The Covenant (2017) Review

rsz_cov1THE COVENANT (2017)

Starring Monica Engesser, Maria Olsen and Owen Conway

Directed by Robert Conway

Written by Robert Conway, Owen Conway and Christopher R. Smith

“After the tragic deaths of her husband and daughter, Sarah Doyle moves back to her childhood home with her estranged brother, Richard. It’s not long before Sarah begins to experience supernatural phenomena of a violent and hostile nature. Bewildered and desperate, Richard enlists the help of a paranormal investigator who confirms Sarah has become possessed by a powerful demon. Together, the three men battle to save Sarah’s soul”.

A while ago I reviewed filmmaker Robert Conway’s Krampus: The Reckoning, and felt that, while the film was very flawed and had possibly the worst CGI I’ve seen on film, Conway’s heart was in the right place and there was a director whose love of the genre would push him forward.

So Conway is back with The Covenant, again co-written by Owen Conway, and the rise in filmmaking skill and confidence is actually quite striking since that Yuletide shocker.

rsz_cov2When Sarah’s (Monica Engesser) daughter drowns in the bath in mysterious circumstances, her husband blames her and shoots himself. To cope with her losses, Sarah moves to her childhood home with brother Richard. But it isn’t long before Sarah is being taunted by something strange, and begins to fear she is losing her sanity.

For a film that is clearly no-to-micro-budget, The Covenant is incredibly deft visually, with great compositions and some sweeping camerawork. The editing is tight and controlled and the pace is much more even than some of Conway’s earlier stuff. The grading is a little harsh, but that’s par for the course, and the sound has a few hiccups. But overall on a technical level, Conway is improving.

Engesser has also improved since we last saw her in Krampus, and Owen Conway grows into his role well. But both are helped by a script that is just as interested in characters and conflict as it is scare’s, and while it doesn’t hit the nail on the head with either, it’s a valiant effort. Maria Olsen, still prolific as always, pops up in fine support.

rsz_cov3While the film is never actually scary, it does go to some very unsettling places, dealing with some disturbing taboos that set it apart from the usual possession flick formula.

Look, this ain’t perfect, but for a bargain basement budget, you can do much, much worse. I’m enjoying seeing the confidence grow in these actors and filmmakers, and look forward to what they cook up next.

6/10

The Encounter (2015) Review

theencounter1THE ENCOUNTER (Dir- Robert Conway, USA, 2015)

Starring- Clint James, Owen Conway, Megan Drust, Eliza Kiss

UK DVD Release March 28th from 101 Films

Another found footage film and the second one I’ve reviewed this year, since previously looking at SHOPPING TOUR. I must be a sucker for this genre as I don’t mind it, even though for every one that can come across as decent and somehow try and expand or show some originality and leave you impressed your bound to come across another one that kind of just seems the same thing, same boring predictable lay out and plot and situations etc. Unfortunately THE ENCOUNTER seems to end up into this category, though that’s not to dismiss it at all as there are some hints of a director trying to show the best he can do with the budget he has got.

Rather than focus on demonic entity’s, psychotic killers or Bigfoot this time round the found footage wheel of evil sinister characters/monsters falls on aliens. The film opens with some shaky helmet cam footage of a group of soldiers shooting at something in a woodland area and coming across a naked man who looks startled and disturbed. We then cut to 32 hours later and we find out that this man is Collin (James) who is preparing for a camping weekend away with his younger girlfriend Kimberly (Drust) and their two friends. At the same time a hunter, Trevor (Conway) is setting up to go in the same woodland area with his buddy and kitting himself out with enough body cams and go pro’s, that also have night vision, to catch everything and anything (this is found footage so that’s no surprise).

theencounter2Whilst this is going on we see video logs from park ranger Alice (Kiss) who is off to the site of a supposed crashed comet that is shown at the start of the film. Alice finds the site and through some grainy footage we make out a crashed alien ship and in true found footage fashion she points her camera over what looks like an alien egg with some weird eggs that seem to be pulsating. At this point you start to say to yourself “I would move if I was her,” but then she probably hasn’t seen ALIEN. Alice then has something that jumps out and attaches to her skin and slowly infects her. Meantime the other parties arrive, have the usual beer and weed, and in the case of Trevor and his buddy, try to go hunting to no avail since they are attacked leaving Trevor on his own. Soon it’s nightfall and Collin and his gang are soon starting to see strange things in the night and before you can say BLAIR WITCH, they are out in the darkness of the woods at the mercy of what ever is out there or up in the air.

THE ENCOUNTER does at least maintain your attention for the first part of the film with the three handed separate narrative as we criss-cross between Collin’s group, Trevor and the video logs of Alice. Naturally this sets up nicely for the remainder of the film, yet at the same time this is where it loses its way and it’s interesting three handed narrative. The whole ‘running through the woods in the dark style’ is a very cliched part of found footage and as soon as the film started to descend into this with characters shouting out for their friends in the pitch black, it starts to lose your attention and soon drags slowly towards the finale.

theencounter4Even at 76 minutes the films final section loses momentum and theres even the inclusion towards the end of two scenes that could have been placed at the start or before we end up back at the opening, when the soldiers find Collin, which would have provide a more convenient emotional impact. However, the film garners some plus points and has some interesting and creepy alien creature design and the initial attack on Collin and his friends is orchestrated well, especially the first shot of one of the beings stalking the group in the woods is a superb blink or you will miss it moment. It’s these scenes that show how Conway knows how to handle the material well and stages some intense segments, yet unfortunately it’s not long before where back into running with a camera in the dark.

It’s unfortunate that THE ENCOUNTER ends up embracing found footage’s familiar traits, as there’s hints throughout the film that Conway knows how to craft a decent picture, that if done in something other than shaky camera running around the woods would have produced something more memorable. Even doing the film as a sort of faux documentary with talking head interviews and showing bits of the footage caught on cameras would have yielded something that could have the potential to be different.

theencounter3The found footage style undeniably allows the filmmakers to portray their ideas and visions on screen on a lower budget. It just needs to be done in a more interesting and original manner to differentiate it from the consistent crop of films that are coming out, otherwise even seasoned and tolerant genre fans will start to tire of it which many already have. THE ENCOUNTER unfortunately misses the mark and is marred by cliché that seems all too familiar.

4/10

Krampus: The Reckoning (2015) Review

KTR1KRAMPUS: THE RECKONING (2015) Review

Directed by Robert Conway

Written by Owen Conway & Robert Conway

Starring Monica Engesser, Amelia Haberman, James Ray

UK DVD Release – TBC

On Demand from 3rd Nov – https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/krampus-the-reckoning/id1040695365

“Zoe, a strange child has a not so imaginary friend the Krampus who is the dark companion of St. Nicholas.” Courtesy of IMDB

Its official. Christmas is becoming the new Halloween. Besides the excellent TALES OF HALLOWEEN, you’d be hard-pressed to find many Halloween-themed horror releases this year. But Christmas? We have Trick ‘R’ Treat creator Michael Dougherty’s studio release KRAMPUS, William Shatner starring A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY, and now KRAMPUS: THE RECKONING. Keyword here: KRAMPUS. KRAMPUS KRAMPUS KRAMPUS. If KRAMPUS is not yet a household horror name, he will be by the end of this year…

So how does KRAMPUS: THE RECKONING compare to the big boys? Surprising underdog or worthless cash-in? To be honest, kind of in the middle.

Zoe is a weird girl. she’s a problem child, with a white trash mom and deadbeat dad who treat her like dirt. But they will regret that when, using creepy, well-designed voodoo style dolls, Zoe summons her best bud, the big bad Krampus, who proceeds to melt her parents faces off! The police, led by Detective Miles O’Connor (a chilled out James Ray) are baffled and put Zoe into care, where Child Psychologist Dr Rachel Stewart (Monica Engesser) tries to get the truth out of here.

But Rachel soon realises that Zoe is no normal little girl, and is willing to summon her terrifying pal to do her dark deeds at any given moment…

KTR2It begins with an effective title sequence that is both visually astute and well-written, that classic fairytale feeling of an old lady telling her granddaughter the story of the Krampus on Christmas Eve. With seasonal production design and warm red lighting, it certainly sets a tone.

But then the present day story starts and the quality takes a dip. The visual style changes and that good will starts to fade with slow, drawn out scenes of mumbling dialogue from characters with no defining personality. The pace is fine, but it could have been even tighter, and in fairness, this is actually an interesting story. While it’s easy to poke holes in, the plot takes some interesting turns towards the end that I actually didn’t see coming, showing the filmmakers had more ambition than to just get confused with bigger budget films on the DVD shelves.

But there is one MAJOR issue here that bogs the film down. Is it the direction? No, working with what looks like a tiny budget, director Robert Conway (Exit To Hell) is quite consistent and effective, even if the editing could have been tightened up. Is it the acting? Not really, the leads are game even if their characters are bland, and little Amelia Haberman is just as good as any kid actor in a studio film?

No, the major issue here is the Krampus himself. Not only is he barely even in the film due to long scenes spent on the shrink and the cops flirty banter, but he looks absolutely abysmal. This is easily some of the worst CGI I have ever seen. It’s on the level of Playstation One graphics. And it’s really distracting.

It’s frustrating as, even with a tiny budget, I’m pretty sure some tweaks in his design could have made it possible to be a man in a suit. But instead it’s just really bad visually, which results in laughter when there should be screams.

KTR3BUT if you can look past this, then grab a beer, pop on Krampus: The Reckoning and if you’re a die hard horror fan you should still find things to like about it. It’s got gore, creepy kids, and it’s fair share of nudity. What more do you want on Christmas Eve?

Advice to low-budget filmmakers: CGI is not your friend. Leave it be.

5/10