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The Call of Charlie (2016) Short Film Review

rsz_cog1The Call of Charlie (Short 2016)

Director: Nick Spooner
Writers: Guy Benoit, John Simpson
Starring: Evan Arnold, Bradley Bundlie and Sven Holmberg
Runtime: 13min
Synopsis (from IMDb): “A trendy Los Angeles couple fixes up an Ancient Evil Deity From Beneath The Sea on a blind date.”

The Call of Charlie (TCoC) is an ambitious horror-comedy, namely because horror-comedies usually never seem to get the balance right. As a result I believe anybody attempting this is being ambitious from the outset. So before we go any further into the depths of TCoC don’t be alarmed, this tight rope has been walked across perfectly.

This suburban couple are awaiting their dinner guest Charlie (Sven Holmberg), sporting fantastic makeup effects. Charlie arrives and his striking physical features seem all but ignored by his hosts. Some old friends stumble on by and some awkward situational, visual humour ensues. More than just a one hit visual gag, the escalation of the antics is well paced and thought out, considering this very brief runtime, all the bases were covered. This made for a refreshing, light hearted yet still dark reimagining of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu. With a tight runtime, every gag is gracefully executed leading to a satisfying conclusion which leaves us itching for more.

rsz_cog3For a short film and horror debut for Spooner, this production oozes style, substance and quality. This combination is a rare feat for a short film, not to mention for a horror-comedy. I would hope the feedback for this project would encourage Spooner to continue down the path and we will all put our hands together and pray this wasn’t a one hit wonder. At 13min there is no excuse not to watch this if you’re even half curious about horror.

Verdict: A call worth answering

9.5/10

Listen to my chat with Nick Spooner about The Call of Charlie and lots more on The Bazaar Cast:
https://soundcloud.com/thefearmerchant/e012-nick-spooner

Dead Awake (2016) Review

rsz_deadawake1DEAD AWAKE (2016)

Starring Jocelin Donahue, Lori Petty, Jesse Bradford, Brea Grant and Jesse Borrego

Directed by Phillip Guzman

Written by Jeffrey Reddick

Out NOW from Matchbox Films

“A young woman must save herself and her friends from an ancient evil that stalks its victims through the real-life phenomenon known as sleep-paralysis”.

Jeffrey Reddick struck gold when he created the original Final Destination. A smart, original and genuinely scary horror film, helped along greatly by the team of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Final Destination was a huge critical and commercial success that launched a pretty enjoyable franchise. But none of them involving Reddick. So what’s he been up to? Well, he wrote that really bizarre Day of the Dead remake, and a teen horror called Tamara that nobody remembers…And now he’s back again with Dead Awake. Is it as forgettable as those two?

Kate (Jocelin Donahue) is a social worker who begins to investigate the mysterious death of her twin sister Beth (also Donahue), who died in her sleep. Teaming with Beth’s partner Evan (Jesse Bradford), Kate delves into the dark world of sleep paralysis, and quickly discovers a mythical creature which is hell bent on using the horrifying condition to kill her friends.

rsz_deadawake2Imagine for a moment, if you will, if the villain in A Nightmare on Elm Street wasn’t the amazing Robert Englund as the horrifying Freddy Krueger, but a rickety crawling Samara from the Ring remake. Not only that, but the heroes weren’t teens who used their smarts to beat the villain, but a few thirty something mates who can’t move and just let the thing get them.

Well that’s Dead Awake in a nutshell. Sleep paralysis can be used to creepy effect, but not here. It robs the characters of any fight when the demonic entity known as “The Hag” comes crawling up in their faces. Reddick and director Guzman manage to make the sequence quite creepy the first few times it happens, but it becomes quite clear that’s the only trick up their sleeves.

The cast try hard, with Scream queen Donahue squeezing as much life and personality into her underwritten role, and Jesse’s Bradford and Borrego do great, auditions for Charles Manson, the former chilled and morose, the latter bug-eyed and edgy. But more often than not they appear bored when playing exhausted, and like the pace of the film, it can do the same to the viewer. Dead Awake takes itself very seriously, but the lack of fun is a real problem.

rsz_deadawake3Reddick had a great concept on his hands but the execution has no imagination. Every scene that showed the hazards of sleep deprivation just made me hope the Channel Zero crew get around to “The Russian Sleep Experiment”. Now that could be terrifying.

For now, we have this. A shuffling Elm Street retread without the wit and imagination of even it’s remake. If you’re looking for a visually pretty film with nice performances and one or two effective jump scares, check it out. If not, go with the awes Craven one.

5/10

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

Population Zero (2016) Review

rsz_pz1Population Zero (2016)

Directed by: Julian T Pinder, Adam Levins
Written by: Jeff Staranchuck
Starring: Julian T Pinder, Julian Robino

Out NOW on demand from Frightfest Presents

“In 2009 three young men were killed in a remote part of Yellowstone National Park. The only thing more shocking than the crime itself are the bizarre events that followed.”

I do not consider myself a gullible person. As the old joke goes, I can almost always tell when a dinosaur in a movie is real or not. And yet, when I got to the end Population Zero, I jumped onto Google to try and find out if I’d watched a movie or a documentary. And, even though I now know it was only a movie, I’m still unsettled by the truth that underpins the story.

Population Zero is presented as a documentary. The phrase mockumentary, although technically accurate, seems to suggest a light-hearted tone in the mode of This is Spinal Tap or The Office. However, rather than focusing on humour, Population Zero narrates a puzzling story that begins with a brutal and motiveless murder, goes on to expose a cruel legal loophole, and carries on with further twists and turns that never overstep the bounds of plausibility.

rsz_pz2According to Wikipedia, “the filmmakers were inspired to make the movie after learning of the existence of the “Zone of Death”, a small portion of Yellowstone National Park, that under the Sixth Amendment’s Vicinage Clause, would enable “The Perfect Crime”.” The perfect crime in this case is the unmotivated murder of three innocent young men. It’s a perfect crime because, thanks to a legal loophole, even though the murderer has confessed his guilt, he is able to walk free.

This sounds like a ridiculous notion but the idea is based on a hypothetical argument from American lawyers and it’s presented in a truly convincing way. The footage of TV reporters discussing the Yellowstone Murders, the in camera court drawings, the grainy still photographs and the crackly confession from a police station’s CCTV footage, all lend a sense of credibility and gravitas to the story’s not-that-fantastical premise. Also, since we’re discussing a country that has elected Trump as president, the idea that America contains a fifty-square mile strip of national park where motiveless murders can be committed without repercussion, does not seem so farfetched.

Julian T Pinder, who usually stays on the director’s side of the camera, carries himself well as the too-curious-for-his-own-good documentary maker at the heart of this story. Pinder was the director of the 2012 documentary, Trouble in the Peace, an exploration of the poisons and upsets that come with fracking. Cleverly, giving the storyworld a more focused sense of reality through intertextuality, Trouble in the Peace is mentioned as Pinder explains why he thinks he was contacted with information about the Yellowstone Murders.

rsz_pz3This was an intelligent film that suggested fear on so many levels. There are the fears that come from a system that fails the community it’s meant to protect; there are the fears that come from the potential brutality of the unknown and irrational amongst us; there are the fears we share of being abused by greedy and uncaring corporations; and the fear that any one of us could become a real victim to the boundless appetites of any of the above.

Well worth watching. 10/10

Cam-Girl (2016) Review

rsz_cam2CAM-GIRL (2016)

Starring Erin Nicole Cline, Joe Coffey and Bjorn Jiskoot Jr.

Directed by Curt Wiser

Written by Curt Wiser, adapted from his novel “Box Cutter Killer”

A thriller that revolves around Gessica, a 23 year old webcam stripper who is pushed to the limit when she is held hostage by an unknown gunman“.

Cam-Girl is the latest in a wave of webcam, chat room and adult performer themed horror thrillers, and it’s starting to seem strange why this isn’t being talked about among horror fans. Subgenres come in waves, and often reflect the political or social climate. So what does the rise in cam-girl horror say about society at the moment? Has this profession become more mainstream recently, or maybe social media has made it more accessible and caught the eye of young filmmakers.

rsz_cam3The idea is ripe for film treatment on a budget, automatically carrying a Hitchcockian, voyeuristic quality, with built in sex appeal. But why now? I reviewed the hypnotic BB recently, which was a visually stunning analysis of a cam-girl and the dangers of the job. But in being completely non-judgemental, it perhaps suggested that the job isn’t the problem, it’s the society that frowns upon a person making money doing something they enjoy that is disturbed.

Cam-Girl doesn’t answer the questions in the same way, instead delivering a slick, slasher type scenario. Think a cross between Scream, Saw and Phone Booth, and you wouldn’t be far off. But rather than offer senseless violence and torture, Cam-Girl is more about the psychological analysis of its lead character as Gessica is forced to hold a mirror up to herself and her past, or die.

While far from perfect, Cam-Girl is held together by the solid rock that is Erin Nicole Cline as Gessica. In what is for the most part a one woman show, Cline does wonders with the character, filling her with a naturalism that many would struggle with. And she makes a very flawed (I’m not talking about the cam stuff) character very likeable. In a similar yet less provocative way to BB, Cam-Girl subverts the typical victim character and then toughens them up.

rsz_cam1While it is great to see filmmaker Wiser go the road less traveled, the psychological rather than the visceral, it does leave a few drawback. The pace, particularly in the mid-section, hovers when it should soar, becoming just a little bit too talky. And the film as a whole is surprisingly conservative when it comes to nudity and the exploration of sexuality, especially considering the plot. A strength of BB was its raw realism and expression of female sexual empowerment.

However, upon reflection, Cam-Girl is more about the inner than the outer, and in that sense it’s a resounding success. Sure it has the usual micro-budget issues, dodgy sound and iffy camerawork and editing in places, but it is an entertaining Larry Cohen style thriller with a supremely engaging lead performance, and a few twists up its sleeve.

7/10

Stake Land 2 (2016) Review

rsz_stake1STAKE LAND 2 (Dirs- Dan Berk, Robert Olsen, USA 2016)

Starring- Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Laura Abramsen, A.C. Peterson, Steven Williams, Kristina Hughes, Bonnie Dennison

Out NOW on UK DVD from Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment

Jim Mickle’s STAKE LAND was a surprisingly effective flick back in 2010 as it at least tried to bring back the vampire into a more darker and gritty combination of post apocalyptic western and straight up serious horror. The film carried a bleak almost nihilistic world view in parts backed up with interesting and empathetic characters most notably Nick Damici’s vampire hunter Mister and the young lad he takes under his wing, Martin, played by Connor Paolo as they navigate the ravaged American landscape on their way to find New Eden in Canada, the last hope of a safe refuge.

The film picks up with Martin and the girl he left with at the end of the last film, Peggy (Dennison) now living with a kid of their own. Tragedy rears its ugly head as we learn in flashback that Peggy and Martin’s daughter were slain by a new leader of the religious nutter group, The Brotherhood, who where one of the main human threats from the first film. This new head is called The Mother (Hughes) who has control over the mutant berserker vampires that spread the epidemic in the first place and who The Brotherhood worship as their new god intent on their mission of wiping out the remaining heathens in the world.

rsz_stake2Martin sets out on a quest for vengeance encountering un-trust worthy folk along the way including an elderly couple whose hospitality hides a sinister purpose (seems pretty obvious in the long run) and a band of humans who seem to be trading other unfortunate captive humans and forcing them into fighting. Its this point where Martin meets back up with Mister who has found a feral women he has called Lady (Abramsen) and they soon return back wandering the waste land in search of The Mother, meeting up with two old friends of Mister’s, Bat (Petersen) and Doc Earl (Williams) on a mission that sees them facing persistent struggle and possible doom.

It was surprising to hear that this film originally had its premiere on the SyFy channel in the states, which is more at home to screening first time premieres of films about mutated ghost sharks and the like. The SyFy channel premiere doesn’t really do it justice and despite a few festival screenings this time round unlike its predecessor STAKE LAND 2 goes straight to DVD in the UK. This shouldn’t put anyone off as this is a decent sequel and whilst it doesn’t have the strength of the first one and in some ways less of a budget the film still retains the bleak world view of the original. Naturally in post apocalyptic times we are reminded of the futility of society and its complete breakdown due to collapse in institutions and this sequel keeps up that notion even if I would say borrowing very slightly from THE WALKING DEAD and that series bleak world view, which in turn I felt certainly must have had some of the original STAKE LAND’s inspiration rub off on it in the latter seasons of that show.

rsz_stake3But then post apocalyptic films have always traded on our fears of epidemic, nuclear war and the breakdown of the world and rationale humans turning on other humans an idea which always works well and forever will be present and in current uncertain world climate even more relevant. Paolo and Damici, both excellent in this, reprise their roles as Mister and Martin and its good to see them return since their pairing was one of the first films strengths. A nice connection is played out with the tragic incident at the start that befalls Martin and with one that happened to Mister in the past, who sees Martin change and slowly start to become what he used to be even though he sees a better future and character for the boy. They are backed up with support from Petersen and Williams who lend a pair of bad ass characters also driven numb by the bleakness of the world.

rsz_stake4Directing duo Berk and Olsen handle the film with confidence and pace the story into new territories alongside introducing new past story traits to strengthen the characters even though in some respects it lessens the hidden past mystery of Mister. They also benefit from a great use of the shooting location of Saskatchewan that adds to the vast loneliness of the post apocalyptic landscape and an almost Western-esque feel. Credit should also be given to the make up effects work which manages to be effective adding an ugly look to the vamps as well as making the head vamp, The Mother, look albino in a way and strangely like Tilda Swinton but with long hair and one eye. In the outset this sequel, whilst might not be as sprinkled with the originality of the first film still manages to be an entertaining 81 minutes that delivers some fantastic scenes of mutant vampire action and gore amongst the dramatic human moments.

6.5/10

Hunting Grounds (2015) Review

rsz_hg1HUNTING GROUNDS (2015) aka Valley of the Sasquatch

Starring Bill Oberst jr, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, Jason Vail and David Saucedo

Written & Directed by John Portanova

A father, his son, and his two old friends arrive at an isolated cabin for a weekend of hunting. A trip deep into the forest looking for wild game uncovers a tribe of Sasquatch who are determined to protect their land“.

Bigfoot movies have been making a quiet resurgence recently, with Willow Creek, Exists and countless other DTV titles appearing in the past few years. While Willow Creek did very little for me, spending the whole runtime building great tension but point blank refusing to pay it off, I did have a lot of fun with Exists, which went the more kitchen sink fun route. It still had its flaws, but I enjoyed it.

New to the table is Hunting Grounds, aka Valley of the Sasquatch. And while it’s not perfect by a long shot, it gets enough right to be worth a recommendation.

rsz_hg2The story focuses on the troubled relationship between Roger (Vail) and his son Michael (Joris-Peyrafitte). After the recent death of Michaels mother, their very contrasting personalities are brought to the forefront and causing a strain. Michael wants to go to college and make something of his life, while Roger insists they simply can’t afford it. They drive out into the woods to spend some quality time together, with Uncle Will (D’Angelo Midili) and and asshole hanger on Sergio (Saucedo). But as they venture deeper into the forest, they find out they are on the menu of a clan of savage Sasquatch, and must work together to survive.

I want to focus on how enjoyable Hunting Grounds was so I’ll briefly mention its problems first. The main one for me was the character of Sergio. It’s not the fault of the actor, but the script inserts him to be a huge prick from the get-go, and he kind of drags the other characters with him simply because they don’t chin him straight away! Some of the pacing is a little sluggish, and the score has a real Lifetime Channel feel most of the way. Also, many of the night time scenes are too dark, making some of the action incomprehensible. And finally, lets face it, this one does nothing new. The story beats, the characters, many of the situations, we’ve seen before elsewhere…

rsz_hg3HOWEVER, there is something to be said about doing something we’ve seen before but well, and that’s what happens in Hunting Grounds. The performances are very capable, and the father son dynamic is well thought out, and contrasts nicely when the family of Bigfoot’s lay siege. Which brings me to another aspect, the FAMILY of beasts. It’s hard enough to survive against one in many films, so adding more really heightens the stakes. The man-in-suit FX can be hit and miss, but that adds a level of B Movie charm to it all.

After a slow start, director Portanova really lays his cards on the table, with showdown after showdown in an entertaining man vs nature story that is much more than a SyFy Channel special. Stick with it, and you’ll find an engaging, if derivative creature feature.

7/10

Shut In (2016) Review

rsz_shut1Shut In (2016)

Running time: 91 minutes

Director: Farren Blackburn

Cast: Naomi Watts, Oliver Platt, Charlie Heaton, Jacob Tremblay

Out NOW on UK DVD from Arrow Films

A strong cast head up this psychological thriller whose script was plucked from the 2012 Blacklist; a list of the best unproduced screenplays of the year. So, in some respects, Shut In has a lot to live up to from the very outset.

Naomi Watts plays Mary Portman, a clinical psychologist who has reluctantly agreed to send her eighteen year old son, Stephen, away from home due to his increasingly out of control behaviour. Her husband re-assures her it is for the best but after he and Stephen leave, an argument results in a horrific car accident, killing father and leaving Stephen (Charlie Heaton, fresh from the Netflix hit Stranger Things) unresponsive and wheelchair bound.

rsz_shut2Skipping six months forward, Mary struggles to cope alone with her severely disabled son whilst still running her practice. They live remotely and Mary has little outside help, bar her assistant, Lucy and her therapist, Dr Wilson (a reliable Oliver Platt), who converses with Mary over Skype.

When a patient of Mary’s; nine year old Tom (an underused Jacob Tremblay) runs away from his care home, she finds him having broken in to her car and hiding in the back seat. Wanting to help she takes the child in to her home but he soon disappears in to the night and the hunt for the missing boy begins. Due to the extreme weather and impending storm, it is swiftly believed the boy has died and Mary begins to to be tormented by visions of the child.

As the strain of caring for her son bears heavily down on her, her nightmares escalate. She hears noises throughout the house, believes she sees Tom at her bedroom door and then disturbingly finds scratches on the side of her son’s face. Seeking help from Dr Wilson, he re-assures her that this all just a vivid dream. That stress and the difficult situation is taking it’s toll. Obviously, we realise there is more here than meets the eye and the truth slowly starts to present itself.

Shut In takes the single setting premise and crafts an interesting story around its limitations. Stephen finds himself ‘shut in’ his own body post-accident, whilst Mary has become ‘shut in’ her own home and possibly her own mind.

The film starts promisingly, the story is established quickly and it drip feeds information as it progresses. We learn that Stephen is in fact Mary’s stepson and it was ultimately her decision to send him away. As her guilt eats away at her, the boundaries between reality and Mary’s dreams become blurred and you are pulled further in to seeing things from her perspective. It is in these scenes that the strength of the film lies; the image of Mary bathing Stephen, discovering him alone outside and the ghostly appearances of Tom. Director Farren Blackburn, teases you with the anticipation of the shock and then delivers on that promise, providing some genuine jumpscares. Having directed such UK television staples as Casualty and Silent Witness, it’s clear that Blackburn can create a polished thriller.

rsz_shut3However, is it all rather too polished, if indeed that can be levelled as a criticism? It feels that there could be more beneath the surface of the story that is left untapped. As the film moves in to its final act, it starts to lose some of it’s atmosphere; heading towards a more predictable conclusion than you might have hoped for. You start to question certain characters actions and moments begins to feel plotted. With the limited setting and relatively small cast there is nowhere to hide and although the performances are good, there are no iconic characters or moments that linger with you once the film has ended. By taking very few risks, you are left feeling like you have seen this all before.

Whilst not hugely innovative, Shut In is still a solid piece of filmmaking, albeit probably not one that will resonate in your memory in years to come.

6 out of 10

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