Review: Devotion and deceit go hand in hand in Liz Fania Werner and Carlos Montaner’s ‘WAKING KARMA’

WAKING KARMA

High school senior Karma and her mother Sunny are on the run from her father, an infamous cult leader. Trapped inside a remote wooded compound, her already complicated reality is about to crumble.

The film begins with intriguing flashbacks of a cult murder, newspaper clippings, and a hauntingly saccharine song. The setup immediately captured my attention. A sudden shift in style and time reveals Karma and Sunny living in fear and relying on the kindness of former cult members for protection. Small crumbs of cult life are just enough to keep you invested in Karma’s fate.

Michael Madsen is vile. His iconic voice serves him well as Paul, giving him an effortless presence. He could have been made more menacing with a few tighter shots overall. Kimberly Alexander plays Sunny with extraordinary nuance. This roller coaster ride of a role spans every emotion; adoration, cruelty, and unadulterated honesty. Alexander goes for it.

As Karma, Hannah Christine Shetler is the definition of wide-eyed vulnerability. She navigates chaos and confusion with equal parts innocence and fearlessness. Waking Karma is a terrific vehicle for her talents. 

It takes a solid 25 mins to get to any action, but then it is pretty much maniacal from there on out. The plot gets more sick and twisted as we roll along, both physically and psychologically. WAKING KARMA shines brightest in the scenes between mother and daughter. The shockingly devastating dialogue by director Liz Fania Werner with co-director Carlos Montaner‘s DP work almost demands an in-depth prequel. I have so many questions, and I’d love to see more about the beginnings of this cult. That’s the story we need now.


WAKING KARMA is now available on VOD

 

Review: ‘Something In The Dirt’ is the latest mindf*ck from the filmmaking team Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson.

SOMETHING IN THE DIRT

I’ve been waving my arms and shouting their names from the rooftops for years, pushing their films on fellow indie genre fans. Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson are unquestionably one of the most intriguing filmmaking teams. It is impossible to predict their endgame. They thrive on the unexpected. Their latest film killing it on the festival circuit, SOMETHING IN THE DIRT, is no exception. Welcome to one of the weirdest head trips in cinematic history.

Levi and John form a fast friendship when a strange occurrence in their LA apartment building inspires them to make a documentary. Walking a fine line of admiration and distrust, the two get deeper into the mystery and the lies they tell one another.

Benson and Moorhead’s use of science is a running theme in their films. It is always clever. In SOMETHING IN THE DIRT, history and math (specifically the Pythagorean theory) are quite literally written on the walls. The quick-take editing holds your attention like a vice with a mix of home videos, documentary-style sit-down interviews, visuals of whatever topic Levi and John reference, and handheld cinematography allow the audience to teeter on the edge of doc and sci-fi narrative. This is what Benson and Moorhead do; keep you on your toes from start to finish.

The sound editing is a character. Audiences might suddenly find themselves imitating Levi’s stillness and neck craning to get the full effect. Justin Benson wrote the script, while Moorhead tackles the eclectic cinematography. Directing side by side, Benson and Moorhead share a chemistry that is something of the gods. They cannot escape likeability. The dialogue sounds so natural it could be improvised around the main outline. I constantly smirked as they effortlessly bounced between science, humor, casual conspiracy theories, and the idea that nothing is a coincidence. A meta film within a film, SOMETHING IN THE DIRT is here to mess you up and keep you guessing. I need to watch it again. I need to.


SOMETHING IN THE DIRT
The Fifth Mind-Melting Feature from Filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (THE ENDLESS, “Moon Knight”) 
Opens in Theaters November 4 via XYZ

GRIMMFEST 2022 review: Here’s a warning, DO NOT eat while watching ‘FEED ME’

FEED ME

GRIMMFEST 2022 film FEED ME is perhaps the most fucked up buddy comedy of all time. Let me clarify. Somehow, after the death of his wife, falling into a deep depression, and enduring relentless night terrors, Jed finds himself agreeing to die at the hands of a cannibal named Lionel. Jed is trapped by enigmatic visions of his wife and by Lionel’s flippant whims. 

The production team deserves all the awards for their sets and costumes. If The Saw Franchise and Texas Chainsaw Massacre had a baby set, it would be that of Lionel’s house. It’s the filthiest, most bizarre thing. Looking in every direction makes you gag and/or want to book a tetanus shot. The attention to detail is chef’s kiss.

I cannot be the first person to say that Lionel is essentially a cannibalistic version of Ted Lasso. Not only does Neal Ward sound like him, but he could be related to Jason Sudeikis. His comic timing and wildly weird behavior make FEED ME as successful as it is. Whereas Christopher Mulvin, as Jed, plays the straight man, tortured physically and haunted psychologically. They balance each other. 

FEED ME is infinitely unpredictable and isn’t that what we want in a year where horror has been on everyone’s lips? This film is deranged. Writer-director Adam Leader and Richard Oakes leave the audience simultaneously gagging and begging for more. 

  • Year:
    2022
  • Runtime:
    96 minutes
  • Language:
    English
  • Country:
    United Kingdom
  • Premiere:
    UK Premiere
  • Rating:
    18
  • Director:
    Adam Leader, Richard Oakes
  • Screenwriter:
    Adam Leader, Richard Oakes
  • Cast:
    Christopher Mulvin, Neal Ward, Hannah Al Rashid, Samantha Loxley


Review: Tyler Michael James’ taut thriller ‘LOW LIFE’ never lets you get comfortable. Not for one second.

LOW LIFE

Written by Hunter Milano and Noah Rotter and directed by Tyler Michael James, Low Life finds YouTube personality Benny Jansen, who goes by the name “Creep Dunk,” in hot water when one of his subjects shows up at his house. Everyone is about to experience a nightmare.

Lucas Neff, whom I loved in Fear, Inc, plays Jason, the target of Benny’s sting. His effortless performance had my palms sweating. Neff’s emotional highs and lows elicit a visceral reaction. Jake Dvorsky is Sam, and co-writer Hunter Milano plays Ryan. Both are Benny’s buddies and unwitting co-conspirators. Do not write either of these performances off as sidekicks because each gives a nuanced and enthralling performance.

Benny’s deep-seated unresolved trauma motivates his revenge under the guise of heroism. Wes Dunlap‘s performance is mesmerizing. He displays alpha confidence accompanied by simmering hurt and fear. When things go haywire, Dunlap leaves it all on the screen. It’s one hell of a turn.

A ping pong match of intensity, Low Life benefits from rapid and thoughtful editing. But it’s the script that continues to shock. At every turn, I had my head in my hands. My heart was constantly racing, waiting for the other shoe to drop. How Milano and Rotter craft a script that ramps up the severity of the situation blew me away. Twist after twist, Low Life is one of the year’s best screenplays.

Tyler Michael James’ taut cat-and-mouse thriller
LOW LIFE lands on North American VOD on August 25th from XYZ Films.

 About XYZ Films 
XYZ Films is an independent studio whose mission is to empower visionary storytellers from every corner of the planet. XYZ was founded in 2008 by Nate Bolotin, Nick Spicer, and Aram Tertzakian and has expanded in recent years into documentary, talent management, and distribution. Some of the company’s classic titles include THE RAID franchise, 2017 Sundance winner I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE, and Panos Cosmatos’ psychedelic revenge thriller MANDY.


 

Fantasia 2022 review: ‘Swallowed’ is any LGBTQ person’s nightmare… and then some.

SWALLOWED

Cooper Koch and Jose Colon play best friends, Benjamin and Dom. In order to send Benjamin off to L.A. with some extra cash, Dom coordinates a drug mule operation that complicates everything. When the packages turn out to be something far more sinister, things get much darker than anyone imagined.

Swallowed is a genre-obliterating film with fantastic performances. Jena Malone adds gritty believability. To no one’s surprise, she manages to bring charm and intensity. Koch and Colon have spectacular chemistry, and you 100 percent buy their relationship. Koch possesses an accessible vulnerability. Colon’s honesty feels grounded. Bravo for their openness to go full frontal nude. We all know how rare that is, and it makes complete sense given the plot. The film also features a solid villainous turn from Mark Patton, a genre legend from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2. One line, in particular, is slyly redemptive given his status in the horror canon.

The camera work has visceral intimacy. Writer-director Carter Smith (The Ruins) gives audiences a unique genre entry, with the leads being LGBTQ male characters in scenarios we usually see female characters tackle. Swallowed is part crime thriller, part coming-of-age, and body horror. This film is an LGBTQ scenario of nightmares. Fantasia 2022 audiences, get ready to squirm.

 
The horror / thriller / LGTBQIA+ film, SWALLLOWED, will be released on digital and on demand February 14, 2023.
It stars Jena Malone (The Hunger Games Film Series, Cold Mountain, Stepmom), Mark Patton (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddys Revenge, Freddy vs. Jason), Cooper Koch  (Fracture) and Jose Colon (Feature Acting Debut)
 
It was written and directed by Carter Smith (The Ruins).

Click here for all things Fantasia 2022


Review: ‘WYRMWOOD APOCALYPSE’ screams franchise potential.

WYRMWOOD: APOCALYPSE

Synopsis: Rhys lives in the zombie-infested wasteland. His job is to capture civilians and deliver them to what’s left of the military. When Rhys captures a half-zombie-half-human named Grace, he comes to believe she is the key to ending the apocalypse.


*Let me begin their review by stating that I have not seen the original Wyrmwood. I can only comment on Wyrmwood: Apocalypse as a stand-alone film.*

I was immediately drawn into the film hearing Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds‘ track “Red Right Hand,” alongside the quick-cut editing. Equal parts quirky and cool, I was committed. The costumes and sets are elaborate eye candy. The special effects makeup and practical FX are deliciously gruesome. The score, combined with the red lighting, makes for the perfect touch of camp. Wyrmwood: Apocalypse has legit legs for a franchise reboot. 

This cast is gold. The commitment to these characters is commendable. The fight sequences and choreography are damn entertaining. These actors go hard into the action. Bravo, to Luke McKensie, Shantae Barnes-Cowan, Jake Ryan, Bianca Brady, Tasia Zalar, Jay Gallagher, and Nick Boshier for their phenomenal chemistry.

The plot possesses a similar concept as Zydrate from one of my all-time favorite films, Repo! The Genetic Opera. There’s revenge, cognisant zombies, mind control, harvesting, and family dynamics. You name it, and it’s in Wyrmwood: Apocalypse. There’s enough meat in this storyline to justify a series development. I could easily see this doing well on the SyFy network. It has to be from writer-director Kiah Roache-Turner and co-writer Tristan Roache-Turner. Consistency is key to maintaining a fandom. The bottom line is Wyrmwood: Apocalypse is a new beginning.


Zombie Action-Horror WYRMWOOD: APOCALYPSE — OUT DIGITALLY IN THE U.S. APRIL 14!


Genre: Horror

Country: Australia

Runtime: 90 mins

Year: 2022

Language: English

Rated: NA


Review: ‘KING KNIGHT’ is an unlikely story of self-acceptance.

KING KNIGHT

SYNOPSIS: “Thorn (CRIMINAL MINDS’ Matthew Gray Gubler) and Willow appear to have it all as the revered high priest and priestess of a coven of new-age witches. But a secret from Thorn’s past throws their lives into turmoil and sends them on a trippy, hilarious journey.”


Committed coven leader Thorn is hiding a secret. How will his partner Willow and fellow coven members react when the truth comes to light? King Knight is a film about acceptance and growth against the backdrop of Wiccan comedy. Yes, Wiccan comedy. 

Writer-director Richard Bates, Jr. flips the script on societal norms with a humor reminiscent of Christopher Guest’s films. King Knight has a killer ensemble cast. The eclectic nature of the members will make you grin, with each actor given their time to shine. A highlight performance comes from Barbara Crampton as Thorn’s mother, and it’s simply magic. The horror icon, who seems to appear in one film after another without a break, can do no wrong in my eyes. She is hilarious in her brief but memorable screentime. 

Angela Sarafyan as Willow is delicious. She’s ethereal and grounded. Is she a practicing Wiccan? You could have fooled me. Her energy counters Gubler with the ease we needed. Matthew Gray Gubler as Thorn is fantastic. His dedication to the absurdity of the script draws you into King Knight. He’s suave and funny, and I want more of him on my screen. I would watch him dance any day of the week.

It’s easy to see why this was a Fantasia 2021 selection. The use of tarot cards as transition devices is super slick. Quirky and colorful animation adds another element of cool. Oh, the soundtrack is fire, as the kids say. While it struggles a tad from pacing issues, King Knight is a perfectly weird and fun film.


In Select Theaters, On Demand and Digital:
February 17, 2022
Starring:
Matthew Gray Gubler, Angela Sarafyan, Andy Milonakis, Kate Comer, Johnny Pemberton, Josh Fadem, Nelson Franklin, Emily Chang, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Swati Kapila, Shane Brady, AnnaLynne McCord, Alice Glass, with Barbara Crampton, and Ray Wise
Directed and Written By:
Richard Bates, Jr. 
 
Run Time: 81 minutes | Rating: Not Rated


Review: ‘Alone’ plays on inherent fears.

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

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

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

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

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

Directed by John Hyams

Written by Mattias Olsson

Starring Jules Willcox, Marc Menchaca, and Anthony Heald

Review: ‘You Don’t Nomi’ documentary takes a good, hard look at the phenomenon that is Showgirls.

Paul Verhoeven‘s Showgirls (1995) was met by critics and audiences with near universal derision. You Don’t Nomi traces the film’s redemptive journey from notorious flop to cult classic, and maybe even masterpiece.

Peaches Christ plays Cristal Connors in the stage production of “Showgirls! The Musical!” as featured in the documentary YOU DON’T NOMI, an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.

Paul Verhoeven directed RoboCop, Total Recall, and Basic Instinct, three incredibly influential films of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Then he directed Showgirls. Oftentimes known as the rise and fall of Elizabeth Berkley‘s career, it is a film that gets s visceral reaction no matter what. You Don’t Nomi is a documentary about the ins and outs of the film’s effect on critics and audiences alike.

The film is edited to show his other films “reacting” to whatever scene we’re discussing. Which eventually becomes massively cathartic in juxtaposing sexual violence in Verhoeven’s films. Author Adam Nayman uses his book’s structure; Piece of Shit, Masterpiece, and Masterpiece of Shit. You can see how many of his films are wrapped into Showgirls. There is fascinating filmmaking happening once it’s broken down for you. You also meet April Kidwell, the star of I, Nomi, the Off-Broadway tribute to Showgirls. She discusses her parallel past and how performing a musical comedy based on the film has been her therapeutic outlet. Peaches Christ uses drag to, in a sense, improv shadow cast the film for sold-out crowds. The audience still loves this movie, no matter where that love comes from is a total phenomenon.

Audience at Showgirls at Midnight Mass in San Francisco in the documentary YOU DON’T NOMI, an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.

The opposing opinions all make weird sense. I walked away feeling like I had just had a cinematic lobotomy. I still don’t know how I feel about Showgirls, but I know I want to gather friends and colleagues when this pandemic is all over and watch the hell out of it again. Same thing with this doc. You Don’t Nomi is brilliant in all the ways it challenges viewers and fellow critics to rethink Showgirls so many years later. It may just upend your brain, too.

YOU DON’T NOMI On Demand and Digital June 9, 2020