watch” of 2021 — in his feature debut. A selection of the canceled 2020 Cannes Film Festival and featured in the 2021 Sundance Film Festival (in competition), JOHN AND THE HOLE will open on Friday, August 6 in select theaters and everywhere films are rented.