It’s nice to see Blumhouse TV went ahead with another round of Welcome to the Blumhouse, a quartet of spooky films released in October from underrepresented voices. The films might not be quite the right fit for a theatrical run with the typical Blumhouse advertising push but still there’s something there that make them a nice match for a streaming release under this new banner. Last year the films (The Lie, Black Box, Evil Eye, Nocturne) felt a little slapped together, like they were picked to fill a slate quickly and this resulted in an unevenness in tone and return on investment of time spent. This time around, based on the first two entries the quality is higher as is the overall sense of purpose in alignment with the mission Welcome to the Blumhouse is promoting. While not outright scary, these first two were nice ways to ease into October after a sleepy September. Let’s enter the Blumhouse and see what they have in store for us in 2021!
Synopsis: In the Barrio of Oak Springs live a strong and stubborn group of elderly friends who refuse to be gentrified. Their leader, Lupita, keeps them together as a community, a family. But little did they know, their beloved Bingo hall is about to be sold to a much more powerful force than money itself.
Stars: Adriana Barraza, Richard Brake, L. Scott Caldwell, Joshua Caleb Johnson, Bertila Damas, Clayton Landey, David Jensen, Grover Coulson, Kelly Murtagh
Director: Gigi Saúl Guerrero
Running Length: 85 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: If you’ve seen the trailer that Amazon released for Bingo Hell, you may have had the same reaction that I did when I first saw it…the urge to run the other way. A headache-inducing edit matched with a droning voiceover of creepy lead Richard Brake’s Mr. Big character just had me dreading seeing this tale of terror involving a neighborhood being appalled , then lured in, by a garish new bingo hall offering phenomenal cash prizes…with a twist. Well, clearly someone on the marketing side either didn’t know enough about the movie or just didn’t care because they sold Bingo Hell quite short as it features several memorable performances and is by and large a skillfully made effort from director Gigi Saúl Guerrero.
Everyone that has lived in a neighborhood for a long time has a woman like Lupita (Adriana Barraza, Drag Me to Hell) living a few houses down. Traditional, likes to keep her friends close and enemies as far away from her front lawn as possible, she doesn’t care for the changes that have happened to the Oak Springs community she has called home. Family-owned stores are closing and being replaced by hip new places to shop and so Lupita surrounds herself with her friends and patronizes their places of business, like the the beauty salon owned by Yolanda (Bertila Damas) or Clarence’s (Grover Coulson, A Ghost Story) auto shop. She’s in for a shock when Mario (David Jensen, Midnight Special) up and sells the local bingo parlor to mysterious Mr. Big (Brake, Batman Begins) and overnight it becomes a garish, neon-colored nightmare. Soon it creates bad blood and bloodshed between the once-friendly neighbors who are now competing for the ever-growing cash prizes being doled out nightly.
There’s a little bit of Stephen’s King’s Needful Things going on in the script from Guerrero, Perry Blackshear, and Shane McKenzie but I wouldn’t draw too many parallels between that and Bingo Hell. The story here is far more about Lupita and, to some extent, her friend Dolores (L. Scott Caldwell, Concussion), letting go of their tight grip on the past to fully live in the present than any complex dance with the devil. That’s not to say Brake doesn’t get the opportunity to enact some ghoulish bits of magic and gnash his nasty chompers around, there’s a great sequence following Raquel, (Kelly Murtaugh, When I Consume You) the tragic daughter-in-law of Dolores, as she wins big but loses large in short order.
I sincerely hope people don’t watch the preview for this and skip it because it’s quite good and Oscar-nominee Barraza is absolutely the fire that fuels the movie from the beginning. All the main actors are “of a certain age” and Barraza leads the charge with a determined rage that feels thoughtful, important, and relatable. I wouldn’t say the performance makes the ENTIRE movie but it’s darn close, especially at the times it segues into the less interesting secondary plot involving Dolores’ grandson being tempted to a life of crime. This feels like its lifted from a less interesting film and takes us away from our elders too often. It’s Barraza’s show and when she’s front and center, delivering one of her last lines in a fit of rage…that’s when you stand and shout BINGO!
Synopsis: A teenage girl with self-esteem issues finds confidence in the most unlikely way, by spending her summer battling vampires that prey on New Orleans’ disenfranchised with the help of her best friend, the boy she’s always pined for, and a peculiar rich girl.
Stars: Asjha Cooper, Fabrizio Guido, Craig Tate, Keith David, Mason Beauchamp, Abbie Gayle, Frankie Smith
Director: Maritte Lee Go
Running Length: 87 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: I’m a sucker (pun intended) for any kind of vampire film so writer Sherman Payne’s New Orleans set tale Black as Night began already a few points ahead in my book. What struck me from the start is how naturalistic a look and feel the entire movie had and much of that credit goes to director Maritte Lee Go (Phobias) clearly not wanting to make this another urban tale with a supernatural twist. People behave like people, not like how the media has portrayed them up until now. Even the mother of our brave lead, a drug addict, isn’t outfitted with disintegrating teeth and grainy skin, frothing at the mouth as she begs her daughter for money as the film begins.
This important level setting at the start of Black as Night helps prepare the audience for the creature feature elements that develop after 15-year-old Shawna (Asjha Cooper, Everybody Wants Some!!) is attacked by a pack of homeless vampires on the way home from a house party in her neighborhood. Someone has been preying on the disenfranchised that roam the city streets in a New Orleans that continues to recover from Hurricaine Katrina. Turning once benign homeless into hungry vamps, whomever is responsible appears to have an agenda targeted at, of all things, social justice reform. That means it’s up to Shawna and her crew comprised of gay best friend Pedro (Fabrizio Guido, World War Z), suburban white girl Grania (Abbie Gayle, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back) with a wealth of vampiric knowledge, and local hottie Chris (Mason Beauchamp) to uncover a long-simmering plot about to boil over and stop the killing before their family and friends become the next victims.
At a sleek 87 minutes, there’s enough plot in Black as Night to carry it through to the end and good acting to make it worth your time. I liked that there was some method to the vampiric madness, even if the deeper depths of the reasoning felt like grasping at something greater that never quite got to the point. Even so, the attempt to at least try for purpose makes it noteworthy. It wouldn’t go down nearly as well without Cooper’s strong performance in the lead or the solid supporting work from the core players. The fringe actors may need a little jolt to wake them up at times but when everyone is alert and on the same page there’s a crackling energy going on that’s hard to ignore. Don’t put a stake through this one until you’ve given it a shot.