Movie Review ~ Consecration

The Facts:

Synopsis: After the alleged suicide of her priest brother, Grace travels to the remote Scottish convent where he fell to his death. Distrusting the Church’s account, she uncovers murder, sacrilege, and a disturbing truth about herself.
Stars: Jena Malone, Danny Huston, Dame Janet Suzman, Thoren Ferguson
Director: Christopher Smith
Rated: NR
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review:  Religion and horror always seem to make good bedfellows, preying on the fear many viewers have of the church and its servants. I’ve always been a little wary of the movies that feature priests or nuns so prominently as figures either of good battling evil or the representation of evil itself, something that needs to be exorcised by an outside force.  In recent years, there have been interesting attempts through horror to make more sophisticated scares through films like Agnes and, most successfully, Saint Maud. Still, I find myself wincing anytime I see marketing materials featuring a blood-stained habit.

The latest holy terror outing is Consecration, and what attracted me to this one is its trio of stars who don’t often attach themselves to run-of-the-mill dreck.  If anything, they seek projects that tip the scales toward challenging work rather than easy-to-digest consumer-grade nonsense.  If they dipped their toe in this potential lake of fire, it must have been for a good reason.  So…back into the church pew I went.

London ophthalmologist Grace (Jena Malone, The Neon Demon) is shocked to hear of the death of her estranged brother, a priest.  Though they had recently lost touch, they shared a bond forged through their hard upbringing.  The formal report of his death is that he committed suicide by jumping off a cliff by sacred ruins near a convent in Scotland, but Grace knows deep down he would never have engaged in such an unpardonable sin.  Traveling to Scotland, she meets with the local detective assigned to the case (Thoren Ferguson) and requests to visit the convent where her brother lept to his death. 

Viewing her brother’s badly beaten body only confirms something amiss with the death, and a cool stonewall from the Mother Superior (Janet Suzman, Nuns on the Run) at the convent only drives Grace’s need to know more. There’s something else, too. Since she arrived, Grace has been overcome with visions from her past and hallucinations she can’t decipher.  Unable to turn to the presiding Father (Danny Huston, Angel Has Fallen) or the suspicious Sisters who seem to be keeping a dark secret, Grace will confront her past to unlock the mystery.

There’s a good movie milling about somewhere in the bones of Consecration; I wish it weren’t covered up by so much extraneous and clunky material. Grace’s reason for hanging around the convent (and dressing like a nun) is a screenwriting device that makes little sense and is quickly ignored because it has nothing to do with furthering the story.  And yet it does play a part in our going along with why a headstrong woman like Grace would allow herself to be subjected to highly questionable treatment.  Malone is too intelligent an actress to play a character that dumbs herself down quite quickly. It’s perplexing.

Speaking of Malone, she remains a real force in any film she’s a part of, and as weak as Consecration gets at times, she remains a strong pillar throughout.  The end game of the piece (co-scripted by director Christopher Smith) is a bit murky when all is said and done, but it manages to untangle most of its knots before the credits roll.  Even if it relies on one of the cheapest gags in the book for a “gotcha” finale, it can’t be said the Consecration hasn’t tried up until this point to rise above the usual fire and brimstone seediness of less crafty films in its genre category.

Movie Review ~ The Apology

The Facts:

Synopsis: Twenty years after the disappearance of her daughter, recovering alcoholic Darlene Hagen is preparing to host her family’s Christmas celebration when her estranged ex-brother-in-law arrives unannounced, bearing nostalgic gifts and a heavy secret.
Stars: Anna Gunn, Linus Roache, Janeane Garofalo
Director: Alison Star Locke
Rated: NR
Running Length: 91 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review:  For me, the biggest test of a mystery or high-tension thriller is how well it holds up once it starts to reveal its secrets.  If it’s a corker, it can keep going on the built-up strength of the steel trap it set for its audience, refusing to let go.  The weaker ones only show they were merely treading water from the beginning and quickly find they can’t keep their head above the waves they created, eventually drowning under the weight of a back half they can’t support.    

Written and directed by Alison Star Locke, The Apology might be one of the most disappointing thrillers I’ve seen lately, primarily because there is so much promise in the premise.  Here we have an isolated home on a snowy night before Christmas when evil tidings from the past come to haunt a woman (Anna Gunn, Sully) continuing to grieve her daughter’s disappearance two decades before.  Her long-absent brother-in-law (Linus Roache, Non-Stop) unexpectedly turns up bearing wrapped gifts and offering a present for her, a present involving information she’s been waiting years to receive.

I’ll let you guess what he might have to share, but I bet you can discern that it sets into motion a battle of wills between the two that occupies much of the 91-minute run time.  Unfortunately, while Locke was lucky to nab the underappreciated Gunn for the lead, she’s paired her with the less intriguing Roache for an overly talky two-hander that goes nowhere fast.  Despite having a best friend played by an oddly muted Janeane Garofalo (The God Committee), a hop, skip, and a jump away, most of The Apology is just Gunn and Roache trading power positions.  And it’s sadly weak.

Letting the cat out of the bag so early damages what little goodwill The Apology had going for it.  Despite the ideal locale and major potential for something special, this is a present you’ll want to re-wrap and pass along to someone else.

Movie Review ~ Sorry About the Demon

The Facts:

Synopsis: A young man struggling with a broken heart learns that his new place is full of restless spirits.
Stars: Jon Michael Simpson, Jeff McQuitty, Olivia Ducayen, Paige Evans, Dave Peniuk, Sarah Cleveland, Presley Allard, Jude Zappala
Director: Emily Hagins
Rated: NR
Running Length: 105 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review:  If you’re one of those audience members that tend to bail on movies if they seem a bit iffy at the outset, I’m going to urge you to approach Sorry About the Demon with a little bit of mercy and extra patience. Admittedly, this one has some rough patches throughout, never more so than during its first 20 minutes. Unfortunately, that’s also the most crucial time for a movie to shore up its viewers and keep them watching to the end. I honestly can’t say I would have kept going with the film had I not been reviewing it. I was, and I did, so I’m passing along the good news that this often silly haunted house flick has its heart in the right place, even if it lacks the budget and production values to keep its head on straight.

In those first 20 minutes, we meet the aimless Will (Jon Michael Simpson), a customer service rep for a toothpaste company. He’s broken up with his girlfriend Amy (Paige Evans) and moved into an enormous red brick home the current owners were eager to offload. That’s because the joint is haunted, presided over by two spirits and one nasty demon that’s blackmailed the previous owners into providing a human sacrifice in exchange for their young daughter’s soul. The joke that bubbles up quickly is that the demon takes one look at Will and decides they don’t want him, so it’s up to Will to keep his friends and ex away, lest they be taken over by evil.

A simple premise from writer/director Emily Hagins didn’t need to stretch to 105 minutes, which prevents Sorry About the Demon from feeling well-rounded. It is possible for good movies to be too long! Far too many tonal shifts come across as different short scripts mashed together to make one feature-length film. One moment we’re in a break-up comedy between the hapless Will and stoic Amy, and the next, we’re in an overly serious exorcism thriller presided over by Will’s friend Patrick (Jeff McQuitty) and Will’s blind date (Olivia Ducayen) who coincidently is also named Aimee. It’s not that the actors don’t pull these genres off (the four leads are charming across the board, especially Simpson, who gets better as the hauntings increase), but the script doesn’t always make the connections from one scene to the next.

More than anything, Sorry About the Demon felt like it would have fit right into the stable of features released to VHS by Full Moon Entertainment in the early 1990s. Those who frequented their local video store during that era will surely remember these direct-to-video genre films that were made on a shoestring budget but had a goofy allure to them, making them irresistible. I honestly miss that part of the video rental blitz, finding the horror/sci-fi gems. You’re reminded of those halcyon days biking to the mom-and-pop movie shop when you add in more than a handful of witty one-liners demonstrating Hagins way with a clever (and not overly winky) turn of phrase. Because of that cozy good feeling, I make no apologies in recommending Sorry About the Demon for folks willing to play along.

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Movie Review ~ Speak No Evil

The Facts:

Synopsis: A Danish family visits a Dutch family they met on holiday. What was supposed to be an idyllic weekend slowly starts unraveling as the Danes try to stay polite in the face of unpleasantness.
Stars: Morten Burian, Sidsel Siem Koch, Fedja Van Huêt, Karina Smulders, Liva Forsberg, Marius Damslev
Director: Christian Tafdrup
Rated: NR
Running Length: 98 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review:  One of the benefits of watching foreign films is getting a glimpse into other cultures that represent a different experience than your own. It allows expanding your reach beyond the confines of your borders, be it state or country. In comparison, while not a full-scale explanation of the intricate machinations of society, even the slightest of international features lends a viewer the potential to journey as far as their interest will take them. That gives Speak No Evil an added intrigue at the outset, a viewpoint of commentary from one country (Denmark) on another (Netherlands), although it quickly spirals out of control and becomes an unfair fight. What starts as a provocative dialogue about cultural differences devolves into an analysis summed up with brutal cruelty.

On vacation in Tuscany with their young daughter, modest Danish couple Bjørn (Morten Burian) and Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch) cross paths with outgoing Dutch pair Patrick (Fedja Van Huêt) and Karin (Karina Smulders). The Dutch duo has their son with them, a silent boy impaired by a hereditary condition that left him unable to speak. Throughout their vacation, the families become friendly, with Bjørn finding Patrick a fascinating example of a man balancing his family obligations with his interests. There’s a clear feeling the Danish couple is more buttoned up and square while the Dutch pair have a more fly-by-the-seat of their pants lifestyle.

After returning home, Bjørn and Louise receive a postcard from their new friends inviting them for a weekend stay at their house. Louise is hesitant about visiting people they hardly know, but Bjørn pushes her to accept, driven by the need to suck up more of Patrick’s energy and hoping it will rub off on his family. After arriving at their destination, the Danish family are greeted warmly but awkwardly by their hosts. The weekend is kicked off by a series of strange events that put Louise’s antennae on red alert. She can sense that something is off about Patrick and Karin, but Bjørn downplays it as her not being accustomed to the Dutch way of living and her more structured schedule. 

Inconsistencies in the story their hosts told them in Tuscany further put an ominous cloud over the stay, leading to more misgivings and infighting. While most viewers would have hightailed it out of there long before the Danish couple gets wise, director and co-writer Christian Tafdrup manages to find ways to believably keep them in the company of these strange people until it’s impossible to change their minds. It’s here when Speak No Evil turns the temperature on its slow-boil from a simmer to scald, changing course in shocking ways. While I will speak no spoilers on what occurs, Tafdrup and his brother/co-screenwriter Mads Tafdrup concoct an evil third act that culminates in one of the vilest endings to a film I’ve seen in some time. 

Here’s the deal. After doing my homework a little before and a lot after, I get why the ending is there and the point the brothers Tafdrup are making in including it. I think what it is saying is an interesting message, but most of the viewers that watch it aren’t going to do that same follow-up to understand the reasoning. Most audiences will take the ending for the horror show that it is, and no true lesson will be ‘learned’ at the end. For that stomach-churning reason alone, despite the nobly committed performances of the cast, I can’t wholly recommend the movie in any way. The most engaging aspect of the film is the interplay between Bjørn and Patrick, a relationship that is never as fully explored as it could be, especially concerning how the movie ends.

If you ask me if Speak No Evil succeeds as a horror movie, I agree that it applies the right amount of suspense and spiky tension we expect from this type of film. Every film has a line that it comes to and must decide to cross or hold, which is the difference between good taste and bad taste. Speak No Evil goes over the line at a crucial point, and that’s where it lost me as an audience member. Any message it was trying to send is drowned out by the primal scream of its final mean-spirited, humiliating minutes.

Movie Review ~ The Reef: Stalked

The Facts:

Synopsis: To heal after witnessing her sister’s horrific murder, Nic travels to a tropical resort with her friends for a kayaking and diving adventure. Only hours into their expedition, the women are stalked and attacked by a great white shark. To survive, they will need to band together, and Nic will have to overcome her post-traumatic stress, face her fears and slay the monster.
Stars: Teressa Liane, Ann Truong, Saskia Archer, Kate Lister, Tim Ross
Director: Andrew Traucki
Rated: NR
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review:  In 2007, director Andrew Traucki delivered the low-budget Black Water, about a gigantic crocodile attacking members of a tiny tour boat. That early film became such an underground success story it provided the funding for Traucki’s next creature feature, 2010’s The Reef. Following a similar storyline of a mammoth shark terrorizing members of a capsized boat, it elicited the same genuine scares by doling out shots of the razor-toothed monster hungry for its next meal. Neither film was great art, but they were a considerate step above the usual fare, sidelining cruddy special effects and practical animatronics to show the bare minimum and let the viewer’s imagination create much of the horror.

A largely uneventful career followed for Traucki until 2020, when he gambled on a sequel to his first film. I didn’t think Black Water: Abyss was half bad, either. It was perhaps a bit too stuck on what worked initially and didn’t do much to move things along. Yet it had a somewhat claustrophobic set-up, decent performances, and a moderately convincing crocodile when it was seen. When that movie was released, it was announced that Traucki would also be getting back into shark-infested waters with another trip to The Reef, and I’ve been keeping my eyes open ever since. 

We all know that I can’t quit these shark movies, no matter how hard I try or how much they continue to disappoint me. I’m trying to be better, though. So far in 2022, I’ve already steered clear of Alicia Silverstone in The Requin and avoided Shark Bait, but The Reef: Stalked was too intriguing to pass up. I was a fan of the first film, and considering the not embarrassing showing of Black Water: Abyss (which, like this, is unrelated to their original entries), I thought that Traucki would show those other fin flicks a thing or two. Sadly, Traucki has adopted an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach for his sequel because while it has one or two good jolts, most of The Reef: Stalked is a stinky as day old chum.

Four women set out on a kayaking trip, making good on their promise to continue a shared passion for exploring the underwater areas around their homes by the Australian coast. For sisters Nic (Teressa Liane) and Annie (Saskia Archer), it’s a way to potentially mend a relationship strained by a tragedy within their family that neither has adequately dealt with. With Annie being less experienced, it’s good that Jodie (Ann Truong) and Lisa (Kate Lister) are along to help because Nic has developed a paralyzing fear of the water, explained in the opening prologue.

They’ll all likely think twice before dipping a toe in a baby pool after encountering an ornery Great White Shark. Latching onto their scent when they are far offshore in kayaks perfect for chomping, the shark is relentless in its pursuit, clearly having nothing better to do than follow the women along the shoreline. Even more incredible, this is after they’ve made it to a nearby island and, get this, gotten back in the water.

Until this point, I was lazily making my way through the movie and batting away the numerous times Traucki had one or more women slowly looking across the horizon line for a shark fin. This was all Shark Movie 101, and they all do it. I’d even gotten the requisite near miss of a leg in the water pulled up as the shark was about to bite. Having the women (the ones that survive an initial tense encounter) make it to the safety of a small island (where there are other people, mind you) and then willingly get back into their flimsy floatie and paddle for sunnier shores was just too much. It worked much better in the previous film when the potential shark snacks had nowhere else to go.

The performances are serviceable at best, with lines drawn in the sand to who the professional actors were and who was hired from the local population. I question Traucki’s taste level with putting a child in harm’s way so violently but then, much of The Reef: Stalked has question marks floating around it. Why make a sequel if you don’t feel compelled to do something interesting with it? Why do we need to give heroines extra baggage to make them fear the water, lining them up to simultaneously hurdle a roadblock and vanquish a beast? Why did no one think to pack a waterproof cell phone? Why was Jaws made nearly fifty years ago with a shark that looks more believable than one made in an era with elaborate films shot on cell phones?

I wish I could find “The One” gem in these sloppy shark films. I go into each one with my fingers crossed that this will be the one that rights all the past wrongs. I’ve got another one in my queue and while I’d like to say the outcome looks promising, too many failed dives to the depths have led me not to get my hopes up. Keep swimming with me, though…we’ll find something fun soon!

Movie Review ~ Great White (2021)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A blissful tourist trip turns into a nightmare when five seaplane passengers are stranded miles from shore. In a desperate bid for survival, the group try to make it to land before they either run out of supplies or are taken by a menacing terror lurking just beneath the surface.

Stars: Katrina Bowden, Aaron Jakubenko, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Tim Kano, Te Kohe Tuhaka

Director: Martin Wilson

Rated: NR

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  It’s honestly a miracle, when you think about it.  Considering how far technical achievements in film have come since the release of JAWS over 45 years ago, you would think that by now someone would have figured out how to create a decent shark to terrorize nubile women and beefed-up men that dare enter the ocean.  Sadly, instead of putting the elbow grease in and attempting to get back to the type of haunting magic that was created from the depths in Steven Spielberg’s summer blockbuster masterpiece, studios and filmmakers seem determined to go cheap and low-tech and the results are resoundingly heinous.  If you’re dealing with another cheesy direct to streaming piece that is meant to be silly (House SharkGhost Shark? Ouija Shark?) then some allowance must be made for quality, but when you’re settling in with a release clearly aspiring to be taken as serious as the 1975 granddaddy of them all, you expect far more.

Every so often, we’re graced with a well-calibrated entry that understands the game and arrives ready to play.  The Shallows, The Reef, and Bait 3D were all superior examples of directors getting it right.  I also found The Meg to be a fun, if PG-13 sanitized, take on a scary novel that should have been adapted two decades earlier when studios would have let it be released with all the violence intact.  While Deep Blue Sea from 1999 is maybe the shiny diamond of shark movies in recent memory in my book, it’s straight to video sequel in 2018 sits near the bottom of the overall list.  Shockingly, Deep Blue Sea 3 from 2020 bounced back nicely and earned a reprieve for the franchise.  With a sequel to The Meg about to shoot and the constant threat of a JAWS remake hanging over out heads (I put this into the universe: please do NOT do this, just do a 2018 Halloween-style sequel that picks up 50 years later), audiences that don’t mind sticking to swimming pools are left with the occasional scraps of underwater thrillers.

Scraps is a good way to classify Great White because it’s compiled of a lot of different pieces, never fully finding its own identity.  With slack pacing, poor CGI, and a main attraction that remains frustratingly below the surface for much of the trim run time, it definitely doesn’t have the goods to be considered among the better entries in the genre, though it is considerably better made than most.  Mostly known as a producer, screenwriter Michael Broughen’s lack of experience shows with a threadbare plot that finds a tour guide/pilot, his medic/girlfriend, a cook, and the couple that hired them all for the day to take them to a secluded island fending off a marauding shark when their sea plane sinks in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Director Martin Wilson makes his feature film debut with Great White, and he certainly captures the beauty of the Brisbane coast beautifully, albeit it with characters touting how infested the waters are with man-eating sharks.  Yay, tourism!  Things actually start off sort of well for Great White, with a young couple finding themselves a bit too far from their boat when confronted with a deadly foe, but then Broughton’s issue-filled script kicks in and we have to wade through a lot of personal business before we can get back to shark business.  Most of this involves pilot Charlie (Aaron Jakubenko) and Kaz (Katrina Bowden, Piranha 3DD) who are working through a bump in taking the next step of their relationship.  When they are joined by Michelle (Kimie Tsukakoshi) and Joji (Tim Kano) for a brief moment you get the feeling Broughton is going to spice things up by creating a few characters with a darker depth but, small spoiler, it’s shallow wading for all.

Looking at the cast, anyone that’s ever watched one of these movies could likely go through and number off the order in which they’ll become fish food and if the film has anything going for it, it’s that there comes a time when you aren’t quite sure the usual suspects will make it to the end.  Wilson manages to get quite a lot of mileage out of the viewer watching Bowden’s legs kicking furiously in the dark blackness and it would wrong of me to lie and say my heart wasn’t beating a little faster when one character enters the water in a totally misguided moment.  You’ll be screaming at the screen the entire time at their lunacy…I was.

While all of this is happening, audiences are going to be waiting for a look at what’s hungrily chomping at the cast members and every time the shark appears it looks like stock footage that’s been blown up to look like a far more fearsome creature.  The rapid shift to clear nature documentary shots only confirms a severe lack of actual CGI created…or at least until the end which is where the significant amount is used.  Still, by then it’s too late to have the same kind of impact that would have been nice to have had all along.  At least Spielberg (and subsequent sequel directors) gave us an animatronic scare every now and then that at least looked believable. 

Acting their way around an enemy that isn’t there is difficult, and the cast does a fine job in selling what they are supposedly seeing.  Bowden was always a bit of a blank spot during her tenure on NBC’s 30 Rock and hasn’t made an impression in the years since, but she’s a believable heroine here and easily outpaces the bland Jakubenko and his character who suffers from PTSD after surviving a shark attack years before (do you think he’ll have to face his fears at some point?).  Tsukakoshi is around for the screams and Kano is there to give you someone above the water to loathe when the shark isn’t around.  While his character makes a few spectacularly stupid decisions, Te Kohe Tuhaka’s cook is the most agreeable in the bunch.

One of these days we’ll get a director and studio that wants to spend the money and time creating a creature that looks like the real thing and moves like the real thing.  Maybe it’s created on a computer, maybe it’s something tangible the actors can react to in the moment.  Whatever it is, it has got to be better than the downward slide that is going on now.  If we can create free apps for our phones that can make it appear our friends are singing “Chim-Chim-Cher-ee” with Julie Andrews, we simply must be able to get a shark to swim through the water and eat an unfortunate swimmer…right?  Until that time, watch Great White and think about what could have been.

Movie Review ~ Séance

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Camille Meadows is the new girl at the prestigious Edelvine Academy for Girls. Soon after her arrival, six girls invite her to join them in a late-night ritual, calling forth the spirit of a dead former student who reportedly haunts their halls. But before morning, one of the girls is dead, leaving the others wondering what they may have awakened.

Stars: Suki Waterhouse, Inanna Sarkis, Madisen Beaty, Ella-Rae Smith, Seamus Patterson, Marina Stephenson Kerr, Megan Best, Stephanie Sy, Jade Michael

Director: Simon Barrett

Rated: R

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  What terrific fortune is this?  Two respectably good female-led slasher films released within weeks of each other?  Can it be?  After a long dry spell with a pile of duds and clunkers, an eerie wind of change is blowing and bringing with it revitalized energy to a genre that was barely standing.  Early May’s Initiation was a clever subversion of the typical college-set slice and dice thrillers that populated many cinemas throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, giving tired tropes an entertaining dust off.  Now along comes Séance with its spooky boarding school setting and Craft-ian vibes to send some chills through your screen. What both films may lack in overall budget and the benefit of a release via a larger platform, they more than make-up for in playful deference to their treasured inspirations.

I could understand some dubious feelings about Séance at first glance, because I had them too.  The original poster with pouty girls in school uniforms in front of a foreboding dormitory made it look like one of those generically terrible Redbox cheapie titles that come out of nowhere and offer little return for your overnight fee.  A closer inspection (and a better poster) unveils some pedigree behind the scenes and that was enough to get me signed up for writer/director Simon Barrett’s feature debut.  A screenwriter on respectable genre outings like You’re Next and The Guest, Barrett also penned the attempted reboot of Blair Witch in 2016 that was better than many gave it credit for.  Teaming up with Dark Castle Entertainment (the production label responsible for remakes of House of Wax, House on Haunted Hill, and original titles The Apparition, Ghost Ship, Gothika, and Orphan) and streaming service Shudder, Barrett was able to get this one made during the pandemic without sacrificing any of its effectiveness in the scare department. 

The exclusive Edelvine Academy for Girls is supposedly haunted by the spectre of a former student that died under mysterious circumstances.  At least that’s what the group of girls attempting to call her spirit forth late one night in a dark bathroom mirror are hoping for.  Saying her name into their reflections several times doesn’t produce the result they are expecting, but it does leave one skeptic so frightened that she winds up dead later that night.  Was it an accident, was it the spirit, or was it someone else with a razor-sharp axe to grind?  The tragedy leaves an opening for a new student, though, and Camille Meadows (Suki Waterhouse, Pokémon Detective Pikachu) is the next name on the list. 

Failing to make a great first impression to the headmistress (Marina Stephenson Kerr, The Grudge, a sort of B-list Michelle Pfeiffer) after getting into a nasty fight with HBIC Alice (Inanna Sarkis) before she can even unpack her bags, Camille doesn’t fit the new girl mold in kowtowing to existing hierarchies or ways of doing business.  Instead, she asserts her dominance from the get-go and isn’t above landing or taking a punch from Alice or any of the other girls that run in her gang. (Side note: when did girl fights get so crazy? Camille refuses to move from Alice’s table and in response Alice punches her several times right in the face for her ‘crime’. Yeow!)

Camille does manage to find some people she likes; shy Helina (Ella-Rae Smith, The Commuter) was friends with the girl who recently died and Trevor (Seamus Patterson, Books of Blood) is the son of the headmistress and a handyman/boy around campus.  Through them, Camille learns more about the “accident” and other strange goings-on around the school, just in time for her detention to begin with the other girls for their opening day fight.  While they’re cleaning out and organizing a musty section of the school, they decided to press their luck and try out another séance, but this time their ceremony definitely brings something into reality…a slinky killer that begins to swiftly chop away at the girls. 

As he has with his previous scripts, Barrett makes efficient use out of his dialogue and doesn’t waste a lot of time with extraneous tangents.  It’s not Pulitzer Prize winning stuff, nor is it intended to be.  However, there is a mystery at the heart of Séance the audience is meant to figure out and clues are dropped along the way to help those paying close attention unravel in advance of the Big Reveal (one of several, I might add) near the end.  Barrett also excels at creating strong female characters that fight back, not just those that have a surge of energy when they most need it, either.  These are women that are prepared and not helpless and I like that he seems to have that in mind as he develops the story.  The idea of victimhood isn’t at the forefront of his mind and none of the women in the movie are portrayed as feeble or lacking…only in terms of perhaps coming up short in the conscience department.

There is a nice overall tone achieved and more than a few sly frights along the way. With the scary comes the silly and a dance sequence with some questionable skill level is one you’ll just have to bite your tongue through.  It’s also worth noting that it took my partner and I a full forty-five minutes to decide if this was a prep school or a college because the ages of the actresses are so varied you can’t quite tell the academic institution they are attending.  If you’re looking at Waterhouse, it should be a college.  Then you look at Madisen Beaty (To the Stars) and you’d believe it could be a boarding school for children of rich parents. 

Nitpicks and a few plot holes aside, Séance is one I think horror fans can join hands and get their arms around with ease.  It’s well made and at brisk 92 minutes moves at a nice clip, dotting it’s time with the appropriate amount of momentum so that it doesn’t experience that middle sag which can drag a lesser film down.  It joins recent feminist slasher films in skewering expectations without beating audiences over the head with any agenda to do so.  Would be a great Saturday night choice or could even be enjoyed as a late afternoon watch if the clouds grow dark and the rain falls.

Movie Review ~ Jakob’s Wife

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After a chance encounter with “The Master,” the wife of a small-town minister discovers a new sense of power and an appetite to live bigger and bolder than before…even as the body count around her grows.

Stars: Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Bonnie Aarons, Sarah Lind, Phillip Jack Brooks, Robert Rusler, Mark Kelly

Director: Travis Stevens

Rated: NR

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: Growing up, movie length was a big deal to me for some reason.  I think it was because I enjoyed going to the movies (and film in general, let’s be real) so much that the longer the movies were, the more time I could be lost in that experience.  When a movie I was waiting forever for, like Batman Returns, clocked in over two hours, I rejoiced.  If the umpteenth horror sequel in a long running franchise along the lines of Halloween H20: 20 Years Later only made it to 86 minutes (with credits) it filled me with honest to goodness grief.  Eventually, I started to realize that 86 minutes might equal less character development in favor of pure audience pleasing thrills and over two hours could mean an overstuffed narrative that was unnecessary to the overall plot. It all depended on the movie. 

Now, reviewing movies as much as I do, you better believe I pay attention to time because it’s more precious than ever when you have multiple films to watch.  Did that Australian revenge drama I watched a month ago really need to be two and a half hours?  Could a documentary about the ‘90s been a bit longer?  Mostly, I fall on the side of everything needing some trimming; I like a well-paced film but not one that breathlessly needs to finish the race at lighting speed.  Horror films are typically the trickiest to get the timing right and lately I’ve noticed a trend away from the shorter, rock ‘em, sock ‘em thrills in favor of the more auteur-driven pieces, handsomely made efforts that milk all they can out of extra time that winds up counteracting their good intentions. 

Lonely Anne (Barbara Crampton, You’re Next) dreamed of traveling the world but instead has spent her formidable years as the wife of a minister in a tiny town on the outskirts of Nowheresville.  Her stoic husband (Larry Fessenden, The Dead Don’t Die) is a fuddy-duddy bore that appears to notice the unhappiness present in his congregants more than in her.  You understand why she jumps at the chance to meet up with a former flame (Robert Rusler, Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street) who even in his current middle-aged state reminds her of the chances she didn’t take.  It turns out to be too little too late for both, because they wind up touring an abandoned warehouse where things heat up but blood runs cold as they come across the temporary resting spot of a new monster in town. 

That’s not the end of Anne’s story however, because she emerges from the warehouse a changed woman.  She’s stronger and more confident, able to speak up when once before she was less inclined to say what she wanted.  More importantly, she finds a nice big cup of blood makes all of her new senses amplified tenfold…the fresher, the better.  Her husband doesn’t understand what’s happening to his newly sexualized wife but gets an idea quickly after a run-in with a missing parishioner that also had a nighttime meet-up with The Master (Bonnie Aarons, The Nun), a Nosferatu-ish rat-like beast that likes to whisper names and rip open necks that explode with blood for feasting.  With Anne transitioning into a ghastly beast and Jakob waking up and realizing her value, it’s time to exterminate The Master once and for all. 

Nothing would have made me happier than to report that Jakob’s Wife is worthy of your time and, more importantly, of a horror icon like Barbara Crampton’s.  Sadly, it’s a gore snore that appears to have spent more time and energy on devising ways to get blood the color and consistency of Hawaiian Punch to gush like a geyser out of necks than it did on any other production value.  Aarons make-up as The Master is ghoulish to be sure but it also feels like vampire-rodent 101. As an actress, Aarons is quite good at selling these freaky creations but even she can’t get this fiend to frighten. 

If Crampton had been afforded more of the true spotlight with interesting moments we haven’t seen before, the film may have cut some new territory as well.  Instead, the revitalized Anne trades her gray sweats and mousy hair for the vamp tramp look which is about as cliché as you can get.  Crampton didn’t get to her legendary status in horror for her acting, let’s be honest, but she brings a certain aura of sophistication to her roles. Even she looks uncomfortably out of sorts for the majority of the film, a rare occurrence. It’s likely because Anne may change outwardly but screenwriters Kathy Charles, & Mark Steensland (who I discovered was a production intern on 1987’s Mannequin…a trivia fact I had to include) haven’t done much to show the true changes she feels within…and that can’t be left to Crampton to do on her own.  In a similar vein (heh heh) Fessenden has a certain genre following that I don’t quite understand, and he doesn’t fit this material in the least.  Dead or undead, Anne needs to pack it in and leave Jakob in the dust and we don’t need to wait 90 minutes to understand this.  As for the rest of the supporting cast, let’s leave them with their anonymity as they deserve. 

What a curiously bad film like Jakob’s Wife serves to remind us of is that no matter what, horror will live on in interesting forms.  I just don’t think it needed to be a feature film that’s quite so long.  At over 90 minutes, it doesn’t have the plot (or, frankly, the budget) to make its case and that becomes brutally clear with each passing frame.  Instead, I wish a director like Travis Stevens, who has begun to make a name for himself in horror with a buzzy calling card flick like Girl on the Third Floor, would gather his contemporaries and get back to the anthology days of the fight film.  A number of genre directors right now have interesting ideas, can attract decent names, know how to stretch a buck, but often feel the need to make everything feature length.  I’d be willing to bet a nickel or two that if Stevens, who also co-wrote, presented Jakob’s Wife as a thirty-minute chapter in a longer anthology the reaction to the film would be far different.  In its current state, it doesn’t do anyone, apart from the special effects folk, any favors. 

Indie horror is where the creative juices can flow and that’s why Jakob’s Wife should have found some more skilled ways to subvert the vampire genre considering its limitations.  Instead, it feels like the filmmakers embraced these shortcomings too much and tossed their money behind the wrong horse.  We’ve seen excessive blood flow and gore before…what we really want are the stories and characters to back-it all up.  Without that, it’s all rat droppings. 

Available in Select Theaters, On Demand, and Digital on April 16th

Movie Review ~ The Reckoning

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: In the aftermath of the Great Plague and amidst the subsequent witch-hunts against women, a young widow grapples with the tragic death of her husband in a society completely consumed by fear and death and faces her own inner demons as the devil himself starts to work his way into her mind.

Stars: Charlotte Kirk, Sean Pertwee, Steven Waddington, Joe Anderson, Suzanne Magowan, Ian Whyte, Callum Goulden, Sarah Lambie, Leon Ockenden

Director: Neil Marshall

Rated: NR

Running Length: 110 minutes

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review:  In the early 2000’s there was the real possibility that UK director Neil Marshall could have made a significant play for the big leagues.  Achieving good notices for his first feature film in 2002, the cult werewolf creature feature Dog Soldiers, he followed that up in 2005 with the bona fide classic in the horror genre, The Descent.  I vividly remember seeing that majestically haunting movie after hearing the advance buzz and the reports on how truly scary it was and wondering during the screening who was screeching so loudly at the numerous terrifying moments…only to realize it was me.  Marshall clearly was gaining momentum.  Of course, Hollywood came calling and if the next films weren’t all that creative, they weren’t bad but didn’t make a dent at the box office.  Retreating to television for the next decade, Marshall wouldn’t make another film until the failed attempt to reboot the Hellboy franchise and, well, all know how that turned out.

Imagine my surprise to see Marshall’s name attached to an indie horror film like The Reckoning and you better believe I was all over that screening opportunity.  Something about the film’s subject matter (witch hunts around the Great Plauge near the end of the 17th century) seemed to fit perfectly with Marshall’s oeuvre and I wondered if this wouldn’t be a fine return to form for the director that clearly had a sense for visuals, just not one for picking the right scripts to make those visuals come to life.  Then I started to get more information and my hopes started to sink.  The film was co-written, executive produced, and starring Charlotte Kirk.  Charlotte Kirk is Marshall’s fiancé.  Oh.  It started to make sense why he’d be involved in a smaller picture like this but I still held out some hope it wouldn’t be a mere vanity project for the lovebirds to hang out together and get paid for it.  After The Reckoning is released to the public on February 5th, I’ll be amazed if they ever tie the knot.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie so ineptly terrible as The Reckoning and I’ve seen a lot of ‘em.  My tolerance for these genre offerings are high so when I tell you I seriously considered stopping this on several occasions and pretending the link never arrived in my inbox, take it to heart at how poor this experience can be for you if you get a notion to explore the horrors that Kirk, Marshall, and company have worked up for you.  (By the way, I would never do that…pretend a link never arrived so I wouldn’t have to review it — I’m in it for the long haul no matter what!)  Whatever promise of jangled nerves was held in the very real story of women falsely accused of witchery and subjected to brutal tortures and death is replaced by your own fear of never escaping the dungeon of repulsive imagery, sets so cheap a brisk wind would knock them over, and acting so horrendous it makes a chicken in a cage playing Tic-Tac-Toe look like Chekov.

You have to hand it to Marshall, it takes bravery to follow-up an extended title sequence that alternates between the production credits and a slow motion shot of an unknown family being forcibly removed from their home with another drawn out scene showing how new mother Grace Haverstock (Kirk, Non-Stop) has come to bury her husband Joseph (Joe Anderson, The Grey) after he winds up at the end of a noose.  I can’t verify this and I didn’t write it down, but I’m fairly certain Marshall acts as his own editor so these were his decisions and it gets the movie off to a glacial pace, hobbling it narratively from the get go.  Without a man to provide for her, Grace asks the owner of their land for an extension on their rent but he’ll only consider a different kind of payment that she isn’t willing to fu…I mean, fork over.

In those days, there was nothing worse than a man with a hurt pride and finger to point out the latest woman that rejected his advances as a witch.  Before long, Grace is in prison surrounded by pestilence and growing visions of a horned devil that prefers her without clothes and greased up, if possible.  No one will step up to save Grace, especially when she comes before the Witchfinder General Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee, Event Horizon) and his assistant Ursula (Suzanne Magowan) a former accused witch burned at the stake by Moorcroft that survived and now works to help him do the same to other women.  (Y’know, a real girls girl.  Gee, thanks Ursula!)  Though he doesn’t know it, Grace has history with Moorcroft and as his methods of extracting a confession out of her grow more devious, she plots a revenge that has been long in the making.

In the honor of full transparency and giving the little credit I can offer, there’s a rather interesting story going on in The Reckoning that I thought could have been explored/exploited to a far greater effect had the filmmakers access to better, well, everything.  It’s the production across the board that makes the film sink like a stone and stink like a sore.  I’m sure Kirk and co-screenwriters Marshall and Edward Evers-Swindell must have done SOME kind of research in putting this storyline together, it’s just a waste of a story with such silly execution.  If you don’t outright laugh the first time you see the small “town” in the middle of a green field I applaud you.  It looks like someone cut out a castle from a children’s book, scanned it, and photoshopped it onto a postcard.  Really terrible.

If you ever wondered how long eye make-up stayed on in the 17th century, especially after being lashed multiple times, take a look around the halfway mark of the film and see Kirk’s nigh-perfect eyeliner and mascara.  She’s just been whipped within an inch of her life but her face looks gorgeous, darling.  In fact, though her body is put through the wringer (one scene in particular is so far over the line of good taste I’m not surprised it took over a year for the film to find a distributor) her lipstick and foundation game are always on point.  The rest of the cast are best left unmentioned in the hopes they will all either go on with their lives in a different chosen profession or find better projects next time.  The only one I will call out is Magowan who is a bright spot as the only character that appears increasingly conflicted (at least adequately) as the brutality against Grace goes on.  She’s obviously been through something similar and lived to tell about it.  Her burned flesh is covered by black robes and her face is hidden by a fabric veil but just through her eyes we can see the worry grow.  It’s a lively performance in an otherwise deathly film.

Absolutely the lowest of the low where film is concerned, the only consolation is that Marshall may eventually make a comeback on a smaller scale and leave the feature length films alone.  His television work has been impressive in the name recognition but sporadic in terms of occurrence.  It’s because of these types of blunders that sully his once-good name.  I won’t even go into all the mess surrounding Kirk (Google her and do investigate yourself) but starring in this one awful movie isn’t going to do any more damage at this point in time.  The final question of The Reckoning is more or less if you’re willing to sit through nearly two bodaciously bad hours of this nonsense.

Movie Review ~ Psycho Goreman

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: After unearthing a gem that controls an evil monster looking to destroy the Universe, a young girl and her brother use it to make him do their bidding.

Stars: Matthew Ninaber, Nita-Josee Hanna, Owen Myre, Adam Brooks, Alexis Kara Hancey, Kristen MacCulloch, Reece Presley, Rick Amsbury, Matthew Kennedy, Timothy Paul McCarthy, Conor Sweeney, Robert Homer, Anna Tierney, Rich Evans

Director: Steven Kostanski

Rated: NR

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  During the tumult of 2020, one big positive I took was getting to see more indie horror films long before they became another new release to add to a growing queue of titles I would struggle to return to.  With space on the schedule thanks to the studios moving their bigger projects out months or years, my inbox became an increasingly fertile ground for all kinds of features with creatures both real and imaginary. Most were expectedly good, some unexpectedly great, and of course we had a stinker or two that just balanced everything out in the end in my eyes.  Each week there seemed to be something new to spook you and it’s important to keep these studios/titles/filmmakers in mind as we head into 2021 when we start to get back to “normal.”  That’s a thought for another day though because there’s another title out that’s worth your time here and now and while Psycho Goreman may have some rough edges and more schlock than shock, it’s a goofy good time that can serve as a throwback for fans wanting retro kicks or a perfectly enjoyable modern take on a popular formula.

As the film opens, an introductory scroll tells us of the Archduke of Nightmares and how he was defeated by the good people of the planet Gigax.  Imprisoned on Earth for his crimes and separated from his power source, a glowing gem that was buried deep within the soil, his reign of terror over the galaxy was put to an end and everyone lived happily ever after.  That is, until the present day when suburban siblings Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) and Luke (Owen Myre) accidentally awaken the demon during their afternoon match of Crazyball and hypercompetitive Mimi winds up with her bratty hands on the amulet he is desperate to be reunited with to regain his full strength.  Realizing that as long as she has what he wants he’ll do anything for her, she names her new pet Psycho Goreman (PG for short) and sets about wreaking almost as much havoc as PG did, sometimes with more disastrous results.

In between montages of PG learning about the people of Earth, there are secret neighborhood crushes turned into a oozing oversized brain and a run in with the police that turns into a face melting bad time for one of the officers.  To the increasingly horrified Luke, this is the stuff of nightmares, but to Mimi it’s her own plan for world domination coming to fruition…just a few years earlier than she expected.  As Mimi and Luke befriend PG, who grits his teeth as Mimi’s personal gopher, galaxies away his revival has sent an alarm to the Gigax elders and alerted them that their ancient nemesis may be making a return visit.  In short order, the alabaster warrior Pandora (Kristen MacCulloch) is sent to Earth to make it clear they aren’t accepting visitors. Then, when a horde of PG’s former fiendish allies also descend upon the small town and several double-crosses are revealed that loop in the kids’ squabbling parents (Alexis Kara Hancey & Adam Brooks), Mimi and Luke turn to their beastly bud for assistance and find that PG might turn out to be the savior of Earth and not its destroyer.

Writer/director Steven Kostanski has a clear affinity for the low-budget efforts from studios like Troma, Full Moon Entertainment, and Empire Pictures.  These production houses churned out cult classics that might have been stuck together with goopy glue and popsicle sticks that still had remnants of a Fudgsicle on them, but they were so much fun to watch you hardly minded.  Film production has come a long way since then so Psycho Goreman uses its low budget in all the right places, going sparse in the way of special effects and focusing on make-up and costuming instead.  That’s where the creative energy really starts to flow and there are several of the old PG friends that were designed to be so disgusting and/or funny that you very nearly want to stand up and applaud the imagination brought to life.

That same energy flows into the performances as well, starting with Matthew Ninaber under layers of latex (and, later, some goofy costumes to disguse himself) as the titular character.  The suit is always a suit but it has a surprisingly effective presence even when you can see it puckering in at odd angles on the actor.  All of the actors in full costume deserve major props for navigating what I’m sure where hard conditions to film in; it can’t have been comfortable, but the results are well worth the efforts.  If the humans feel a little second banana, it’s only because they are so ordinary compared to the extraordinary nature of their out-of-this-world co-stars.  Audiences are either going to love Hanna’s preposterously awful Mimi or wish she’d get a laser blast to the cranium post haste and while it took me longer than it probably should have to warm up to her, by the end I understood why she had to be drawn with such big bold lines.

Definitely bound to appear on every “Best Movies You Haven’t Heard Of” lists for whatever streaming service this one lands on and more than likely headed toward a status of cult, Psycho Goreman is a fun film that takes itself only as seriously as you’d let it.  It delivers everything it promises and more, with a plot that’s more fleshed out than usual, excellent physical effects that blend nicely with computer generated ones, and performances that sell the material without turning it into a poorly timed farce.  The final act (and specifically the last 15 or so minutes) is really going to tweak a sweet spot for horror fans but by then I’m betting most viewers will already have been won over by PG’s R-rated antics.