IT (2017) Review

IT (Dir- Andy Muschietti, USA, 2017)

Starring- Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton

It’s ironic in the fact that the central terrifying killer clown of Pennywise comes round every 27 years to terrorise and feed on the souls of the children of Derry, Maine where IT is set, is somehow mirrored by how the last adaptation of Stephen King’s novel was also 27 years ago, in the form of a TV mini series. Whilst the TV adaptation suffered from obvious censorship regulations of the television network, some slightly hammy acting from the adult characters of the cast, it sill had a brilliant central performance from Tim Curry as Pennywise, the shape shifting entity who takes the form of the jovial circus clown to prey on children. The new version, which is also known as IT: CHAPTER ONE, has already gone through a couple of other directors, including TRUE DETECTIVE season one director Cary Fukunaga, and has now landed at the feet of MAMA director Andy Muschietti. So how does he fare in transferring King’s epic, if somewhat bloated (the original novel is over 1000 pages) tome to a new audience.

The film opens with a brilliant sequence where young Georgie Denbrough goes outside in the pouring rain to test out the boat his older brother, Bill (Lieberher), has constructed for him. The boat floats down a drain where Georgie encounters a clown, Pennywise (Skarsgard). Rather than be scared by the sinister figure is instead conversing with it in child like innocent wonder, only to be then viciously attacked and then dragged into the storm drain by the circus performer gone wrong. We then cut to the following summer of 1989 and Bill and his friends, who belong in the losers club which they nickname, are ready for the upcoming season, to try and avoid the towns sociopathic bully (Hamilton) and at the same time try and search for Bill’s younger brother who he still believes is alive. It’s only when they realise that all of them have been having the same unusual visions and terrifying attacks involving Pennywise that they soon start to figure out that the demonic clown has been in the town of Derry for a long time and could be behind the spate of missing children that seem to plague the area every 27 years.

Admittedly the first thing that will pop into your head from watching IT is the relocation of the period of this first part of the story, moving from King 50’s setting in the book and in the mini series, to 80’s with references to New Kids On The Block, LETHAL WEAPON 2 and BATMAN and other nostalgia that puts into mind the recent success of the Duffer Brother brilliant Netflix series STRANGER THINGS. A fact made more relevant as one of the members of the loser club is played by Finn Wolfhard, a star from that same series. Overall its this young cast that handle the roles superbly and bring about engaging characters for the audience to root for, as they experience the first signs of growing up and in a town where as well as the sadistic entity of Pennywise they also have to deal with the uselessness and often abusive tell tale signs of their grown up parents.

Particular example is Beverley (Marsh) the only female member of the group who has had dubious gossip spread about her around town, but in reality is clearly suffering from abuse by her leering father. Even the school bully is also prone to having a relationship forged on subjigation handed to him by his abusive father, who is the town sheriff, exemplified in one particular scene where he humiliates him in front of his fellow bullies. IT portrays a world in which the children are flawed but not by their own actions but rather from the parents, in some cases in the worst way possible and it’s only with them being together that they somehow show maturity and strength that the grown ups, who remain largely in brief supporting roles, will never have. The star of the show is Skarsgard in the role as Pennywise with a performance that is his own creating a terrifying entity that preys on the characters fears and is malevolent in his menace of them and in utilising and exploiting their flaws.

Whilst the performances are strong the film does seem to let itself down a bit in the number of choreographed jump scares that happen throughout. Its telling that the first few jump scares are well done but then you soon start to notice the pattern emerging of when you know the required shock you out of your seat moment comes. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with the use of classic horror jump moments, which is pretty standard in the current mainstream genre frame of mind, this does tend to become a tiresome after a while and in the long run will lessen the longevity of the film in years to come.

The film does have a few moments that expertly generate a sense of shock and unease that doesn’t need the residual boo-scare moment. Such as hypochondriac Eddie’s (Grazer) encounter with a leper made all the more creepier and disturbing as its set in broad daylight. Also the gangs initial viewing of a group of slides on a projector that goes out of control, when a family photo of Bill’s slowly unravels to reveal Pennywise’s gleaming evil smile instead of his mothers face is an expertly handled moment of that works surprisingly well.

Overall Muschetti is confident enough director and handles the proceedings of the film with expert skill managing to balance moments of terror with moments of levity with his portrayal of the group of kids bringing out some great performances from his young cast and also especially from Skarsgard. Whilst it does go over long on the running time (stretching at 135 mins) IT somehow regains enough pace to keep things on a roll throughout and admittedly despite the few flaws, the film still has enough quality in its setting and characters to remain an engaging genre work. One that seems to be a merge of 80’s nostalgia which is certainly popular at the moment and with the films of that period such as GOONIES, STAND BY ME (another King adaptation) along with the recent retro fest STRANGER THINGS which might go to explaining how well its done at the box office.

7/10

Che Gilson’s Netflix Roulette #22 – Dream Home (2006)

Join Che as she plays Netflix Roulette and watches a randomly selected horror film. Will it be awesome? Will it be torture? What horrors await?? Find out every month with Netflix Roulette!

Title: Dream Home

Year: 2006

Director: Amir Valinia

Starring: Chantelle Win, Cory Stills, Mia X, Chris Fry

Netflix Rating: 2.4 stars

Seen it before: No

First Impressions: The rating doesn’t look promising, but the director has done music videos, so I’m hoping at least the visuals will be stylish. The description says it’s a haunted house film. At least it better be. I’ve been burned before, and when the description starts going on about Dream Home being a subversion of the American dream… well, a crappy psychological thriller can’t be far behind…

The Verdict: That was really painful to watch. Horrifically cheap production values are the only thing that stands out in this poor excuse for a film. The acting is terrible, the dialogue is bad and the cinematography laughable. Which is alarming considering the director has five credits as a cinematographer. The film is also shot on video. And not good video, like soap operas. Crappy video that is only a few steps up from say, a 15 year old video of a child hitting a man in the balls with a baseball but infinitely less entertaining.

The script is also imbalanced. It’s 90 percent domestic drama by way of a real estate ad. There is a good twenty to thirty minutes of discussions about the house and how beautiful it is, and how much work did they have to put in and even a riveting scene in a hardware store buying paint.

The ghosts are just “actors” (which gets sarcastic air quotes for their underperformance) with no special effects, no make-up, no anything to make them ghosts aside from video tricks to make them dissolve into thin air. And I know I mentioned the bad acting, but it’s so unilaterally brutal, everyone single one of them is bad. No one is an actual actor, and if they are, this is probably their first and last film. Unless they watched themselves in this and realized they need acting lessons. And back to the script for a second, the dialogue repeats, ad nauseam. The characters go over and over, the same dialogue, explaining to each other the same plot points in slightly different ways over and over for entire scenes.

And after all this I haven’t gotten to the plot. Well, there isn’t much of one. It’s a stock standard haunting with crap ghosts. Young newlyweds, Darrell and Faye (Stills and Win) buy a Southern charmer of a house and set about fixing it up. But strange things happen the longer they stay, mystery cats, creepy old guys, dreams and weird old ladies. And then the movie doesn’t so much end, as just stop. It honestly doesn’t matter and no one cares.

Dream Home is the sort of film that makes you angry you watched it because it’s an hour and a half of life you’ll never get back.

Rating: 2/10

Che Gilson’s Netflix Roulette #21 – Blood Glacier (2013)

Join Che as she plays Netflix Roulette and watches a randomly selected horror film. Will it be awesome? Will it be torture? What horrors await?? Find out every month with Netflix Roulette!

Title: Blood Glacier

Year: 2013

Director: Marvin Kren

Starring: Gerhard Liebman, Edita Malovic, Brigitte Kren, Hille Bessler, Peter Knaack

Netflix Percentage that I’ll like it: 57% I’ll like it.

Seen it before: No

First Impressions: Back when Harbinger Down was my monthly Netflix Roulette someone told me I should watch Blood Glacier because it too was reminiscent of The Thing (The Carpenter version) and made a better prequel to The Thing than the actual prequel to The Thing (which I think everyone can agree was terrible). Which sounds pretty promising. So I may like it more than Netflix thinks I will. I have been promised monsters in the movie blurb and there better be monsters.

The Verdict: In the same way that Harbinger Down was a better The Thing prequel than the The Thing prequel, Blood Glacier is a better Prometheus than Prometheus was. The mutations have an explanation (not just monster making soup) and the scientists aren’t all dumb as doorknobs. Also, no one is going around touching alien penis-snakes. Also, there are no penis-snakes. Though I will say that the characters in Blood Glacier are as unlikable, if not more so than Prometheus.

A small group of climate scientists are studying the melting glaciers in the Alps. They are accompanied by drunk and irascible technician Janek (Liebman). When the glacier they’re studying starts “bleeding” the scientists are stunned. Not as stunned as Janek though, who discovers a mutant fox-beetle thing rooting through their garbage. Turns out the “blood” coming from the glacier is actually a single celled organism that recombines the DNA of anything it comes into contact with after being consumed. The three scientists demand Janek keep his mouth shut about their astounding discovery. Especially when they find out a government minister Bodicek (Kren) is on her way to see how their research is going. With a VIP and Janek’s ex-girlfriend, on their way, the mountain mutants chooses now to unleash hell. They find themselves trapped by all sorts of cheapish looking mutant animals, including a mutant bird that looks like it could have come right out of Birdemic.

Blood Glacier, despite cheap mutant monsters is a heck of a lot of fun. The Minister is the most badass bureaucrat in the history of cinema. The movie is worth it for the scene in which she takes she a giant drill to a mutant ibex, alone. There’s also a nameless female victim of the mutant bird who spends the entire film passed out then dies in a fire. Yes, a fire. Along with the mutant monsters, there is a good amount practical gore effects including blood spurting boils and a very nice impalement.

If you haven’t seen Blood Glacier yet, then go check it out. Especially if you like cheesy monster flicks with an ecological message (Thaw anyone?). If you have seen it, I only hope you had as much fun as I did. The only warning I would issue is for dog fans. Yes there is a dog. And no, he doesn’t survive.

Rating: 7/10

Super Dark Times (2017) Fantasia Film Festival Review

SUPER DARK TIMES (2017)

Starring Owen Campbell, Charlie Tahan, Elizabeth Cappuccino, Amy Hargreaves, Max Talisman and Sawyer Barth

Directed by Kevin Phillips

Written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski

Reviewed as part of the Fantasia Fest Line-Up

A harrowing but meticulously observed look at teenage lives in the era prior to the Columbine High School massacre.”

Hey there friends! Listen up! If you and your chums accidentally kill somebody, don’t try to cover it up. If the movies have taught us anything, it’s that doing so never, ever ends well…

It’s the 90’s. Before the millennium. Before smartphones. Before high definition television and before social networks ruled everyone’s lives. Teens Zach (Owen Campbell) and Josh (Charlie Tahan) are best friends. They finish each other’s sentences, know what the other’s thinking and always have each other’s backs. But their lives are irreparably torn apart when a silly argument with another friend escalates accidentally and fatally. But covering up their crime will affect them both in very different ways, and times are about to get super dark…

From its foreboding opening shots of a trail of blood and destruction in a deserted high school, the confident filmmaking here is striking. Super Dark Times is an absolutely fantastic film. I’ll say that straight up. This is masterful cinema.

Writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski are coming off the moderate success of Siren, a fun but fleeting creature feature. Yet their script here is something else. Super Dark Times is driven not by plot and exposition but by its characters and their decisions, their psychology. It’s full of authentic details, from the banter between the boys, the relationships with elders, even the design of the town, all of it feels too specific to be anything but personal. This is a great script. But a great film needs to be more than that…

Leading to Kevin Phillips direction. Fucking hell. Imagine if you will, if David Fincher was stripped of his budget and made something smaller outside of the studio system, but no less beautiful and daring. With his feature length debut, that’s what Phillips achieves here. Everything is wonderfully under-lit, often to the point of silhouette, creating a foreboding, super dark atmosphere that, combined taut editing and a searing ambient soundtrack, create a visceral and psychologically immersing experience.

It also helps that the filmmakers got the cast they did. The actors here are truly spellbinding right across the board, I didn’t see a false note in one of the young cast. Charlie Tahan is no stranger to genre fare, his talents developing with turns in The Harvest and Wayward Pines, and he’s coolly chilling here. Owen Campbell is manic as his paranoia grows, coming off like a young Ryan Gosling or Jake Gyllenhaal at his most bug eyed. The whole cast is completely natural, so human.

If I had to nitpick, it would be one particularly expository sequence which leads into the finale that is slightly at odds with the natural flow of the rest of the film.

Although we have seen this story before, we rarely see it done with such skill and conviction. What could’ve been 90’s nostalgia exploitation instead chooses a different route and is all the more haunting and memorable for it. Visually stunning, audibly unnerving and emotionally devastating, Super Dark Times is a brilliant, brutal piece of work. Expect it on a few Best Of lists come December.

9/10

It Comes At Night (2017) Review

ican1IT COMES AT NIGHT (Dir- Trey Edward Shults, USA, 2017)

Starring- Joel Edgerton, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough

Another American indie horror arrives with a wealth of praise and has set out to continue the consistent drive of intelligent and original genre flicks coming out from across the shore. Is it a sign of film-makers responding to the increasing polarised splits in the country through politics and society that has caused this rush of horror films that reflect the current climate? Only time will tell. However, one thing for sure Trey Edward Shults IT COMES AT NIGHT does arrive with a marketing campaign that significantly points to this film being a straightforward horror which in reflection it is to an extent. But those expecting a quiet-quiet-boom shock laden horror story might be disappointed.

The film opens with a family disposing of a relative who has been infected by a fatal disease that has supposedly ravaged most of America. The family in question is husband and father Paul (Edgerton) his wife Sarah (Ejogo) and their son Travis (Harrison Jr). The infected relative in question is Sarah’s dad and Travis’s Granddad. The family are locked up in a house in a secluded woodland area. Boarded up and closed off as if to suggest no one is occupying the place. It’s not long though till an intruder breaks in, Will (Abbott), who after being subdued informs Paul that he has a family desperate for food. After eventually trusting Will, Paul brings the family into the boarded up house and it seems as if everyone is getting along fine and working as a unit. Yet its not long before a couple of incidents involving Travis’s dog and the son of Will and his wife Kim (Keough) sets off a tense and chilling conflict between both family groups.

One noticeable trait of IT COMES AT NIGHT is that setting a post apocalyptic story in a woodland area on the edge of civilization will allow the film-makers to at least not worry about the factors of production design or portraying the ravaged city scape that usually features in bigger budgeted outings that feature the world in devastated form. This is however essential to the story as it’s focus is on it’s characters and it also makes the ongoing threat of contagion ever more disturbing as once our characters don gas masks we know that their paranoia of the plague is real and its their actions that lend the films dramatic edge.

ican2Essentially this is a story of decent people driven to desperate means for survival and breakdown in any decency when it comes to folk wanting to protect their own family unit which makes the films conclusion, and I wont lie its not a pretty one, even more darker and in the long run with the characters actions, essentially futile. There is no denying that Shults film has a certain resonance with the current climate in America and even in our own country with a society split and mistrust felt by all sides against every one be it foreign or domestic. Paul’s protection of his own unit and his own boarded up house seems to fend off any intruders yet even welcoming them in eventually leads to confusion and chaos and acting on own selfish impulse which ultimately can seal ones own fate.

Edgerton (who is always a great character actor see THE GIFT for proof of that), also working as executive producer, is brilliant as Paul presenting him as an ex school teacher who seems to relish the role of protector and commander in chief of his house, yet his obsessive nature of sticking to rules and routine distracts him from the fact that his own son is suffering from the nightmarish reality that is happening around to him. As Travis, Harrison Jr, is also brilliant managing to convey the film from his perspective and its from the eventual fiery disposal of his granddad’s corpse that we see the film through his eyes, from listening to Will and Kim’s intimate conversations in the attic space, to his possible affection for her and his own horrific nightmares which add as some of the films intense shock scenes. It might have been better for Shult’s to flesh out the female characters a bit more as they seem more to be in the background for much of the running time. However Ejogo does have one of the best lines in the film that pretty much foretells the bleakness to come. When Paul states that “everything’s gonna be all right, to which she replies, “You don’t honestly believe that do you?”

However Shults also works brilliantly with his cinematographer Drew Daniels to capture the confined space of the house with its widescreen cinematography giving it an edge and elevating it to be its own character. The murky almost entirely dark spaces occasionally lit by lantern or flash light add an intense visual feel. Even a long tracking shot towards a door is filled with tension as in the viewer is left at the mercy of the camera as it approaches making us expect or anticipate either it to be busted open or a loud knock to unsettle bot the characters and the audience in what awaits beyond it.

ican4Like Robert Eggers THE WITCH, IT COMES AT NIGHT portrays the stark breakdown of the family unit and its unwillingness to cope in desperate situations and just like that film from last year this is another fine example of American horror going through a renaissance in both reflecting troubling times and using genre cinema as a template whilst retaining an original independent feel.

8.5/10

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

The Madame in Black (2017) Short Film Review

rsz_mib1The Madame in Black (Svarta Madam) (2017)

Directed by: Jarno Lee Vinsencius
Written by: Jarno Lee Vinsencius
Starring: Demis Tzivis, Ida Gyllensten and Ellinor Rosander

“After playing the infamous urban legend game “The Madame in Black”, Alex and his sister, Sarah, experience the wrath of the evil witch Madame in Black.”

On some levels, short horror films can be far more effective than full length movies. With short horror films there is little time for the audience to second-guess surprise developments. Knowing that there’s less than half an hour of a film makes us (as viewers) aware that every second of the narrative is important and will likely have some bearing on the resolution. This brevity of time is one hell of a tool for focusing attention. The Madame in Black uses this brevity to shrewd effect.

The storyline is relatively simple and it’s nothing we haven’t seen touched on in Candyman (1992), Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005) and countless other movies. A character sits in front of a mirror and says a name three times in an attempt to summon a supernatural entity. In this film, starting in Hörby, Sweden, 1995, brother and sister Alex and Emma try this childish summoning with their grandmother’s mirror.

rsz_mib2It does not end well.

Fast forward twenty-two years and, whilst Alex and Emma are physically mature, their idea of a fun evening’s entertainment remains as childish as it had been back in 1995. To make the situation worse, they still have granny’s mirror.

The Madame in Black is a masterclass in tension and suspense. With moody lighting, awkward camera angles, strong performances and lots of shocks, this works on every level. It’s no surprise that this film has claimed awards at the Actors Awards, Los Angeles (2017), Barcelona Planet Film Festival (2017), Direct Online Film Festival (2017), and many, many others. Well worth checking out. 9/10.

Wish Upon (2017) Review

wu1WISH UPON (2017)

Dir: John R Leonetti
Stars: Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Sydney Park, Shannon Purser, Mitchell Slaggert, Ki Hong Lee, Elisabeth Rohm, Sherilyn Fenn

Released 28 July by Orion Pictures

Clare (Joey King) is a teenager who has plenty to deal with. After her mother committed suicide before her eyes when she was little, her father Jonathan (Nineties star Ryan Phillippe) has struggled to make ends meet, resorting to scavenging for valuables in dumpsters. This makes Clare a target for bullying from the popular kids at school and leaves her without the confidence to pursue her unrequited crush on handsome fellow student Paul (Mitchell Slaggert).

But this all changes when her father discovers a curious music box – one that Clare soon learns has the power to grant wishes. After turning her fortunes around, Clare is living a charmed life… until she realises there is a price to pay for each wish.

I think it’s best to cut to the chase and state that Wish Upon is very much a teen horror movie. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but if you’re expecting the complexity and emotional depth of a Babadook or The Witch, you will be disappointed. This is Blumhouse-style horror, nothing more and nothing less.
Instead Wish Upon is a fun update on The Monkey’s Paw for the Pokemon Go generation.

wu2A blend of Wishmaster and Final Destination, with a little The Craft sprinkled in for good measure, director Leonetti delivers a film that looks great and even manages to deliver a couple of moments of surprising gore and spookiness. Yes, this does include a couple of feeble jump-scares, but we’re now at the point when I feel those are inevitable in a new release. One effectively tense sequence during a thunderstorm is a real highlight.

The cast are all competent at worst, with King carrying the bulk of the film’s emotional weight admirably. Last seen by genre fans in The Conjuring, she is developing into a very impressive actress. She is ably backed up by the supremely likeable trio of standout co-stars Ki Hong Lee, Shannon Purser and the scene-stealing Sydney Park, who is certainly a face to look out for in the future. It certainly helps that each of the characters gets to recite well-written and often very witty dialogue from Barbara Marshall’s sharp screenplay.

There’s also some eye-catching production design on display, especially in the sinister music box which feels like a nice mix between the creations of Guillermo Del Toro and Hellraiser’s infamous Lament Configuration puzzle box. I imagine a line of replicas will be forthcoming and will make a significant amount of cash!

wu3However, the film does have some flaws. It isn’t the most original of plot lines (at times lifting quite heavily from the superior films that came before) and the story is perhaps a little too simple, missing some opportunities to be cleverer. Also, some emotional beats miss their mark by some distance (every cool-dad-saxophone scene is excruciatingly cringe-worthy) and, sadly, the ending is heavily telegraphed and marred by some iffy effects work.

Nonetheless Wish Upon is an enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes, and I imagine it will go over very well with youngsters who are only just discovering the genre.

Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay it is that Wish Upon feels like a fun, intriguing, opening chapter of a new sleeper franchise – and I will certainly be on board for any further instalments.

6/10

Spidarlings (2016) Review

rsz_spidarlingsv2SPIDARLINGS (2016)

Starring Sophia Disgrace, Rahel Kapsaski, Lee Mark Jones and Rusty Goffe

Written and Directed by Salem Kapsaski

Available NOW online at – http://watch.troma.com/

Poverty stricken lovers Eden and Matilda have enough trouble just getting through the days. Their Landlord is trying to terrorize them and strange things seem to be going on at “Juicy Girls”, the place where Matilda works… but when Eden buys a pet spider the real troubles start.”

Despite a myriad of technical issues, Spidarling’s is a pretty endearing piece of trash cinema, and it’s easy to see why it was picked up by Troma.

Opening with a funk-tastic animated title sequence that’s accompanied by a quite polished punk song, Spidarling’s immerses you unapologetically in the lives of skint couple Eden and Matilda, lovers who are the definition of punk. Their tiny flat and style screams “I don’t give a fuck and I don’t give a fuck if you give a fuck that I don’t give a fuck” but a lot of this is blamed on their lack of income. Eden is smart but lazy and doesn’t work, and Matilda appears to just lounge around the burlesque club Juicy Girls. Bored, fed up, behind on their rent and without a clue what to do. Enter, a spider!

For what will be a penny budget Spidarlings doesn’t lack ambition. While technical issues are rife, the experimentation is great to see. Lots of inventive animation and sudden disorienting edits, as well as ransom cutting to songs all really sell the attitude and world of the characters.

rsz_sd1However, Spidarlings falls into a lot of traps that show a lack of experience. Whether down to a choppy colour grade or lack of equipment, the film looks as if it were shot on a consumer camcorder from the nineties. It misses a lot of visual detail and just looks jarring. Also the sound was flimsy. Eden seems dubbed in post while Matilda is often inaudible, and many of the musical sequences are either too loud or too quiet.

But then again, this all adds to the DIY, trashy John Waters micro-budget transgressiveness of it all. You don’t feel like you’re dealing with a safe group of filmmakers, which is great. And it’s two hour runtime manages to flirt from body horror, domestic melodrama, black comedy, slasher and musical as if it’s on shuffle. Each situation however shares a common theme, and that is the strong undercurrent of feminism. Every bloke around the lovers is either a pervert, greedy fucker and often much worse. Some of it doesn’t always hit the spot but that’s the risk of throwing the kitchen sink in there.

The performances are eager and veer from OTT, to delightfully strange, or almost zombie-like and it all adds to the kaleidoscope of tones. Disgrace and Kapsaski hold the thing together and are a surprisingly sweet couple. Along with the engaging leads and diverse supporting cast are the the tunes, and again while the recording and editing holds them back, they are still surprisingly catchy and may just stick in your head for better or worse!

rsz_sd2With gallows black humour and a story that throws the rules out the window, Spidarlings won’t be for everyone. And it can’t be denied that at two hours it’s way too bloody long. But for fans of John Waters, Troma and underground cinema you could do a lot worse. One thing is undeniable, the feminist blood runs strong through this with, viscerally and unapologetically.

Is this a good film? I’m not sure it’s trying to be. But it’s an experience.

6/10

Bella In The Wych Elm (2017) Short Film Review

rsz_bellaBELLA IN THE WYCH ELM (2017) – Short

Directed by Thomas Lee Rutter
Cast: Lee Mark Jones, James Underwood, Traci Templer, James Taylor
Running time: 36 minutes
Distributed by Carnie Film Production.

In 1943 four young boys were out poaching illegally on the Hagley Hall estate in Worcestershire when they discovered a human skull hidden inside a wych elm tree trunk. Initially reluctant to tell anyone, one of the boys was too shocked by their discovery and confessed all to his parents. Upon police investigation, an almost complete human skeleton was found forced inside the trunk of the tree, with a hand discovered some distance away.

Bella in the Wych Elm is a black and white documentary short which tells the tale of the skeleton from discovery to her presumed identification. It was two years in the making and is clearly a labour of love for all those involved with two versions of the film existing, the original and a special silent movie edition with intertitles. I watched the original version which is narrated by ‘Tatty’ Dave Jones, who has a very broad Birmingham accent and he relays the tale as if chatting to you over a pint in your local pub. The film is made to look old and damaged with the filmmakers citing influences ranging from early silent films such as Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922), the works of Guy Maddin, the book and film of Wisconsin Death Trip and exploitation pseudo-documentaries such as Legend of the Witches (1969).

rsz_bella_2It was deduced from forensic examination that the body was forced into the trunk whilst still warm as it could not have been achieved once rigor mortis had set in. However, the discovery did not really come into public conscience until three years later in 1944 when the first graffiti message relating to the mystery appeared on a wall in Upper Dean Street, Birmingham, reading “Who put Bella down the Wych Elm – Hagley Wood”. Since the 1970s the Hagley Obelisk near to where her remains were discovered has also been sporadically defaced with graffiti asking “Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?”

Rutter’s short places the story in the realms of witchcraft and ritualistic murder, although the reality of her death is shown to be far less fantastical. He drops in a couple of very effective scares, what appears to be an original score and his influences, in particular Haxan, are definitely apparent.

Bella_SkullHowever, the short is also strongly tied to its geographical roots and it would be hard to imagine it having the same provincial tone if made by a non-local film crew. Although limited by a low budget at times, this creepy little tale lingers after the closing credits and comes recommended. 6/10

Bella in the Wych Elm has its premiere at Kidderminster Town Hall on 19th July 2017. More information can be found on Facebook (@BellaInTheWychElm) and Twitter (@Bella_Wych_Elm).