It Comes At Night (2017) Review

ican1It Comes At Night (2017)

Dir: Trey Edward Shults
Stars: Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough, Griffin Robert Faulkner, David Pendleton

Released 7 July in cinemas by Universal Pictures

The world has been devastated by a lethal, highly contagious disease. In the aftermath of the outbreak, Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr) have managed to create some semblance of a life for themselves in their heavily protected isolated rural home, yet they still mourn the loss of Sarah’s father, Travis’s grandfather. Even so, their very survival is reliant on following a strict list of rules and precautions from which they cannot deviate. However, one night the family are disturbed by an intruder in their home and, after subduing him and taking him captive, learn that the man, Will (Christopher Abbott) claims he is desperately foraging for supplies for his own family.

Paul is then faced with a series of impossible decisions that will have him questioning his own humanity.

Aside from the record-breaking Get Out, has there been a genre film this year more heavily hyped than Trey Edward Shults’s It Comes At Night? A darling on the festival circuit, yet subject to some backlash from some early viewers, I can see both points of view.

Sadly the marketing and even the title of the film are somewhat misleading. A lot of fans were led to believe It Comes At Night was some of sort of horror/mystery, the sort of project M Night Shyamalan might have penned a few years ago. Yet it is no such thing.

ican2However, what it IS is a fantastic film in its own right.

Shults’s film is a claustrophobic, devastating masterpiece and one of the finest pictures I’ve seen this year. It looks exquisite, with camerawork that is truly mesmerising at times. The visuals – along with an unsettling soundtrack that is truly worthy of high praise – cultivate a deep and permeating sense of dread that runs throughout, ratcheted up during some truly terrifying nightmare sequences. Seriously, these sequences are unbearably tense and make for some of the most genuinely frightening moments I’ve seen on the big screen this year.

It’s a story about battered, damaged human decency and the consequences of decisions. It’s a film with a message, a sort of visual poem, and it is one that is guaranteed to provoke a strong visceral reaction in audiences.

The cast are uniformly incredible, with Edgerton and Abbott at the fore, both absolutely nailing their roles as men we sympathise with and yet come to fear in equal measure. Ejogo and Riley Keough are fantastic too, delivering nuanced performances that show both actresses’ considerable range. Harrison also delivers as the most decent and innocent character in the film, but even his Travis is not without fault. It’s these human faults, not just in Travis but each and every character that drives the story. The disease, as terrifying as the idea of it is, is simply a McGuffin. It is what this mysterious virus has caused these people to come that truly drives this story.

ican3It’s a story that is personal, sentimental, heartbreaking and beautifully told. I don’t believe this will be a film for every taste – I’m sure some viewers may find it a little slow-moving or unnecessarily abstract in some sequences, but those who do connect with it will genuinely relish the experience. I’m not sure that It Comes At Night is even a horror film (although it contains sequences that will horrify even the hardiest of viewers) but I am sure that in this reviewer’s eyes, it is quite simply brilliant.

A must see.

9/10

Romeo’s Distress (2016) Review

rsz_romeo_official_poster_1_copy_copyRomeo’s Distress (2016)

Director: Jeff Frumess
Writer: Jeff Frumess
Stars: Nick Bohun, Alex Echevarria and Jeff Frumess
Runtime: 82min

Synopsis (from IMDb): “”Romeo’s Distress” is a Weird, Shakespearean, Gothic, Horror-Thriller that tells a story of a boy name James, his unrequited love for a girl named Jane, and her father’s sadistic (yet dutiful) response to it all.”

Heralded as zero budget film making, I just had to have a look at what a $2,500 can get you for a full feature film. Budget aside, we need to have a look at this film on its merits and not rest on the backstory and production to maybe give some leeway.

Romeo’s Distress follows the life of James (Anthony Malchar), a dorky young man, with an unhealthy obsession and a forbidden love for a girl named Jane (Kimberely A. Peterson). In comparison to James, Jane is knockout gorgeous and the problem here is she has no idea who James is. A clichéd plot no doubt but the presentation makes for an interesting watch.

The story is told in smatterings of flashbacks and panicked present day goings on. James’ time inside and outside his home is stressful to watch, his only relief is stalking the unsuspecting Jane and taking unsolicited candid photo’s. But this sort of carry on comes with a price! I don’t want to go into to much more detail as the plot unravels nicely and isn’t just another cookie cutter story about star-crossed lovers.

rsz_screen_shot_2014-09-08_at_102727_amTechnically, the whole thing is put together surprising well, acting is on point and performances are both engaging and entertaining. All considered, if you are fan of independent film then Romeo’s Distress is a master class in shoestring filmmaking. If you’d like to hear the whole story of how this was achieved, check out my chat with Jeff Frumess himself below.

Verdict: Success from Distress
7/10

Interview here with Jeff Frumess on The Bazaar | The Fear Merchant Podcast
https://soundcloud.com/thefearmerchant/e009-jeff-frumess

The Void (2016) Review

rsz_void1THE VOID (Dirs- Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski, CANADA, 2016)

Starring- Aaron Poole, Kathleen Munroe, Kenneth Welsh, Daniel Fathers, Art Hindle

Out now on Demand + DVD & Blu-Ray from Signature Entertainment.

After making an impression at a series of festival screenings, THE VOID arrives on blu ray and digital download after a very (almost non-existent) cinema release, in what will be a format where it can find a more appreciative audience, as the film harks back to memories of VHS horror flicks and those sort of films you found in the local rental store that had garish hand drawn covers and as a kid you immediately wanted to rent out. The memory of the 80’s genre cinema and creature prosthetics and even the looming influence of John Carpenter, is further emphasised since some of the films influences can be found in his classics THE THING and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13.

rsz_void2Starting off with a bang the film opens with two people running from a farmhouse in terror one of whom is shot down and killed by two strangers who state that the other person “won’t get very far.” Said fleeing injured person runs out onto a road and encounters Sheriff Carter (Poole) who drives the guy to the nearest available hospital, which in turn is closing down after a fire gutted much of its basement and is surviving on a small skeleton crew of doctors and nurses including Carter’s wife Alison (Munroe) who has separated from him since the death of their child during birth. It’s not long before the hospital is under siege from mysterious hooded figures who are intent on not letting anyone escape from the hospital which comes under attack from all manner of messed up creatures. With tempers fraying between Carter and the two men from the start of the film who know more than the staff and become valuable allies, they soon start to realise that the hospital might be the basis for someone or something with a more darker purpose than they imagined.

rsz_void3Gillespie and Kostanski know how to kick off the film in the right way and they keep this energy up throughout the running time almost not letting go of the full throttle pace of the film. Managing to cram small bits of back story of the hospital and the characters, the film maintains its focus on the situation and is blessed with the perfect setting. PRECINCT 13 springs to mind in this aspect of the closing down hospital, a skeleton crew of mismatched individuals some of whom might be a threat, surrounded by a mostly silent enemy. However the extra level of tension is added in that what ever the hooded figures threatening the characters outside is also manifesting itself inside in a much more horrific way and its this concept that allows the true stars of the film to shine or rather spill its guts onto the screen, which is the effects. Both horrifying in an almost surrealist creation of disgust and innovative, the creature effects are superbly done and its a credit to the directors and the effects team to go along with the use of prosthetics. Its no surprise to know that the two directors have backgrounds in art and practical effects on some big budgeted films and that experience has allowed them to bring it to the full in their own picture.

rsz_void4Whilst there are a few cracks in the story and at times background detail seems to be missed, the film runs at a decent pace to almost allow you to forgive some minor plot holes as it’s main focus is on the action and some impressive set pieces. The cast handle the proceedings well, managing to portray convincing normal small town people trapped in an unbelievable situation, particularly Kenneth Welsh as Dr Powell whose brief part leads to a more significant and deciding character that changes and significantly influences the second half of the story. Cult film fans will also recognise Art Hindle star of the 70’s version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and THE BROOD in a small role.

rsz_void5THE VOID is going to go down well with hardcore horror fans and it’s damn enjoyable. Admittedly you can spot the genre references through and through from Carpenter’s aforementioned classics mentioned before to HELLRAISER, with a splattering of THE BEYOND especially in the films final sequence as well. But as genre films go you cannot fault its ambition and drive and the directors have a love and an appreciation of the horror film. It will have any self respecting genre fan loving it’s use of traditional prosthetic effects and watching it with a huge smile on their face, since it has the hallmarks of a cult classic in the making.

8.5/10

My Little Sister (2016) DVD Review

rsz_1rsz_mls1MY LITTLE SISTER (Dirs- Maurizio Del Piccolo, Roberto Del Piccolo, ITALY, 2016)

Starring- Holli Dillon, Mattia Rosellini, David White, Astrid Di Bon

Out NOW on UK DVD from Left Films

The woods are always a great setting for a horror film and the natural habit is greatly used in this gritty stalk and slash thriller with elements of a torture porn flick thrown in for good measure. Whilst it’s low budget from the start and the setting pretty much confirms that since what’s the better way than to use a sparse woodland area without having to spend money on difficult locations that can be inevitably hampered by unsanctioned walk on cameos by members of the public and MY LITTLE SISTER uses the woodland to its extent.

The plot is basic in that it starts off with a couple going deep into a forest to meet up with some friends. They bump into the oft used horror character of the scary local, warning them that Little Sister will get them and to not take the non-threatening name lightly. Naturally they ignore this nutter’s warnings and its not long before the couple are having to fight off this vicious killer wearing what looks like a human skin mask and who has a nice line of peeling men’s faces off while making their loved ones watch on in horror, fulfilling the torture porn feel of the film from scene one. Throw into this a suspicious derelict farm house which seems to be the home of the killer and a mad women who wanders around the woods, seemingly harmless but somehow has a link to the house and to the madman.

rsz_mls2Opening with a nicely done scene of brutality with some unfortunate captives being tortured by the aforementioned Little Sister including one man being removed of his face in grizzly and impressive effects fashion MY LITTLE SISTER starts off in impressive attention grabbing kick off. This opening allows the Del Piccolo’s to start off strong and keep the viewer interested and to stay on board for the duration. Whilst there’s no doubt there are some flaws in this film there is also a lot to be impressed about. The central bad guy Little Sister or as he is also known by his really name, Igor, my have one of the most daftest sounding nick names for a bad guy but somehow comes across off as an effective villain with a grim mask made up of faces of previous victims looking pretty grim and unnerving.

rsz_mls3With hunchbacked slouch and stumbling walk as well he is the typical slasher bad guy one with a handicap yet somehow this still doesn’t impead him and he manages to outwit able bodied victims easily, which is also a classic trait of the slasher film. There is no doubt that the directors have been studying their horror homework as there’s the standard reference to slasher flicks and also a nice reference to the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE which plays into the backstory of the little sister and his family abode, a run down and decaying farm house which is a nice backdrop to the film and as a set is an impressive find for the film-makers. Though like any horror film you wonder why a character running from a mad man would take a chance running into a clearly deserted grim farm house knowing clearly well this might not be a place with a welcoming or comforting vibe.

rsz_mls4Clearly the film does have a few flaws. Dialogue wise the decision to go with an Italian cast speaking English seems somewhat unusual and whilst the dialogue is minimal the lines delivered seem stunted and flawed. This is marred by some wooden dialogue and admittedly were not here to witness a master-class in acting but it seems at times unintentionally comic particularly from the doom saying woodsman who is known in the cast as Ben. His delivery of the aforementioned “you’ll all be doomed” speech comes off as more cheesy and it doesn’t really help that he has an axe in his hand which makes him look more like a threatening local hill billy rather than a to be laughed at idiot local. At times less dialogue and maybe even no dialogue would have been a better choice or route to choose that could have added an originality to the piece. The cinematography is impressive for much of the running time though some earlier shots suffer from a slight sense of amateurish filming. As if part of the earlier section of the film is shot on a smartphone as it has that sense of image stability and picture panning which feels as if the screen is being dragged rather than the camera being moved.

rsz_mls5It’s not an overly original piece of film-making we have on hand here and with some flaws there’s still plenty to admire in MY LITTLE SISTER and the Del Piccolo’s have put their heart and time into this. To their credit they pull it off efficiently and with some gritty style, it has an unironic full on traditional slasher film feel, with an intention of trying to possibly set up a titular horror character in the form of Little Sister.

6/10

Bethany (2017) Review

Bethany PosterBethany (2017)

Director: James Cullen Bressack

Starring: Stefanie Estes, Zak Ward, Shannon Doherty, Tom Green

“You’re not just some stinky zombie, honey.”

After Claire’s (Estes) mother dies, she and her husband Aaron (Ward) move into her childhood home. The couple is struggling both from financial issues, which makes the free rent attractive, and personal setbacks, their son was stillborn and Claire is recovering from a suicide attempt. As Aaron’s job future brightens, Claire seems to descend into a personal hell as old memories of her abusive mother surface amidst strange visions and supernatural phenomena.

Bethany is a solid thriller and twisty ghost story whose disparate threads come together at the very end, possibly too neatly. As well crafted as the film is, it handles some things much better than others. First, some of the good. The film is nicely shot, and while the budget wasn’t listed on IMDB it’s a safe bet that it wasn’t a lot. The cool twilight blue lighting and camera angles make the most of the limited setting. Most of the film takes place in Claire’s mother’s house. To that end the set/location was very important and Bethany makes the most of its real-estate. Much of the plot questions Claire’s sanity as memories of her abusive past intrude into her daily life and weird visions haunt her waking hours.

Bethany 1Claire’s mother Susan (Doherty), was a shallow, looks obsessed pageant mom, bent on turning Claire into the perfect little princess. To escape, Claire turned to her imaginary friend, Bethany, who may not have been as imaginary as Claire thought. There is a literal ghost, and a lot of misdirection. Which is fine, for awhile, not 90% of the film. It is not until the VERY end of the movie that Claire’s visions, past, and the haunting all come together with a series of deus ex machina coincidences that provide all the answers to the viewer. And while the last ten minutes or so are certainly the most enjoyable, as Aaron at last encounters the supernatural, freaks out, and then Claire solves the mystery of her past, it is very predictable. Except for one spectacular moment of wrap-up that is probably the best scene in the entire film and I cannot spoil for you.

The acting is very good. Though at times Estes falls into over-acting. Still, in a horror movie, better more than less. Zak Ward does a good job as the mostly supportive and loving Aaron. In the few marital fights that appear on screen, he is a real jerk and the attitude seems more a contrivance of the script, and doesn’t feel true to the character as established. Tom Green is surprisingly restrained as the couple’s web therapist who pays an ill fated visit to Claire and Aaron. Shannon Doherty practically has “wicked” stamped on her forehead and even when she phones it in, does a creditable job as Claire’s overbearing mother.

rsz_bethany_3After a bit of poking around on IMDB I found out that director Bressack has been called “horror’s new hope”  (StudioCity Patch – Mike Szymanski), among other accolades. He is young, and prolific, that’s for sure. But to live up to such a lofty critique I would expect far more from his work. Bethany is an okay movie , it’s entertaining but nothing that hasn’t been seen and done before in any number of films. It’s a good B-movie but nothing more.

Kudos for: Having a basement.

Lesson learned: Lime Jell-O will help you out of handcuffs.

6/10

Essex Spacebin (2016) Review

rsz_spacebinEssex Spacebin (2016)

Writers/Directors: Philip Thompson and David Hollinshead

Starring: Lorraine Malby, Caryl Griffith, Joerg Stadler

To quote Charles Manson: You know, a long time ago being crazy meant something. Nowadays everybody’s crazy. This sentiment I feel couldn’t ring any truer with Essex Spacebin which was unleashed on the world back in December 2016. Essex Spacebin is a twisted tale which follows protagonist Lorraine’s journey to another dimension in Essex. Not sold yet?

All round debuts by Philip Thompson and David Hollinshead, from directing to acting, these guys introduce us to their world like an acid trip without the chemicals. Our protagonist Lorraine is portrayed by Lorraine Malby who’s previous works include Born to be Kind and Cleaning in progress. Lorraine’s tale begins from a very early age when she encounters a gentleman on a beach who explains his quest to find the key for the stargate, a portal which connects our world to a different universe.

The story then picks up many years later with Lorraine now an obese senior marketing executive for a chicken shop. Determined not to let the chains of reality hold her down Lorraine is on a quest to find the gate through to a different world while trying to not lose her family in the process. Now that we’ve established the basis of this tale, the energy of this Essex Spacebin does not let up for one second. Like an attack on the senses I found that while trying to keep up with the dialogue there was always something visually that made this a challenge to do so. From milk bottles being bounced off characters faces to stealing televisions, if the Directors intention was to make the viewer feel exhausted they have smashed it out of the park.

rsz_spacebin1Very much the visual equivalent of ADHD, it can be hard at times to gauge the overall plot and journey of the characters which adds to the intensity and makes the viewer questioning what could happen next which in the Essex space bins case is anywhere. Ceephax Acid Crew provide the music throughout the feature and they really compliment the outlandish scenes and helps the overall flow of the film.

All the fundamental traits that make a B-movie are very present, from the charm of low production but colossal ideas to non-convincing but believable acting. This film oozes creativity but can be hard to appreciate with the fast-paced nature of the dialogue and plot. I can draw parallels between films such as the Greasy Srrangler and Toxic Avenger in many ways. Essex Spacebin feels very much like a film that was made for a certain audience, not intended for mass appeal and more trying to appeal to a cult film following.

rsz_spacebin2As debut directors, it’s exciting to see where they go from here as originality and creativity can be few and far between these days which brings me back to my opening. As Charles Manson rightly said if back in the day being crazy meant something and nowadays everyone’s crazy, I expect to see Philip Thompson and David Hollinshead do something pretty fucking crazy.

4/10

Satanic (2016) Review

rsz_satanicSatanic (2016)

Director: Jeffrey G. Hunt

Starring: Sarah Hyland, Steven Krueger, Clara Mamet, Justin Chon, Sophie Dalah

Out NOW on UK DVD from Soda Pictures

“One devil shrine does not a douche-bag make.”

Satanic starts off promising, with good production values and a talented cast lead by Sarah Hyland from Modern Family. Unfortunately it goes downhill pretty quickly, failing to deliver on the occult thrills promised by the title.

Chloe (Hyland), David (Krueger), Elise(Mamet)and Seth(Chon) are on their way to Coachella with a two day stop in Los Angeles for their own private murder tour. Chloe’s cousin Elise and her boyfriend Seth are little baby goths looking to hit some Satanic hotspots, like the Church of Satan LA chapter. They check into a dive hotel room where a woman named Laney Gore slit her own throat back in the 70s. The budding young Satanists, Elise and Seth try to contact the deceased while Chloe pouts nervously and her preppy boyfriend David makes snide remarks. That is everything you need to know about the characters, and as much depth as any of them truly have.

rsz_satanic_1Back to the plot. Elise and Seth are in charge of the LA itinerary while David complains constantly but drives them around anyway. After a rude reception at the Church of Satan Elise and Seth get booted out of a magic store at knifepoint. The group decides to follow the clerk after he leaves the store, to find out if he’s really a Satanist or just a jerk. Well, he turns out to be a Satanist and our intrepid Scooby Gang interrupts a ritual of some kind, and are driven off again, this time at gunpoint. Seth, who is definitely the Shaggy of the group, drops his phone at the site of the ritual. The next day they get a call from Alice, who may, or may not have been a ritual sacrifice. And then a bunch more stuff happens. The plot is honestly exhausting to try and describe because it accomplishes so very little in so very much time. There’s a lot going on but not much happening.

The acting is good. The characters aren’t particularly sympathetic except for doe-eyed Chloe, who is sympathetic because she 1-has empathy and 2-has giant doe eyes that would emote with or without her. The other young actors all have impressive resumes and it’s the script that fails them, not their talents. They are given shallow characters with very little personality to work with, and even so they manage to act through trite dialogue and well worn horror clichés.

Satanic seems likes it’s trying to be a throwback to the 1970’s wave of occult inspired films. At the same time it doesn’t seem aware that those films exist and that they did it better. It’s a shallow satanic film as these things go, lacking the accoutrements and ambiance of older occult movies. There are some stock standard robes, a satanic alter… and not much else. Even the locales aren’t gothic.

rsz_satanic_3The actual interesting bits kick in about fifty minutes into the film, but by then it’s too little too late. And then the film STILL has to wander around doing not much of anything, except lots of screaming, for another twenty minutes. The majority of special effects are back loaded into the last half of the film as well, and none of them are worth much of a mention except that for most of the movie I wondered if there were even going to BE any special effects. I am almost sad that my question was answered. The ending is a boring mess

Kudos for: Hardcore, but not too hardcore Satanists.

Lesson learned: Just take the murder tour bus, it’ll save time.

4/10

Don’t Knock Twice (2016) Review

rsz_dkt_poster_1_sheetDON’T KNOCK TWICE (2016)

Starring Katee Sackhoff, Lucy Boynton and Nick Moran

Directed by Caradog W. James

Written by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler

DON’T KNOCK TWICE is released in cinemas and On Demand from 31st March and DVD 3rd April

A mother desperate to reconnect with her troubled daughter becomes embroiled in the urban legend of a demonic witch”.

Welsh filmmaker Caradog W. James burst onto the genre scene in 2013 with stylish sci-fi thriller The Machine, which has gained quite the cult following in the time since its release. Low on budget but high on style, The Machine was a homegrown attempt at a Hollywood quality product and, buoyed by two great lead performances, it very nearly achieved it.

James is back now with Don’t Knock Twice, and this time he’s shed the sci-fi and opted for a very traditional attempt at supernatural horror. From the opening titles to the very last frame, James distinct and slick visual style is evident. He packs every scene with inventive lighting and colour, and visceral camerawork, the whole film a feast for the eyes. It makes a change from the usual gritty handheld that we get, with composed shots that give everything a very high end feel.

rsz_1rsz_054Another aspect that really helps this thick and polished atmosphere is the score from James Edward Barker and genre fave Steve Moore. While sometimes slightly intrusive, the duo have nonetheless come up with an eerie and memorable theme for the film that reminded me very much of Charles Bernstein’s classic Elm Street score.

The performances are great if purposely subdued. Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica, Oculus) conveys much more than the script by Howl writers Mark Huckerby and Nick Olster allows, and Lucy Boynton, who I caught recently in the absolutely stunning February, is equally innocent and edgy as her troubled mothers equally troubled daughter. It was also great to see Nick Moran of Lock Stock pop up, for a stock cop character that becomes much more interesting as the story progresses . As the film went on though I felt slightly disconnected with the characters. It’s not the fault of the cast, with both Sackhoff and Boynton doing great work. But the pace of the film leaves very little room for character development, often in a rush to deliver a trailer shot or a jump scare.

rsz_097This in turn affects the actual scares of the film. If we don’t care much about the characters, we don’t fear for them either. Same goes for the antagonist. The film plays its cards a little too early, foregoing the subtle build up and showing most of the big bad quite early, again, rendering it a little less scary. And while the design is indeed creepy and has rightly been earning praise, it reminded me a little too much of the antagonist in last years risible Lights Out.

It’s a shame that one came first because Don’t Knock Twice is easily the better of the two films. I watched an analysis of James Wan’s work recently, observing how he creates an effective jump scare, and the secret is all in the build up. Wan will milk the suspense for as long as he can, avoiding an onslaught of stingers for one big, terrifyingly effective one. But here, everything that can be a jump scare, is a jump scare. And so, they’re less effective.

rsz_163As it is, Don’t Knock Twice reminded me very much of another British film that attempted to emulate the big budget Hollywood style, action movie Welcome To The Punch. On a surface level, they get everything right, but there’s just something missing. The story lacks originality by default and scenes of exposition stop the film dead. But none of this is enough to take away from what is an ambitious chiller. If you’re a fan of Mama, Insidious, or any one of Blumhouse’s productions, you’ll find a lot of enjoyment in this, and it’s great to see Caradog W. James becoming one of the most visually striking directors on this side of the shore. Hollywood must be calling.

7/10

Bornless Ones (2016) Review

rsz_bo1BORNLESS ONES (2016)

Starring Margaret Judson, Devin Goodsell and Michael Johnston

Written & Directed by Alexander Babaev

With the help of her friends, Emily moves to a remote home to take better care of her brother, Zach, who is diagnosed with cerebral palsy. But what they don’t know is that the house kept a terrifying secret that will haunt them one by one“.

Horror movies that riff on The Evil Dead are nothing new. From Cabin Fever to Cabin in the Woods, and last years absolutely amazing Tonight She Comes, it really goes to show just how classic, timeless and inspiring Sam Raimi’s original demonic possession movie was. Hell, we’ve even got a hit TV spin-off over 30 years after its release!

It’s also a great springboard for low-budget genre loving filmmakers to cut their teeth. Isolated location, minimal cast, and plenty of opportunity for outlandish, ridiculous and crowd-pleasing violence.

Writer and director Alexander Babaev knows all this, but his Bornless Ones isn’t a lazy retread.

The script really sets Bornless Ones apart. Things start off seemingly quite sketchy, with cliched and juvenile humour and interactions coming from a young and attractive cast. But all of a sudden, without you really ever noticing, Babaev has established the relationships and backstory for each of the characters in a deft and effortless way. Then the demons are introduced, and these characters and their history’s are beautifully exploited. It’s nothing new, see Event Horizon, but it’s a refreshing change to see it all handled so expertly.

rsz_bo2Just as the story grows in confidence as the film goes on, so do the performances. Judson is an amiable and sympathetic heroine, her focus on her brother making her more than just a final girl. Goodsell grows into a fantastic asshole, becoming a human pin cushion as things get more horrific, and he communicates it with aplomb. Bobby T and Michael Johnston do well, again adding layers to what would usually be thin stock characters. The inclusion of Johnston as the cerebral palsy afflicted Zach adds a whole new dimension to the film.

Special mention must also go up David Banks as a nutso realtor who briefly shows up to add some real humour. But the standout was Mark Furze as Woodrow. So much more than the sex-obsessed character, Furze seems to add lots of little nuances to Woodrow as things go on. He’s a big talent.

Babaev doesn’t skimp on the gore either, with some excellent mostly practical FX that are very inventive and fun. It’s rare that this kind of film shows you something you haven’t seen before!

rsz_bo3On the downside, some of the editing felt a little off, the content cut to blacks giving an episodic feel to the flow, and the CGI used in some of the exterior shots felt unnecessary and could have been done practically.

But other than that, Bornless Ones is a really nice surprise. Tightly directed and well-written, with great performances and some outstanding violence, it’s well worth a watch for horror lovers.

8/10

Beyond The Gates (2016) Review

rsz_1rsz_btg1Beyond the Gates (2016)

Director: Jackson Stewart

Starring: Graham Skipper, Chase Williamson, Brea Grant, Barbara Crampton

Out now on UK DVD

“Most of this junk just blends together”

Estranged brothers Gordon (Skipper) and John (Williamson) reunite when they have to close up their father’s video rental store because their father has been missing for seven months. In the back office they find a VCR board game called Beyond the Gates. Gordon takes it back to his father’s house where he’s staying and along with his fiancé Margot (Grant) and John, they decide to play the game. Surprise, surprise, Beyond the Gates has them trapped in a deadly game. The stakes, no less than their lives.

A lot of movies, and a lot of horror movies in particular, set out with the premise of “a deadly game that must be played to completion”. It’s not exactly an original concept, and it has been done better in other films. Beyond the Gates has a few charms but they can’t make up for slow pacing a mediocre script and modest acting. The film rides high on the recent wave of nostalgia that is sweeping films and horror right now. This is the third or fourth attempt at an 80s throwback I’ve seen and it’s not the strongest entry. Beyond leans a little heavily on viewers fondly remembering the days of video rental stores and knowing what a VCR game is. The film then has to explain what a VCR game is because even if you grew up with a VCR, the games where a niche market. Maybe not the strongest premise for a movie, when it has to be explained even to people as old as I am.

rsz_beyond_the_gates_1Premise aside Beyond the Gates is a mixed bag. The pace is slow. The board game is played out over days instead of forcing the characters to play through all at once. The game itself is overly easy, the clues dull. A lot of time is wasted in conversation as the characters flip back and forth, alternately trying to quit the game and progress. The film feels a lot longer than its lean run time of 84 minutes. The build up to actually playing the game is long as well. First we have to meet Gordon and John, then Gordon’s fiancé Margot, then John’s gross redneck friend Hank (Justin Welborn), THEN we have to establish the relationships and antagonisms between all of these characters. THEN they start the game. THEN people start dying.

What the film was actually good at, was not the horror aspects, or the VCR game shtick. It was actually an interesting film about estranged brothers with a troubled past and uneasy relationship mending fences. I actually felt the same way watching Beyond the Gates as I did watching The Innkeepers, which was a great romantic comedy and a terrible horror movie. Beyond the Gates was a good family drama about reconciliation and a pretty mediocre horror film.

But, the horror wasn’t all bad. There were a lot of practical effects used for gruesome death scenes that were pretty entertaining. However that’s about the best that can be said for the horror side of things. Unfortunately amusing death scenes don’t make up for the slow pace.

rsz_beyond_the_gates_2Kudos for: Gordon’s nerdy hipster vibe

Lesson learned: It takes more than a synth soundtrack to cash in on nostalgia.

6/10