Elliott Maguire

About Elliott Maguire

When I was younger, I was that creepy Stephen King kid, there was one in every school. Now I write scripts, shoot shorts, and watch way too many horror films. Manchester born and bred, and all Red. Like David Fincher once said: I'm not interested in movies that entertain, I want movies that scar...http://www.imdb.com/name/nm6350289/ @emsonline12

Dead End aka Drifter (2016) Review

rsz_deadendDEAD END aka DRIFTER (2016)

Starring Aria Emory, Drew Harwood and Monique Rosario

Directed by Chris von Hoffman

Written by Chris von Hoffman and Aria Emory

UK DVD Release from High Fliers Films on March 6th

A pair of outlaw brothers seek temporary refuge in a desolate town inhabited by a small family of psychotic cannibalistic lunatics“.

The story of Drifter pretty much goes like this. If you take the Gecko Brothers from Tarantino and Rodriguez’s classic From Dusk Till Dawn, roughed them up and put them in the middle of an arid post-apocalyptic, just about to go Mad Max wasteland, and then had them stumble upon the family from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and their mutant cousins from The Hills Have Eyes, then you’ve pretty much got it.

Seriously. The script actually replicates wholesale dialogue, even scenes, from those films and others. This kind of thing is basically the reason I’ve grown so tired of Tarantino and Rob Zombie. So why the high rating?

rsz_deadend1Because this film is an absolute assault on the senses, that’s why. In his feature debut, director Hoffman, a veteran of music videos and short films, has less directed the script as directed the living shit out of his script. Imprinting a gritty, flashy, grimy and relentless vision all of his own, Drifter is less directed and more choreographed, like an 80’s dubstep goth rave in the desert. There are images here that are truly stunning, the way Hoffman frames the landscape, follows his characters, captures the day and the night. It all feels iconic. His energy behind the camera is non stop, reaching even crazier heights in the moments of savagery.

And choreography is nothing without music. My oh my, the soundtrack in this rhymes with the visuals in a way we rarely see these days. It’s a pulsing, pounding, monstrous beast from Nao Sato, and it’s a marvel. I swear there were moments in this film where the combination of movement, framing, action and soundtrack nearly had me cheering. Everything just clicks to create a sensory overload. I think this is what makes the film work so well. The script and story may lack originality, but its execution is anything but derivative. The feel of this film, the texture of it, the sound of it, is like nothing I remember seeing. Yes, it’s showy and attention seeking but it bloody well deserves it. Drifter is Hoffman trying not to make a splash, but to kick all the water out of the tub. And I need to own this soundtrack immediately.

The performances are also extremely fun. As our heroes, Emory and Howard take stock characters and rough them right up, make them lived in and raw. But our villains have the most fun. James McCabe is fantastically sinister as the childlike patriarch of the clan, Doyle, and Rebecca Frasier is the most devious white trash doll you will find. But the standout was Anthony Ficco as the Danny Zuko on acid Latos. A twitchy, nightmarish bottle of bloodthirsty rage, he’s a fantastic villain.

rsz_deadend2Although technically the film is a striking marvel, with sights and sounds that are seared into my brain, it’s a real shame that the script is such a hodgepodge of scenes and dialogue from other movies. In this case it’s not a deal breaker, but it would’ve elevated this to cult-classic status. But maybe the reason it’s all so blatant is because that was the point. So, if Drifter is a love-letter to a particularly grimy type of cinema, it’s a kinetic and visceral success. But we will have to wait for the next film from Hoffman for originality.

As it stands, Drifter is an everything and the kitchen sink project done right. An angry, vicious, grindhouse fever dream.

8/10

The ID (2015) Review

rsz_idTHE I.D. (2015)

Starring Amanda Wyss and Patrick Peduto

Directed by Thommy Hutson

Written by Sean H. Stewart

A lonely woman caring for her domineering father is pushed to the brink when a figure from her past re-enters her life“.

Meredith Lane (Amanda Wyss) is living a lonely, sheltered life while she cares for her ageing but demanding and abusive Father (Patrick Peduto) when she receives a phone call from her high school sweetheart Ted (Malcolm Matthews) that sends her life spiralling out of control.

Care home abuse and the victimisation of the elderly and disabled is a disturbing subject that occurs more and more in reality. And while The Id is a worthy attempt to explore the more psychological aspects of the subject, it’s execution is patchy.

rsz_id1It’s clear what director Hutson and writer Stewart are aiming for here. Visually, aurally and performance-wise, the film feels like an homage to the seventies and eighties melodrama-come horror films made popular by directors like Brian De Palma and even Wes Craven. The bright white lighting, intrusive classical score and soft, dreamlike focus definitely evoke films such as Carrie and scenes from A Nightmare on Elm Street. But the cinematography is often slightly amateurish, the constant jittery handheld and lack of composure undermining the efforts.

Structurally, the film deteriorates pretty much exactly halfway through. What could have been an intense examination of a very dysfunctional relationship becomes a dragging mixture of dream sequences and blurring of reality. But it doesn’t really leave Meredith with much to do. Also, some of the dialogue is trying too hard to be edgy. Fair enough, Father should be a potty mouth, but it would be so much more effective if others weren’t.

Elm Streets Amanda Wyss is excellent here, carrying much of the film on her shoulders. Her Miranda is a complex character, held back her whole life by her father and so still stuck in her teenage mindset. Life has become monotonous, and as we see in the first half, she still loves her father despite everything. Patrick Peduto steals scenes though as Father. He is a truly vile and venomous creation, his monologues often more violent and wounding than any physical attack.

rsz_id2The ID works best when exploring the troubling relationship between carer and caree, the conflict and dynamic well-performed by a dedicated and able cast. But when it tries to become a thriller, the story gets lost and the intentions unclear.

With a few more rewrites and the use of a tripod every once and awhile, the essence of this story would’ve been found and visual everything would’ve been improved. As it is, The ID is recommended only on the strength of its two lead performances. Wyss is a hell of an actress and disappears into the role, as does Peduto.

6/10

Killbillies (2015) Review

kbKILLBILLIES (2015)

Starring Nina Ivanisin, Nika Rosman and Sebastian Cavazza

Written & Directed by Tomaz Gorkic

After a night of carousing, the amateur photo model Zina heads for a fashion shoot in the nature, accompanied by the ambitious Mia, apathetic Dragica and snobby photographer Blitzc. On the idyllic location, a supposedly ordinary fashion shoot turns into a fight for survival”.

With a title like KillBillies I expected something ridiculous and fun along the lines of the Wrong Turn sequels or our own Inbred, an over the top cannibal gore fest with big boobs and bad dialogue. But to my surprise what I actually got was more along the lines of the original Wrong Turn and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with a moonshine twist. KillBillies is a dark, somber and nihilistic horror experience, which while derivative, is nonetheless a worthy addition to the genre.

kb2It’s clear what writer and director Gorkic’s intentions are. He keeps the atmosphere convincingly grubby and the tone relentlessly bleak, cribbing scenes and ideas from Tobe Hooper’s classic amongst others. His script is extremely tight, with a gradual build up to the extreme violence and a disarmingly simple structure and story. His direction is similarly simple but still smart. The visuals are refreshingly clean and composed as opposed to the usual handheld, and using natural light, Gorkic captures the Slovenian landscape beautifully. The mountains and distant vistas not only look stunning but they sell the sense of hopelessness and desolation.

Like the best of the mountain man genre, KillBillies truly shines in its violence. And while it’s not a constant splatter-fest, the moments of gore are convincing and hit hard. In fact one of the films greatest strengths is the way the camera lingers on the suffering and displays it realistically. Whether it’s the stunned aftermath of an act of violence or the slow, uncomfortable bleeding out of a character, the camera is unflinching.

kb1What KillBillies also lacks however is memorable villains. Yes, Francl is brutal and sports some great lederhosen, but he doesn’t have chance to be truly unique and impactful. And his pal is almost exactly the same chuckling freak who has gained notoriety in Wrong Turn and it’s sequels.

The most refreshing thing about KillBillies is it knows exactly what it is, it knows its limitations, and it knows what it’s audience wants. And while it never tries to be anything more, it also doesn’t resort to the trashy, mindless and passionless type of filmmaking the hillbilly genre has become accustomed to. There’s actual craft here, and passion.

7/10

Top 10 Horror Films of 2016 by Elliott Maguire

Top 10 Horror Films of 2016 by Elliott Maguire

swmb110. SHE WHO MUST BURN

Something that has and will always fascinate me is religion, and what those devoted to their God will do in their name. She Who Must Burn examines this in such a realistic way it’s almost a docu-drama. A horrifying look at religious extremism in a small town with a sense of inevitability and dread that is palpable.

9. CREEPY

Another title that completely caught me off guard, this dense, slow-burning psychological thriller was all about the characters and the performances, and oh boy did they do a good job of getting right under your skin, especially Teruyuki Kagawa as the last person you would want living next door. Truly the work of a master filmmaker, like the characters in the final frames, Creepy will leave you scarred.

tank8. TANK 432

Coming from Ben Wheatley’s frequent collaborator Nick Gillespie, I had high expectations for Tank 432 until I saw the trailer. Then I thought I had all the twists figured out. So happy I was wrong. This was a much smarter film than its surface would suggest, a hallucinogenic trip to to into the belly of the bull. War is hell indeed.

7. THE CONJURING 2

This was the most purely entertaining cinema going experience of the year for me. An epic horror crowd pleaser, every inch of the screen was used to smartly construct some of the biggest jump scares of 2016. Emotional, terrifying and full of wonder, this was just so much fun.

invitaqtion6. THE INVITATION

From the writers of Night At The Museum and the director of Aeon Flux and Jennifer’s Body…I didn’t see this going well. But imagine my surprise when this turned out to be one of the smartest and most  disturbing paranoid thrillers I’d seen in years. An absolute must-see.

5. TABLOID VIVANT

I had never heard of Tabloid Vivant until I watched it for a review, and I still don’t think I’ve seen anything like it. This is an art house film, literally about art, but don’t let that put you off. It’s also accessible, transgressive, imaginative, stylish, unique, funny and in the end quite tragic. It’s also available on Amazon Prime now, so I say open your mind and give it a go.

mindseyeeeee4. THE MIND’S EYE

Our fearless leader Andy Deen recommended this to me and all I can say is fuck me gently with a chainsaw, this is just the shot in the arm jaded horror fans are looking for. Lovingly retro without being cutesy, this is too drawer indie filmmaking. Complex characters, in a simple story told with passion, vigour and ingenuity. It’s stunning. For fans of Cronenberg, Verhoeven and Eric Red, it has to be seen. Bravo Joe Begos. Bravo.

3. GREEN ROOM

I think this was the film I was anticipating the most this year, and it exceeded my expectations. After this and Blue Ruin, Saulnier has the directorial and storytelling vision that I can relate to the most. This is old school genre filmmaking, the Walter Hill or John Carpenter kind. Every shot is thoughtful, every line important, and every scene of violence painful. Led by the late, great Anton Yelchin as an unconventional hero, this really is one of the most visceral and uncompromising horror films of the year.

2. HIGH RISE

Ben Wheatley can do no wrong in my book. He’s a true visionary whose films are always distinctive and High Rise was no different. Disturbing, hilarious, anarchic and horrifyingly relevant right now, this one will is going to stand the test of time.

wailing1. THE WAILING

I still can’t stop thinking about The Wailing. It’s such a layered and literate story, that takes its time burrowing into your consciousness. This is the ultimate kind of horror. It ticks all the boxes, but it all feels natural. Psychologically devastating, horrifyingly violent, and emotionally engaging, there truly hasn’t been a film like this in years. Steeped in folklore and character, this feels like an adaptation of an amazing Stephen King novel. It’s not, but it’s seriously that rich and imaginative. If anything comes close to it in 2017 it will be a very good year for horror.

Honourable Mention: THE NEIGHBOUR

The Neighbour is bound to be one of those films that flies under the radar, but, even though it’s technically more of a thriller than horror, it’s well worth checking out. A tight, smart, brutal crime thriller with standout turns from Josh Stewart and Alex Essoe.

Biggest Letdown: LIGHTS OUT

I’m a big fan of David F. Sandberg’s short films and an even bigger fan of James Wan’s. It should be a match made in horror heaven, but I found this a poorly developed effort. Dumb characters, an uninvolving plot and unimaginative scares made this extremely forgettable unfortunately.

Biggest Surprise: THE INVITATION

5 Most Anticipated for 2017:

a-cure-for-wellness-uk-movie-posterA CURE FOR WELLNESS

Gore Verbinski returns to the horror genre with what looks like a visually stunning mind-fuck. I don’t want to know anything about this going in but I can’t wait to watch it and find out.

GET OUT

A racially-fuelled Wicker Man from Jordan Peele and Jason Blum? Hell yes. I don’t think this could’ve been made at a better time and can’t wait to see what’s surprises it has in store.

PREVENGE

Everything about this, from the story behind it’s making to the concept, excites me. Everything I’ve heard so far tells me Alice Lowe has made a defining British cult classic.

leatherface_2016_posterLEATHERFACE

The directors of INSIDE. Directing a TEXAS CHAINSAW film. As a horror road trip. With STEPHEN FUCKING DORFF. WHY IS THIS TAKING SO LONG TO COME OUT!?! There is absolutely no way this can be as bad as the last one, so just put the ultra violence in my eyeballs now!!!

THE DEVIL’S CANDY

I’m a HUGE fan of The Loved Ones, and have been patiently waiting on another Sean Byrne film. Another unique eye with a huge passion for the genre, he’s a fantastic talent and this melding of a metal and the supernatural sounds awesome

Onus (2016) Review

onusONUS (2016)

Starring Robert Render, Anthony Boyle, Caroline Burns Cooke and Vivian Jameson

Directed by George Clarke

Written by George Clarke, Robert Render and Anthony Boyle

Out NOW on UK DVD from LEFT FILMS!

A boy wakes up below a cliff, bloodied, with a gun in his hand, and chained to a man who lies beside him. He stresses hard to remember what happened, and soon the puzzles of the day’s events come back to him. The story begins”.

Made for a budget of £500, Onus reads like a textbook example of how to make a next to no-budget feature. Shot mostly outside in natural daylight, with a minimal cast and very little to nothing in the way of special fx, Onus still manages to beat its minimal budget. While rough around the edges, there is enough promise here to suggest director and co-writer George Clarke is a talent worth watching.

Keiran Flynn (Boyle) and Mr Andrews (Render) wake in the woods, linked by handcuffs and gaffer taped handguns. As they come to terms with their dire situation, the plot thickens and the tension between the two rises. In the aftermath of the events in the woods, Andrews wife Liz (Burns Cooke) and Kieran’s mother Joan (Jameson) come together to try to make sense of it all…

Stripping everything back allows the performances to be the focus, and in the main they work very well. Render and Boyle make for a compellingly conflicted double act, a much more dynamic and tense relationship than the similar one featured in the original Saw. Burns Cooke and Jameson fare a little poorer but not for a lack of talent. Rather, their issues are one of many in the structure of the film.

anthony-boyleI have to highlight the main flaw in Onus and that is the rather ambitious but unsuccessful narrative structure. It’s a film of two halves, with the first half focusing on the chained together scenario, and the second half focusing on the aftermath. You can see Clarke’s intentions, but they don’t translate well. The script is less tight and focused in the second half, and the film falters technically as well, the sound hampering the acting.

All of this is very frustrating as the first half is so visually disciplined, well written and performed, that it could have easily been the focus of the entire feature. As it is, you are left with the aftertaste of a missed opportunity.

But you can’t fault the ambition here. On pennies, Clarke has made a thought-provoking and intriguing movie, that also reads as a textbook for aspiring filmmakers. I’d be very interested in seeing how Clarke pulled all this off, as would other students of the form I think.

6/10

The Devil Lives Here aka The Fostering (2015) Review

dlh1The Devil Lives Here aka The Fostering (2015)

Starring Pedro Caetano, Pedro Carvalho and Mariana Cortes

Directed by Rodrigo Gasparini & Dante Vescio

Written by Guilherme Aranha, Rafael Baliu, M.M. Izidoro

Out on UK DVD now from Matchbox Films and worldwide from Artsploitation Films

“Three teenagers go visit a friend at his old farmhouse for the weekend. What they didn’t expect was to be caught in the middle of a centenary war between good and evil”.

A group of friends head out to a house in the middle of nowhere for a night of fun and shenanigans. But before you can say Cabin In Ten Woods, they find their lives in grave danger when they are trapped in an annual ceremony involving the horrific history of the house…

Folk horror is all the rage on this side of the pond, with A Field In England, Wake Wood and more following in the grand tradition of The Wicker Man. Tales that explore the rich, grim history of this little island to great effect. So now we have a Brazilian folk horror in The Devil Lives Here. Brazil is a country rife with history and culture, although we very rarely see it explored in horror. Although The Devil Lives Here won’t go down as a classic of the genre, it’s a fun flick nonetheless.

dlh2The performances from the young cast are fine if not standout. To be fair, our two female leads, Mariana Cortines and Clara Verdier, downplay their characters and it actually comes across as very naturalistic. A change from the usual overacting and shrieking that comes with this territory. The best and most well thought out character though is our sadistic villain The Honey Baron played by Ivo Muller. But unfortunately, his handling is one of the films flaws…

The main issue is that for a film with such a brisk runtime, the story is needlessly complex, or at least the telling of it is. There’s so much backstory that needs to be explored, that it dominates the entire first half of the film. Even then, I found myself getting a little lost and confused as to what was going on, because after all that setup, the payoff is pretty rushed. So much time is spent introducing The Honey Baron is flashbacks that he only has 20 minutes of runtime left to terrorise our heroes!

Indeed, The Devil Lives Here is genuinely a film of two halves. The first half, although badly paced when looking at the overall finished product, has a sun-drenched atmosphere of dread and intriguing visuals that really work. The direction is unshowy but fresh, and the ideas and performances at play really work. But when all this is just build up to a messy, incoherent and badly lit finale where everything is muddled, it muddies the experience. So many strange moments come right out of left field that I’d imagine there’s a hell of a lot of this on the cutting room floor that should still be there.

dlh3But with such a brush runtime, it’s hard not to recommend The Devil Lives Here. It’s a fun little diversion in the “kids get killed in the middle of nowhere” subgenre from filmmakers that show great promise, and could do well with a better structured story.

6/10

The Mind’s Eye (2015) Review

me1THE MIND’S EYE (2015)

Starring Graham Skipper, Lauren Ashley Carter and John Speredakos

Written & Directed by Joe Begos

UK DVD Release 6th Feb 2017 from High Fliers Films!!

“Zack Connors and Rachel Meadows were born with incredible psychokinetic capabilities. When word of their supernatural talents gets out, they find themselves the prisoners of Michael Slovak, a deranged doctor intent on harvesting their powers. After a daring escape, they are free from his sinister institution, but the doctor will stop at nothing to track them down so that he may continue to siphon their gifts for his own use”.

Retro horror is such a prevalent thing now it’s may as well be classed as it’s own sub genre. It Follows was an excellent minimalist Carpenter throwback, Turbo Kid was loads of 8-Bit soft rock fun and Stranger Things has combined elements of everything that we love about 80’s sci-fi horror to create one of the most purely enjoyable TV shows in recent years. There is a generation of filmmakers at the moment that are successfully paying homage to the films of their childhood, while also managing to express their own voices. Jim Mickle, Adam Wingard, Ti West are just some. And now we can add Joe Begos to that list.

me3The Mind’s Eye has such an attention to detail that it could actually be the most authentically 80’s style horror we’ve had so far. From the Fiedel/Carpenter-esque score by Steve Moore (listening to it as I write), to the beautifully animated title design, the flick oozes VHS gem. But it goes further than the style. The substance also feels dug up from a simpler time, with its use of telekinesis, it’s road trip/chase structure, and its shady government conspiracy types. It all combines as if a Cronenberg, Carpenter and a young James Cameron collaborated on an Eric Red script. Which is awesome!

The cast is like a who’s who of indie horror. Begos brings back Skipper from Almost Human as Zack, and he creates a very badass slacker character who thinks on his feet and can stain like a motherfucker to get the best out of his abilities. The prolific Lauren Ashley Carter continues her rise to Queen of all Scream Queens as Rachel, who is anything but a damsel in distress, like a mind-bending Sarah Connor. Both leads are credibly earthy, convincingly “normal” compared to the usual Hollywood stereotypes and all the more likeable for it. Speredakos has heaps of fun hamming it up as über villain Slovak, too. Add in Noah Segan, Larry Fessenden and Jeremy Gardner and it’s a horror geek get together.

me2Begos direction has improved greatly since Almost Human too. His framing of the action sequences, and work with the actors, is all so, so confident. I must mention the aggressive sound FX and editing as well, which immerse you more than any $100mil budget could do. (Special shout out to the sex scene brilliantly intercut with Slovak’s injection, just ballsy and beautiful). The practical gore FX are just a joy to behold too, and by the bucketload when they come. Believe me, every character gets bloody here.

If there’s a fault, it’s a fairly common one I find in indie films these days, and probably not an issue for most. But it’s the constant use of handheld. I miss the smooth, composed shots of the 80’s. But time and budget are probably many a filmmakers issue in achieving that distinctive look these days. But it’s a minor quibble, and if it’s the price of giving filmmakers like Begos the freedom to tell the stories they want their way then who cares.

me4With strong performances, lashings of style and a brutally efficient script, The Mind’s Eye is another fantastic midnight movie from an immensely talented filmmaker. All we need now is an onslaught of even lower budget straight to DVD sequels that get progressively (but lovably) worse to really transport is back to the 80’s. Stick this one right in your own mind’s eye immediately!

9/10

Meat (2010) Review

Template 401 DVD WrapMEAT (2010)

Starring Titus Muizelaar, Nellie Benner and Hugo Metsers

Directed by Victor Nieuwenhuijs & Maartje Seyferth

Written by Maartje Seyferth & Stan Lapinski

Out NOW on DVD from Artsploitation Films

“A girl is awakened by a world of cruelty, shadowy passions and sensuality”.

Welcome to the strange and dark world of MEAT. Meet Inspector Mann (Muizelaar), a sweaty, flabby, detached detective who is disappearing into a haze of beer, food and five o’clock shadow. Meet The Butcher (Muizelaar again), a sweaty, flabby meat grinder who longs to be desirable to the live in prostitute who regularly entertains him. And finally, meet Roxy (Benner), the butchers alluring assistant, with a penchant for being naked, filming with her camcorder…and murder? Each of these damaged individuals have grown disdain for themselves and for those around them, but why? And can they find a way to connect before it’s too late?

Hey. It’s me again, with another film that balances on the fine line between art and porn. To be fair, the last two I reviewed, We Are The Flesh and BB, were pretty incredible pieces of work that used their images of sexuality to push their themes. Meat tries its best to do the same and while it’s a good effort, it’s simply to obtuse to make much of a lasting impression.

meat2The performances here are what stands out the most. Titus Muizelaar creates such a distinction between his dual roles that it was way past the halfway mark when I realised both Mann and The Butcher were played by the same dude. Guy has presence to die for. Benner is an astounding find, again with such a hypnotic presence it’s impossible to take your eyes off of her, especially when sharing the screen with Muizelaar. Disarmingly naive and innocent in one scene and then seductive and almost vampiric in the next, Benner disappears into her mysterious role. Both actors throw inhibitions out the window and fully commit mind and body to the film. So much so that supporting characters pretty much fade into the background.

Nieuwenhuijs and Seyferth direct with plenty of style. Although the low budget stifles the ambition a bit, the mixture of a dirty, grainy film stock, green-hued camcorder footage and an assured editorial style work to the films advantage. Together with the script, the direction, and performances, truly transport us to a strange, mundane alternate dimension. Characters act and react in slightly bizarre ways, and the streets are always strangely deserted. Imagine if Yorgos Lanthimos, Jan Svankmajer and Tinto Brass collaborated on a no-budget film and you would not be far off the mark.

The film uses the connection of meat, and the consumption of it, in relation to sex, and human connection in general. But it also makes a statement about our disconnect with each other, in similar ways to our disconnect to the animals we eat on a daily basis. Long takes of meat being cut and sliced, intercut with lingering shots of naked bodies in all their honest glory, play with exaggerated and uncomfortable sound design.

meat3But as the film goes on, the pace becomes ponderous and the narrative begins to tangle itself. The dream logic that appears to be at play just didn’t quite work for me, all leading to a baffling final sequence. What we have here is a hypnotic set up of themes and characters that could only go so far in the filmmaker’s eyes. As such, the ending carried no weight. Not for me anyway.

Meat is still worth catching though. There’s impressive talent in front of and behind the camera and a distinct voice. It’s just a shame it never reaches the dizzyingly provocative heights it strives for.

7/10

The Hollow (2016) Review

hollow1THE HOLLOW (2016)

Starring James Callis, Miles Doleac, Christiane Seidel, Jeff Fahey, William Forsythe and William Sadler

Written & Directed by Miles Doleac

When a US Congressman’s daughter passing through a small town in Mississippi dies in a mysterious triple homicide, a team of FBI agents descend to investigate. The team’s brilliant but jaded lead agent battling demons both past and present, as his beautiful, tough as nails partner tries to hold him and the case together. They find a struggling and corrupt sheriff’s department, a shadowy and much-feared figure, who seems to be pulling all of the towns strings from his mansion on the edge of town and a local victim with a strange connection to a number of the town’s most prominent figures”.

With a cast of horror genre vets such as Jeff Fahey, William Sadler and William Fosythe, the poster for The Hollow looks gift-wrapped for horror fans. But a horror film this is not. It’s a crime thriller, a southern-fried and sweaty noir with a dark heart. But hey, something great must have attracted a cast like that, right? I think I know exactly what attracted them, and it’s a double-edged sword.

hollow2You see, the script for The Hollow by writer, director and star Miles Doleac gives meaty dialogue and thorough backstory to every single character in the movie. EVERY. SINGLE. CHARACTER. This is a good thing in that the world is given incredible depth and feels lived in. It’s a bad thing for pacing and story coherence though. And for building tension. It’s a criticism I have with Tarantino, a writer I think is so in love with his own writing and has built a reputation so powerful that nobody else involved in his movies can rein him in. As such, his films are unfocused and meandering, and such a problem arises in The Hollow. I have to give Doleac credit where it’s due though, the effort here is tremendous, but at over two hours long it’s a real slog. If the backstories for all the characters here were at all vital to the story then it would be forgivable, but most of the time I didn’t feel like they were.

The story has other issues too. In an effort to pull off a respectable and high-brow noir, Doleac sacrifices many of the pulpy elements that we love the genre for. He keeps things just a key to low at all times, never pushing scenes of sleaze or violence as far as he could have. These things aren’t necessary, but they certainly could’ve raised the stakes, the tension, and given the film a more memorable feel. Also, the catalyst murder kind of gets lost in all the characters and backstory, not helped, again, by the runtime.

hollow3But if we treat The Hollow as a vehicle for some veteran character actors to flap their wings, then it’s a success. Sadler, Forsythe and Fahey often get lumped in DTV horror schlock, but here they have fantastic scenes to get through that taken on their own are fantastic showcases and show why we love these actors in the first place, particularly Forsythe as the imposing and devilish Big John. As the man with the most screen time, Doleac plays Deputy Ray like a Kentucky fried Bad Lieutenant, a thoroughly despicable lawman who finds his world collapsing around him. It comes across a little “vanity-project” but it works. But it’s at the detriment to our “heroes”, as Battlestar Galactica’s James Callis is left with a cliched and unlikeable agent Vaughn. His drinking and temper tantrum schtick is a a great big noir cliche and it’s laid on thick here. Callis does his best but it’s a bit of a thankless role. Thankfully, he has the excellent Christiane Seidel as his agent partner Sarah to hold things together and actually do some investigating!

Technically the film is impressive. Clifton Hyde’s minimalist score works well to immerse us in the heated atmosphere, but the scene stealer amongst all the scene stealers is the beautiful grimy and humid location, and the way in which Doleac and cinematographer Ben McBurnett shoot it. The town almost becomes a character in itself, full of detail and authenticity.

hollow4The Hollow is an interesting mystery, but it’s a ninety minute one stretched way too far. A quicker pace and fewer characters could’ve really elevated the material. If Doleac is more strict with his next script, he could have something very special. He gets characters, dialogue, atmosphere. But he needs a story with more focus. If you’re a fan of the actors here, and shows like True Detective and Justified, it’s absolutely worth checking out.

7/10

The Evil Gene (2015) Review

teg1THE EVIL GENE (2015)

Starring Richard Speight Jr, Cameron Richardson and Lindsey Ginter

Written & Directed by Kathryn F. Taylor

FBI agent Griff Krenshaw is dispatched to solve a murder at a federal correctional facility for inmates with a rare genetic defect that leads to psychosis and violence. Once there, Griff becomes convinced that the facility is being plagued by much darker forces“.

Griff Krenshaw is having a bit of a bad time of it. A bit of a loner and dedicated to his job, he is sent to Godfrey, a correctional facility dealing with special case inmates cursed with the titular condition. His mission, to solve the mystery of whether a renowned doctor there commuted suicide, or there is something more disturbing going on. But ghosts from Krenshaw’s past and the atmosphere of violence in the facility begin to mess with his head…

The Evil Gene is the filmmaking début of Kathryn F. Taylor, and while there are some some hiccups typical of low budget offerings along the way, the film actually has a pretty consistent atmosphere of foreboding and a decent pace. While the direction is unshowy it also makes the use of the grey sets and dark corridors of the facility, creating an eerie mood that took me by surprise.

While most of the performances are rudimentary, lead Speight Jr does well as the dogged FBI agent. The longer Krenshaw spends in the facility, the more his paranoia builds and darker sides of his own personality reveal themselves. Speight handles it all with great poise. But aside from one or two inmates who give it their all, everyone else utters their mundane dialogue in a pretty wooden way. But bizarrely, it all adds to the slightly off kilter mood. Intentional or not, I have to admit it kind of works.

A few distracting issues arise when the director decides to shoot random scenes with what appear to be a GoPro. Badly lit and incredible shaky and amateur looking, it really clashes with the otherwise quite professional, if pedestrian appearance of the rest of the film.

I think what really sets The Evil Gene apart from the usual DTV fodder is that it actually has something to say! There are themes at work here on the effects of nature versus nurture, what makes a person violent and homicidal. Is it in the genes? Drugs? Upbringing? Or could it be something much more sinister? In exploring these themes, the film never drags or becomes preachy and pretentious. Indeed, it moves too quickly in too short a runtime to do that.

The Evil Gene often comes off like a minor episode of The X Files, with its moody colour palette and exposition-filled mystery. Add a dash of Shutter Island and Stonehearst Asylum, and you have a decent time waster. As a first time filmmaker, Taylor shows plenty of promise and must be respected for attempting to make a more mature and meaningful thriller than we normally see at this budget level. It’s not entirely successful, and it’s not going to change your world, but there are worse ways to spend 80 minutes!

6/10