The Conjured aka Adaline (2015) Review

conjured1THE CONJURED aka ADALINE (2015)

Starring Jill Evyn, Lane Townsend and Jeremy Walker

Written & Directed by Bidisha Chowdhury

Out on UK DVD October 10th from High Fliers Films

“Adaline’s terrifying visions bleed through from the past and become Daniela’s present day nightmare”.

Daniella is your typical starving artist living in the city. Talented but not yet appreciated, she is a good soul who deserves a break. And she thinks that break has come when she inherits a large estate from her aunt out in the country. But as she struggles to settle in, she stumbles on the houses gruesome past, and soon learns that history has a way of repeating itself.

Although the setup is familiar, it’s familiar for a reason. Lots of haunted house films follow the same central conceit but they are still successful because the filmmaking is skilled, but unfortunately that’s not the case for Adaline.

It’s a very pretty film on the surface, with lots of showy shots of the city and the country and very well-composed framing of the house and characters but my god it’s boring. And while the reasons are many, the main culprit is the script. I lost count of how many random, overlong scenes of chitter-chatter there was here.

conjured2In the opening ten minutes we have not one but two scenes of Daniela chatting with her friend, and both scenes completely lack drama or conflict in any way shape or form. It’s a real slog and proof that the old, basic screen writing rules really are true. But all this could have been edited out if writer and director Chowdhury had been more disciplined. As it is, the film feels stale and unengaging, full of filler.

The performances are also a mixed bag, but when the scenes are filled with so many awkward gaps in conversation that could easily have been cut out in post, again, it’s more the filmmakers issue. As the clichéd sexually confident and adventurous best friend, Emma Claeys struggles with the inane dialogue, her character just there to show how quiet and lovely Daniela is. As Daniela, Jill Evyn does very well with the material she is given, but deserve better.

And then there is the flashback scenes. Daniela finds a diary in the spooky old house, which tells a tale of murder and betrayal. But the visualisation of it is laughable. It feels like you’re on the set of one of those hammy murder mystery tours, with cheap consumes and over the top acting.

But the main issue I had with Adaline was the ridiculously offensive disabled character Marvin (Jeremy Walker). His inclusion in the story is as mystifying as the insensitive way the character is written and portrayed.

conjured3On a technical note, aside from the editing in the dramatic scenes, Adaline is just fine. Chowdhury has a good eye and goes for the more M. Night approach, lots of steady wide shots and patience. The house itself is beautiful and we get to see lots of it, and the ending does jump up the pace a bit even if it did raise more questions than answers for me.

But Adaline is too bland and unengaging for me to truly recommend. Not campy enough for a fun Friday night in, it’s just a bit dull.

4/10

Hollows Grove (2014) Review

hollows1Hollows Grove (2014)

Starring: Mykelti Williamson, Lance Henriksen, Matthew Carey and Sunkrish Bala.

Written & Directed by Craig Efros.

Expected UK DVD Release 14th Nov 2016 from High Fliers Films

A young filmmaker documents his ghost-hunting, reality show friends as their routine investigation of an abandoned orphanage turns into a nightmare from which they can’t escape.”

For me, the charm of any found-footage movie is the subtle claim to realism that lays beneath the framing of its narration. The conceit behind The Blair Witch Project (1999) was the notion that the film was made up from footage left behind by missing documentary students. In Grave Encounters (2011) the crew of a ghost-hunting reality show lock themselves in an abandoned mental hospital and the subsequent film comes from the video they left behind. And, here, we have the same premise supporting Hollows Grove (2014). The story is being told through found footage from the combined camcorders left behind by a documentary maker and the producers of a ghost-hunting reality TV show.
And that subtle claim to realism works.

hollows2I’ve sat through hours of ghost-hunting reality shows. Not because I believe in ghosts, or because I think I’m ever going to see proof of a ghost whilst watching one of those shows. But my TV station is jammed onto the ghost-hunting channel and I’ll sit through anything whilst I’m trying to get drunk.

I’ve even been on a ghost-hunt. Locally, there’s an abandoned cinema. A team of professional ghost-hunters took me and some other gullible marks through darkened backstage areas and disused cinema lavatories as they told us about untimely deaths and alleged sightings. I didn’t see anything that didn’t have a rational explanation (except for people calling themselves professional ghost hunters). However, I did spend the night entire in a state of trembling anxiety as I expected to see something other-worldly leaping out at me from the shadows.

This is why the premise of Hollows Grove works so well. We watch ghost-hunting TV shows, not for the people in front of the camera, but for any subtle anomalies that occur in the background. Did that shadow move? Was that a face at the window? We go on ghost-hunts not to have the supernatural proved or disproved but simply to enjoy the rollercoaster thrill of venturing into the unknown. Hollows Grove is certainly a rollercoaster thrill.

hollows3My one issue with Hollows Grove was that it took a long time establishing it’s premise. Given the simplicity of the idea (potential victims are trying to film ghosts in an abandoned orphanage) I thought the concept could have been presented more succinctly. It’s framed with a suggestion that the film is being presented by the FBI, trying to understand what happened to the cast of the TV show. This framing is then further framed by a storyline where a documentary maker is filming the cast of the reality TV show. When you realise the cast of the reality TV show are trying to film the story of the ghosts, it becomes a Russian Doll of a story that seems more complex than it needs to be.

By way of comparison, consider the effective way that [REC] (2007) gets us into the action with a TV reporter filming a fire crew. The same events are effortlessly conveyed in [REC]’s English-language remake, Quarantine (2008). Or there’s the camcorder conceit used in Cloverfield (2008). And the ubiquitous CCTV footage that makes up the Paranormal Activity (2007 – 2014) movies. Each of these films managed to convey its premise with a stylish simplicity that moved it above the awkwardness of Hollows Grove.

hollows4That aside, if you can stay with Hollows Grove for the first fifteen minutes, you’re going to be entertained by a movie that has enough scares to make you spill your popcorn and some seriously eerie effects. The nuance of the ghost-hunting TV show is well-utilised. Night vision cameras can make the most normal of locations look like a place where Ed Gein would fear to tread without an adult holding his hand. Shadowy backgrounds, cleverly used to foreground the impending supernatural encounters, are well-crafted and neatly employed. The acting is credible and the characters are rich with the typical horror movie duality where most of the good guys are so despicable the audience wants them to suffer a brutal and horrific death.

Definitely worth watching. 7/10

Feed The Devil (2015) Review

ftd1Feed The Devil (USA, 2015)
Dir: Max Perrier
Starring: Jared Cohen, Ardis Barrow, Brandon Perrault

Expected UK DVD Release 31/10/2016

Plot: Desperate to make some cash and start fresh, Marcus (Cohen) and Lydia (Barrow) go out into the wilderness to find a secret stash of weed. Getting lost in the woods becomes the least of their problems when they become prey to a figure of Native American folklore.

The first horror film by writer/director Max Perrier, his second feature behind his comedy crime drama, Dead Man’s Luck. Like many other first time horror directors, Perrier goes to the woods and we watch his cast slowly get bumped off in various nasty ways. However the particular evil in this film comes from Native American roots and gives the film an uneasy racial tone. While it might not have been the intention of the film makers to have race focused on in their film, it’s hard to avoid it.

Marcus is particularly racist towards the natives, at one point calling them “Bush N******” and even when he’s helped by the natives he is dismissive and arrogant. Like most horror fans, when I see a character who is incredibly arrogant and unlikeable, I hope that the killer will pick them off quick. Sadly I wasn’t so fortunate as the other members of the small cast are picked off and leave Marcus to fight the evil. It’s hard to be on the side of the racist white guy fighting a figure of Native American culture.

ftd2While the film is well shot with decent cinematography, the film often drags with slow pacing. Marcus and his friends wander around the woods for too long without explanation of the danger they’re in for so long before the audience gets a scrap of exposition, all the while enduring Marcus.

It’s often been debated if a main character in a film needs to be likeable for the film to be good and while I don’t believe they have to be, I think it helps. The film starts off by showing Marcus’s terrible home life, his abusive mother, and his plans to escape that life. However just because someone has hardships it doesn’t make them a good person and it failed to make me care about Marcus. I didn’t want him to succeed and it made the film disappointing as he continued his survival.

If the point of the film was to show white Americans as dismissive against Native American culture and how horrible it is, this film succeeded. It doesn’t feel like that was the intention, instead it’s just another arrogant horror protagonist getting himself into danger by ignoring the warnings of people who know better than him.

ftd3The Native American folklore feels like an after thought, that it could have been any kind of evil in those woods, but this felt like something a little different than the usual Catholic demons, or feral Big Foot. A lot of people might watch this and see it for what is on the screen and not read anything into it what so ever. Sadly I watched it and saw White American culture exerting dominance over Native American culture and I’m not cool with that.

2/10

Dracula Reborn (2014) DVD Review

dracula rebornDracula Reborn (2014)

(Alternative Title: ‘Dracula XO’)

Director / Writer: Attila Luca

Starring: Tina Balthazar, Eric Kara, Chloe Dumas, Yves Carlevaris

Running Time: 93 mins

UK Certificate: 18

Format: DVD

UK Release from High Fliers Films – May 18th 2015

“Horror fans will love this new slant on the Dracula legend”, claims a blurb on the DVD cover.

Another ‘new slant’ on a very well-worn monster tale, you say? Worth my time, you ask, or simply another dreary splurt-and-chomp fest full of attractive yet rather toothy protagonists which brings nothing fresh to the banquet table? My thoughts too, as I searched for info on this vamp flick by director and writer Attila Luca, offering here his first feature-length production.

It follows the story of Hannah David (played with confidence by the beguiling, vastly-cheekboned Tina Balthazar), a journalist notably booted from her previous rag for an over-enthusiastic thirst (sorry) for covering anything and everything she can unearth about Dracula, his family and his followers – yes, in this story, vampires are known to exist and their lord and master is something almost of a celebrity, and whilst he doesn’t so much court the worldwide press, he is willing to be mentioned (apparently only in a positive light) by the media, and anyone digging too deep into his habits or whereabouts appears to swiftly meet their maker in a blur of the ol’ velvet cape and dainty chain fastening.

dreb11Quite how a known mass murderer is ever able to be spoken about in the media in anything but a somewhat negative light is a puzzle to me, however, our intrepid Hannah seems intent on finding out who Dracula really is, what his origins are, where to find him, and most importantly, “interview the fuck out of him!” (The dialogue is actually mostly not as bad as this example.) So, off she jets to Paris and eventually Transylvania, assisted in her quest and research by fellow media luvvies Nate and Elle, to uncover whatever gruesome and possibly fatal secrets about the Count and cohorts they can manage.

As far as this alleged ‘new slant’ goes, the notion of Dracula not sticking to the shadows is one that is less explored, however this is mainly because the legend and its spin-off tales just simply tend to work better if Dracula, and indeed monsters in general, are not ‘believed in’ and out in the open. Other than the fanged one targeting journalists in particular, there is little here that turns the culture, telling and re-telling of the king of the undead on its head. On the plus side though, possibly due to budget constraints, we are spared the usual leather-clad, martial arts champion vampires constantly accompanied by post nu-metal that have now become so over-used a trope in horror.

Incidentally, if it’s gore you’re after (and a lot of you are!), this film doesn’t scrimp on the red stuff (albeit rather obviously added on with the click of a mouse). There is a heck of a lot of feeding goes on here, and the dribbling, draining and gorging (accompanied by convincing sound effects) is not for the squeamish. There is very much a return to a showcasing of ‘the vampire feed’ in this flick and a lot of thought appears to have gone into every bite (and no ‘ooh, let’s have the vamp’s eyes change colour while they gorge!’ cliché).

The acting is carried out competently by the cast and the script is decent – rarely does the dialogue feel stilted as it can in many low-budget pictures, and the music is rather haunting and at no point over-blown. Team this with some pleasant and well-dressed locations and sets, and you have a film with some moments of visual flair and fairly convincing characters.

dreb22The Count himself is played by seasoned actor Yves Carlevaris, and while he does a sterling job with the prowling, cackling, brooding and of course feeding (and being possibly the worst person ever to attempt to follow people inconspicuously), the character itself is certainly not about being original – the bald, needle-toothed and taloned old dude stalking Paris in a sprawling cape is rather woefully ‘by the book’ (although, to be fair, maybe Luca wasn’t intending for him to be original in appearance or actions, but it cannot help but feel hackneyed).

All in all, this offering is watchable enough and a commendable effort for a low-budget horror film, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t offer a new or especially noteworthy slant on the myth of dear old Vlad. However, if you just fancy a little slice of gore and an appreciably good cast, then it’s worth giving this one a shot.

5/10

DVD extras – Theatrical Trailer

Dracula Reborn is available to order from Amazon UK here – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dracula-Reborn-DVD-Tina-Balthazar/dp/B00TZZZCMM/