“Defarious” – (Short Film Review)

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.

“Defarious” (2016), the eleven-minute and sixteen-second debut short film from writer-director Chase Michael Pallante, is gloriously moody. It plays like the collaborative brain child of horror masters Dario Argento, John Carpenter and James Wan. Moreover, the maniacal demon whose name graces the moniker of the tale, in an undeniably deft representation from Jason Torres, is phenomenally honed. Such accrues to the degree that such a body language based exhibition as that which Torres incorporates here instantaneously calls to mind a time-tested giant of the genre. This is Max Schreck’s iconic portrayal of the menacing title vampire in German auteur F.W. Murnau’s silent masterpiece, Nosferatu (1922). Much like Schreck’s character, who is also referred to as “Count Orlock”, Pallante’s villain is a memorably designed vision of terror. Correspondingly, he seems to appear from the shadows as easily as he becomes one. Yet, they are both distinctly their own article. The apprehension Torres’ entity resonates is immediately noteworthy. This is especially evident in the bone-chilling moment when we initially spy him in full. Such transpires at the midway mark. With a sinewy frame and wide, emotionless, grey alien-like eyes, which appear to be glaring from the fiery depths of hell itself, the alignment to Pallante’s antagonist with Murnau’s unholy monster is complete. Best of all, they match one another in their ability to effortlessly unnerve.

Pallante, who also produced, chronicles the young Amy (in a consistently harrowing enactment from Janet Miranda). Plagued by nightmares, and disturbing sights of her deceased mother, the line between reality and the dream world has been blurred. Such is made more so when a terrifying figure breaks into her home. His intentions are clearly conveyed from the onset. He wants to take her life. The creature will stop at nothing to do so. With no one to help her, she must escape the fiendish clutches of the merciless madman who wants her dead. But, to do so, she must face the both the sight and understand the symbolic meaning of her greatest qualms and uncertainties. This she must do by facing them headlong.

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It is a plot that would be considered thin and ultimately routine, a general recycling of the events of Shant Hamassian’s intriguingly retro “Night of the Slasher” (2015), in lesser hands. But, with the occasionally Lynchian, imagery-laden manner Pallante utilizes to guide the project, the presentation shatters such fundamental limitations. In turn, Pallante makes of such a rudimentary palette a compulsively fascinating account. It is one which is nonetheless robust, refreshing and endlessly engaging. This is largely because of Pallante’s aforesaid aesthetically driven decisions. Additionally, Pallante keeps the pace confident and enduring throughout the arrangement. Likewise, the intensity, which is deftly mounted and engineered, is ever-culminating. We notice this with a genuinely unnerving, and appropriate, quote from Matthew 10:28. Such is distributed before the yarn even begins to unfold. This nail-biting characteristic elevates to a surely satisfying, if predictable in hindsight, finale. More than anything, this climactic stretch greatly underlines the merciless nature of Pallante’s endeavor. Such creates a masterclass in generating continued suspense. It is one which is augmented as grimly illustrious, macabre and foreboding. This is via Jorge Canaveral and Christian Reyes’ eye-popping and wholly immersive cinematography. Further helping matters is that the arrangement is almost entirely cast in a hazy blue veneer. Such is another bold, ingenious choice. It makes Pallante’s configuration ever more menacing and surreal.

Wisely keeping dialogue, motivations and exposition to a minimum for maximum impact, Pallante, who also wrote the smart and enigmatic screenplay with developer Zay Rodriguez, paints a mercilessly taunt nightmare on celluloid. The result is an unwaveringly bleak and masterful tone piece. It is one that pays homage to 1980’s and 90’s slashers traditions. This it does by staying within the rules, motions and general arc held within the traditions of such a beloved sub-genre. Never once in its runtime does it break out of them. Yet, the project operates just as successfully as a meditation on sleep paralysis. Such is unveiled in a beautifully constructed post-credits sequence. This brief segment slyly stays within the aforesaid murderer-oriented story boundaries. In so doing, it is conveyed from the perspective of our lead. She, we than learn, suffers from such a condition. Relatedly, Pallante’s affair is also brilliant in its quiet critique of the medical world. The result is a truly multi-layered narrative. It is one that mechanizes as well on a surface level as it does on the myriad layers beneath.

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Because of these herculean details, Pallante triumphantly delivers a raw, primal, but cerebral, experience in unrelenting fear. Such is vastly punctuated by a purely cinematic use of sound. This arrives courtesy of Fernando Frandy Castillo, Jose Julian Santiago and Pallante. It is one of the best issuances of its type I have encountered in such a venture. The atmosphere laced score from Jonathan Martinez brilliantly reinforces such a factor. Correspondingly, Lou Cannizzo and Martin Hayward’s visual and Jessica Hayward and Reyes’ special effects are similarly captivating. The five-person camera and electrical as well as the same said make-up department offer terrific contributions in their respective arenas. Maggie Stapleton’s wardrobes are exceptional. Pallante’s editing is sharp and skillfully administered. This Long Island, New York recorded opus, a Rhythm and Flow Entertainment Inc. co-fabrication, also boasts spellbinding and unmistakably eerie voice work from Shanae Harris. Alim Ali and Pallante’s stunts are magnificent. They grandly amplify the quality at hand.

“Defarious” was made for only $25,000. Yet, it looks and feels like a multi-million dollar Hollywood exercise. In its brief span, Pallante tells a comprehensive fiction in a post-modernist fashion. The outcome is envy-inducing to say the least. Yet, this tour de force, shot from August 29th through September 4th of 2015, is exciting in another arena. It is jumpy without ever resorting to cheap gimmicks to accomplish such a task. Astoundingly, it also has the unpredictable internal logic of a waking dream; an unshakable night terror. This is one of the strongest attributes of the exertion. Such a distinguishing influence fluently puts us into the often-confused psychological state of our heroine. This is provided with fervent gusto. Such makes it easy to see why this incredible labor won the coveted Best Film award at The Northeast Film Festival Horror Fest. Pallante has delivered one of 2016’s greatest entries in celluloid apprehension. I highly recommend seeking this one out.

The official site for the film can be found here.

The Facebook page for “Defarious” is located here.

R&F Entertainment’s Twitter page is here.

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A Word of Dreams Recommends: “The Lost City of the Monkey God”, “Silence” and “Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary”

By Andrew Buckner

The following is a new feature on my site. It is called “A Word of Dreams Recommends”. The function of this section is to shed light on high-quality, recently released works that I believe audiences will enjoy as much as I do. Unlike the full-length reviews which are otherwise found here, this column will issue my thoughts on the books, films or musical releases I am endorsing in just a few brief sentences. My initial entry in this arena covers Douglas Preston’s latest book, The Lost City of the Monkey God, director Martin Scorsese’s Silence and the documentary Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary.

THE LOST CITY OF THE MONKEY GOD

****1/2 out of *****.

So vividly written that you can simultaneously hear and feel the jungles of Mosquita coming to life around you, The Lost City of the Monkey God (2017) by Douglas Preston fascinates as both a non-fiction adventure and as a historical mystery. The 328 page volume, distributed through Grand Central Publishing and unveiled on January 3rd, chronicles Preston joining a team of explorers in Honduras. This is in hopes of unveiling the remains of Ciudad Blanca (“The White City”): a place often believed to be a myth. As he did with The Monster of Florence (2014), Preston entertainingly delivers a meticulously researched tome. It is one that is in-depth and thoughtful as it is intent on providing a three-dimensional portrait of the past, present and future. This is in respect to both his subject and those directly linked to such a theme.

SILENCE

***** out of *****.

Martin Scorsese’s Silence (2016) is exactly what a great film should be: a beautiful, challenging and emotive journey; an unforgettable and unflinching experience on celluloid. Scorsese stays true to the envy-inducing traits that has made him such a cinematic force over the past 50 plus years. In turn, he has given us an equal balance of visceral art, distinct vision, character insight and understanding. In adapting Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel of the same name, which chronicles two Christian missionaries who go to Japan in the 17th century to find their long missing advisor and encounter a country which outlaws their belief system, Scorsese’s stylish and wholly cinematic guidance of the project often draws a remarkable and unmistakable alignment to the timeless films of Akira Kurosawa. Rodrigo Prieto’s Oscar-nominated cinematography as well as Andrew Garfield’s performance as our central figure, Rodrigues, are both sweeping and impassioned. Liam Neeson, as Ferreira, and Adam Driver, as Garupe, are also superb. Additionally, the screenplay from Jay Cocks is assuredly cerebral. To grand effect, it never loses focus of the plight of its leads. It is, just as you’d expect from Scorsese, an absolute masterpiece. Never once in its one-hundred and sixty-one-minute runtime does it falter. True cinephiles owe it to themselves to see this immediately on the biggest screen imaginable. This is, by all means, a real movie for real movie lovers.

UNEARTHED & UNTOLD: THE PATH TO PET SEMATARY

****1/2 out of *****.

Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary (2016) is an endlessly absorbing, brilliantly made and comprehensive documentary. It concerns the crafting of Mary Lambert’s film version of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary (1989) as well as the early inspiration for the novel of the same name (1983). The interviews with cast and crew in this ninety-seven-minute production are riveting. So are the various behind the scenes photographs and related materials John Campopiano and Justin White, whose direction is skillful and deft, issue throughout. The result is an ingenious, confidently paced and easy to enjoy slice of non-fiction. It is one which appealed immensely to both the cinephile as well as the King fanatic in me. If either, or both, of these terms describe you, I highly recommend giving this Terror Films distribution release a look.

 

“Rock & Roll: The Movie” – (Movie Review)

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By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

Indiana born musician turned writer-director Darren Dowler’s full-length feature debut, Rock & Roll: The Movie (2016), is a wildly successful rapid-fire comedy. It is one which just as engagingly acts as a loving homage to the popular culture of the 1980’s and 90’s. This is while embracing the immersive spirit of the melodic genre stated outright in its title. Evidence of this rests in Dowler’s witty incorporation of a deftly conveyed stoner duo by the name of Bill (Vince Corazza) and Ted (Chip Bent) into the proceedings. Such becomes a pulpit for slyly abounding references to the two film, Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter starring series. This began with Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and ended with Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991). Such a factor is especially evident in the uproarious sequence at the twenty- minute marker. Here these certainly likable and well-played pals are introduced. Yet, the often unabashedly raunchy jokes, all playfully administered, are much in the mad cap, slapstick vain of another decade appropriate gem. This is Jim Abrahams’ and David and Jerry Zucker’s satirical parody masterpiece, Airplane! (1980). The Zuckers’ and Peter Segal’s The Naked Gun (1988), an adaptation of their detective style television show Police Squad! (1982), also springs to mind. Such is established immediately in a brilliantly conceived commencing bit. Such kids the inevitable “leaving my unconditionally ardent mother behind to chase my dreams” segment to endlessly guffaw-inducing effect. This is an inescapable tradition in cinematic stories such as these. A reoccurring pun concerning martial artist Jackie Chan, which is initiated into the fiction in the second half and later addressed in full while the flashily displayed concluding credits roll, is another highlight.

Keeping its tongue firmly planted in cheek for the entirety of its ninety-one-minute runtime, this delightfully entertaining romp has nary a gag or smartly penned piece of dialogue that doesn’t land with either a chuckle or an outright belly laugh. This is a courtesy of Dowler’s tremendously clever, confidently paced screenplay. The composition fully embraces its broad structure and characterizations. This also testifies to the great comic timing of the on-screen performers. Yet, this intimate epic also flourishes because Dowler fills his tale with charismatic, yet vastly sympathetic, central figures. All of whom are distinctly their own personality. Moreover, they are complete with their own eccentricities and amusing quirks. Though many of the anecdotes might haggle the easily offended, none of the people in Dowler’s effort are ever mean-spirited or overly villainous. Such only makes the undertaking more charming and decidedly old-fashioned. The effectiveness of this element is at its most memorable in Bill Oberst Jr.’s scene stealing performance of Moe. He is a sometimes bar tender who constantly pops up at random intervals throughout the affair. This is to dispense strange and off-key nuggets of nonsensical wisdoms and alternate words of motivation to both our leads as well as the audience.

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But, the essence of the motion picture, Dowler’s twenty-five songs which are heard throughout, often bring about some of the heartiest laughs. For instance, there is a catchy tune presented in the last fifteen minutes, authored and performed by Dowler (as are all the tracks), which is called “I am Better Looking”. It is just as rib-tickling as the live concert/ music video manner it is presented. But, there are also some genuinely stirring and emotive moments. They pleasantly derive from the more serious numbers. “You Are the First Girl”, which is recited after a bet which transpires before the hour mark, is a beautiful, passionate ballad. It is enhanced by the quietly same said segment in which it takes place. “When We Were Young”, which our hero, Steve Taylor (in a wickedly good portrayal by Dowler) stages in the climactic competition, is just as poignant. Such illuminates Dowler’s bold storytelling and organizational capabilities. These episodes, which would otherwise conflict with the not entirely sentimental mood of the labor, are among the centerpieces of the film. Best of all, they blend seamlessly with everything else Dowler dishes out here. Such ultimately creates a more rounded, artistic and unpredictable arrangement.

Dowler chronicles an oft projected narrative. This is that of an unmistakably innocent man, David Roso (in a pitch perfect depiction by Clark Koelsch), who goes to Los Angeles in hopes of seeing his ambitions take flight. Almost immediately upon his arrival in California, David meets up with personal idol and agent to a catalogue of famous individuals, William Smythe (in an outstanding representation by Daniel Laney which frequently utilizes deadpan humor to punctuate its laughs). Smythe is more interested in obtaining Roso’s ’57 T-Bird than providing career advice to him. In so doing, Smythe makes a wager with Roso. The deal is that if Roso can get an unsigned talent a recording deal in four months or less, Smythe will officially make Roso an agent. If this doesn’t work out, Roso must hand over his prized vehicle to Smythe. Pretending that he is genuinely concerned with Roso, Smythe secretly sets him up for what he expects to be failure. This is by declaring to Smythe that the person he helps get a recording contract is Taylor. An individual who happens to be a porn star servicing drunk in his 40’s who never once glimpsed fame. Such is just the first of the numerous spins Dowler puts on the deliberately conventional trappings of this otherwise formulaic plot.

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From a technical standpoint, Dowler issues editing which is every bit as sharp and impressive as his myriad other contributions to this wonderful project. This Entertainment Research Institute and Rocking and Rolling production also benefits from Dimitris Bogiantzis’ suitably cheery, vibrant cinematography. The make-up, camera and electrical as well as the four-person sound department are also remarkable. Likewise, Dowler’s stunts and Alexandra’s Pomerance’s wardrobes are exceptional. Further assisting matters is Cindy Merrill as Karen, Mara Marina as Gloria and Shawn Parikh as Don. All of whom offer delightful enactments.

This EskaGo and Uncork’d Entertainment distribution release is a true tour de force. Compelling and competent at all levels, Dowler’s photoplay has fun with its familiar ingredients. This is without every falling prey to them. Dowler, who is also the lead vocalist for Paul Revere and the Raiders, sends-up the industry that he has been a stealthy force in for many years. Yet, this is done in a spirited and admirable fashion. Such a design will surely appeal as much to insiders as it will general audiences. This is the increasingly rare comedy with real bite. Yet, it operates just as well as an exhibition of talent from all involved. Just don’t go into it expecting any unique insights into the underbelly of the music world. The multi-faceted Dowler, who is also an acclaimed novelist, has given us an amiable opus. It is one which lampoons the limitations of similar entries. This is with a knowing wink at itself and its patron. Because of this, the light-hearted nature and nostalgia at hand are increasingly infectious. Rock & Roll: The Movie triumphs. As a matter of fact, it is one of the best films of its ilk I’ve encountered in the past decade. I highly recommend you seek It out on video on demand today.

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“Split” – (Capsule Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: **** out of *****.

Split (2017), a tale of three young women who find themselves kidnapped and imprisoned by a man who has twenty-three diverse personalities within him (though we only encounter nine of them), and is on the verge of unveiling his monstrous twenty-forth, is tense, tough and terrific. Though it incorporates several bits in its last act that come off as too convenient to get our heroine from point A to point B, betraying the organically built nature of the narrative, M. Night Shyamalan otherwise delivers. Much of this is courtesy of his superbly constructed, meditative, breakneck paced and character-oriented screenplay. It is one that grips us with Shyamalan’s seemingly effortless ability to generate suspense. This is even when issuing the most tried and true of thriller elements into this arrangement. Such is evident in a certainly attention-garnering, and beautifully executed, commencing sequence. This oversees the abduction of our female protagonists, who are waiting on the return of their adult driver, from the back and passenger seats of a car. Rarely in its one hundred and seventeen-minutes does this factor of unproblematic amusement waver.

To its further credit, the script is also undeniably clever. It is filled with believably authored dialogue. All of which is just as credibly administered by the players. Likewise, the penned piece is unafraid to go into a variety of surprisingly dark and genuinely shocking places. This is most noteworthy in its routinely dispensed back story. Such is especially praise-worthy when considering that this is a PG-13 rated venture.

Helping matters further is that Shyamalan incorporates into this Blinding Edge Pictures and Blumhouse Productions release a clearly Hitchcockian sensibility to his brilliantly tuned direction. It often stylistically and thematically holds a mirror to Alfred Hitchcock’s timeless adaptation of Robert Bloch’s novel, Psycho (1960). The impressively designed and imaginative opening and closing credits sequence is potent evidence of this trait. But, the exertion is much its own entity. It doesn’t rely solely on this imitative attribute to elucidate both quality and audience appeal. Such makes the film, along with the high intrigue of the deceptively straightforward sounding plot, increasingly more triumphant. It also makes the composition easier to admire. West Dylan Thordson’s sparse, but unnerving, score along with Mike Gioulakis’ handsome, brooding cinematography only augment this detail.Relatedly, Luke Franco Ciarrocchi’s editing and Kurt Wunder’s special effects are seamless and sharp. Such also proves the technical mastery clearly visible within the presentation.

Complimenting these attributes are the magnificent lead performances. This comes foremost from James McAvoy, as the dissociative identity disorder (DID) suffering antagonist, Kevin. McAvoy shows that he is phenomenal at balancing the many successfully comedic moments his on-screen persona frequently conveys. This is without ever ignoring his ominous and menacing disposition. Such makes for a certainly rounded, oddly likable and watchable villain. Correspondingly, Anya Taylor-Joy is unflinching in her portrayal of Casey. She is our introverted, but anything but vulnerable, central figure. Moreover, Betty Buckley (2008’s The Happening) as Kevin’s psychologist, Dr. Karen Fletcher, steals every scene she is in. Haley Lu Richardson as Claire Benoit, Brad William Henke as Uncle John, Sebastain Arcelus as Casey’s Father and Jessica Sula as Marcia are also excellent.

Yet, as undeniably entertaining as the effort is for most of the runtime, it gives way to a rather disappointing, disjointed final act. The sum of which is improved by a smirk-inducing alignment, which is more a sly reference than an all out twist, in its concluding section. Such will assuredly delight avid followers of Shyamalan’s prior work. This is while leaving casual viewers in the cold (much as it did with the theatregoers I saw it with). Shyamalan’s brief turn as the charismatic Jai is similarly enjoyable. The result is an excellent, highly recommended motion picture. It is one that, because of the previously stated shortcomings, falls just before the mark of greatness. Still, it is a journey that is well worth undergoing. With the rollercoaster ride that is Split, Shyamalan has proven that his cinematic capabilities are as stalwart and wildly unpredictable as ever.

“Hunting Grounds” – (Movie Review)

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By Andrew Buckner
Rating: **** out of *****.

Hunting Grounds (2015), the ninety-one-minute full-length debut feature from writer-director John Portanova, proves that there is still much cinematic life to be derived from the ever-audience alluring legend of Bigfoot. Originally titled Valley of the Sasquatch, Portanova has implemented a rugged, character-oriented thriller. It is one that seamlessly blends both modern and old-fashioned narrative ingredients. Such is crafted into a purely entertaining and largely credible blend. Best of all, it looks to its enigmatic antagonist with equal doses of awe and fear. The tribe of Northwest America based organisms at the core of Portanova’s labor do not merely function as the primal animals in which they are far too often portrayed. Instead they are demonstrated as noticably human. This is visible in both their general gestures and attitude. Such benefits the configuration spectacularly. To its continued credit, Portanova’s classically designed and meticulously paced screenplay is well-researched. It incorporates an obvious knowledge and affinity for its potentially truth based villain. This is slyly sprinkled into the dialogue. All of which is as cut from the everyday, unforced and operative as its rounded and smartly developed central figures.

Such distinctly separates Portanova’s installment from the hefty volume of thematically related tales. More specifically, the low-budget photoplays that have been curiously spiking in cinema over the last decade. Outside of the beasts which torment our protagonists, Portanova yearns to showcase the violent monster in mankind. This he brilliantly ties around the argumentative and money woe infused relationship between widower Roger Crew (in a highly effective performance from Jason Vail) and his introverted son, Michael (in a quietly poignant enactment from Miles Joris-Peyrafitte). Such adds an increasingly taunt level of emotional intensity to the enduring suspense already at hand. Moreover, the discussions of the relationship between Roger and his deceased wife that transpire early in the work form a wrenchingly sentimental angle. This splendidly showcases Portanova’s penchant for solidly delivered, engaging exposition. Simultaneously, it illuminates the damaged, father and child rapport between Roger and Michael.

Authentically administered arrangements such as these keep the heart of the undertaking much in check. Such makes the sum of the endeavor more well-rounded and harrowing. This is as it gets us to root for and understand our everyday heroes, which is pivotal. Especially before the tense life or death scenarios, which Portanova orchestrates just as masterfully as these establishing episodes, that befall them in the second and third acts. The best evidence of this rests in the last twenty-minutes. This section is especially well-made and unnerving. It oversees both the affectionate and more generally electrifying rudiments of the account simultaneously reaching a zenith. Such is made increasingly imposing as several truly unexpected twists take flight.

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Among such evidently wise decisions, is that the beasts herein are only partially glimpsed or, as is frequently the case, left in the shadows for nearly an hour into the runtime. Such calls to mind the tactic brought forth in films such as Ridley Scott’s groundbreaker Alien (1979) and Steven Spielberg’s same said Jaws (1975). Despite how often a device such as this has been issued, its effectiveness is again confirmed by Portanova as timeless. A slow reveal such as we see here, as well as the earlier stated masterpieces, is a proven path to success. It also makes the initial sight of the fiend in full even more astounding. Such is also established as triumphant in Portanova’s motion picture. For when it inevitably occurs, in a section which sees Mike waking up to a Sasquatch that is practically face to face with him, bystanders are given one of the most unforgettable and pulse-pounding segments in the movie.

Portanova sets these events up just as smartly. Such is incorporated with a five-minute opening sequence that is as ominous as it is perfectly mood-setting. After this memorably striking instant, Portanova sets up an engaging, if familiarly rooted, plot. In the fiction, Roger and Mike go to a secluded, family owned cabin in the woods. This is after their prior home was tragically destroyed. Two pals, Sergio Guerrero (in a stalwart depiction from David Saucedo) and Will Marx (in a riveting and sincere portrayal by D’Angelo Midili), soon arrive. They carry on alongside the duo. Shooting local game is the shared focus. This is until the group inexplicably arouses the sights of a community of ape-like brutes. All of which eerily resemble the indigenous Yeti. Soon those who went into the woods expecting to showcase their proposed dominance over nature find themselves symbolically on the other side of the rifle. This is as the gathering of simian-like brutes demonstrate that they will gladly kill to protect their homeland.

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Recorded in Snoqualmie Pass and Roslyn, Washington, this Uncork’d Entertainment distribution release boasts seamless and remarkable visual effects from David Phillips. This October People and Votiv Films production also benefits from John Bash’s haunting music. Furthermore, Jeremy Berg’s cinematography is as organic and darkly beautiful as the material demands. Phillips’ editing is skillful and deft. The make-up team, concocted of Doug Hudson and Sarah Prevo, offer terrific input. Correspondingly, the sound from Jens Larsen and the costumes and wardrobes from Audrey Frances Abeyta are sharp and impressive. The seven- person camera and electrical crew, as well as Jerry L. Buxbaum and Vail’s incredible stunts, enhance Portanova’s confident guidance of the project splendidly. Tim Keaty, Regan MacStravic, Madeline Sadowski and Montana Tippett form a powerhouse art department.

The secondary cast is just as strong. Connor Conrad exhibits that he is an undoubtedly imposing force. This is unveiled in his ruthless depiction of The Beast. Additionally, Jordan Neslund is phenomenal in her brief turn as Town Girl. Bill Oberst Jr. augments the plausible edge of all we encounter with his ever-watchable representation of Bauman.

The consequence of these wondrous technical aspects and smart storytelling moves is certainly deserving of acclaim. Having won the Best Feature Film Award at Boise’s 2015 Idaho Horror Film Festival, the narrative, which was also graced with myriad nominations in similar commemorations, is guaranteed to also be a knockout with general spectators. This is because Portanova is unafraid to present flawed, yet richly settled, on-screen personas. All of them will prove, in one way or another, to be relatable to onlookers. Even when triumphantly issued action bits are the focus of the piece, as is largely the case with the second half of the exertion, the effort never forgets the motivations and plight of the protagonists. Such makes for a bit of celluloid that soars as stalwartly as a drama as it does a survival yarn. Portanova has evoked a genre entry that is unflinching and gripping; a must-see. You can do so yourself when Hunting Grounds becomes available via video on demand February 7th, 2017.

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“Bornless Ones” – (Movie Review)

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By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***1/2 out of *****.

Bornless Ones (2016), the eighty-minute full-length feature debut from writer-director Alexander Babaev, summons the spirit of Sam Raimi’s seminal horror classic, The Evil Dead (1981), spectacularly well. Respecting the foundation laid down by Raimi, Babaev has crafted a rollercoaster ride of gore. It is one which is propelled by increasingly ghastly coincidences. Furthering this parallel is that these fearful events revolve around a batch of ruthless demons. All of whom are summoned to a secluded cabin the woods. Additionally, Babaev’s structure and general build-up of the presentation, alongside the previously stated mechanisms of the tried and true plot, are also reminiscent of Raimi’s tale. This is with the first half of the endeavor being more character-oriented. To its further favor, it is also noticeably well-mounted. In this early section, Babaev, whose direction is taunt and quietly stylish throughout, successfully executes a continuous sense of ominous dread. Once the runtime passes the halfway mark, the film tilts into full gear. From herein, it hits a momentous creative stride of claustrophobic, apprehension-inducing sequences that never wavers.

Likewise, Babaev fills each frame with inventive images and scenarios to brilliant consequence. They, in turn, make the unfolding chaos ever-present ever more tense and palpable. A memorably macabre moment at forty-two minutes in, which involves the torturous sight of a deceased child in a bath tub, is definitive proof of such a statement. It is also a testament to the largely convincing nature of Artem Miroshin’s accomplished visual effects. The idea Babaev conceives of “demons who heal”, as it is described by an individual in the effort itself, is especially novel. It further showcases the inventive spin Babaev puts into the standard mechanisms of such a rigorously held terror formula. In so doing, Babaev incorporates an even balance of promise and pay-off. Such works as well in Babaev’s narrative as it did when Raimi incorporated such a manner of account telling stability thirty-six years prior. Yet, the sum of Babaev’s affair isn’t entirely reliant on these imitative attributes to establish its high-quality. As a matter of fact, Babaev’s deft screenplay is decidedly fashioned more from the modern cinematic approach to the genre. This is in regards to the fact that it delves deeper into the brooding and often pained backstories of its leads. Such is in comparison to the previously stated Raimi authored groundbreaker. Yet, the configuration as a whole is, ultimately, hindered by occasionally tiresome dialogue. This is most visible when such celluloid derived speech lapses too often into the repeated question of “What’s wrong with you?”. This is projected as a go-to reaction to the revulsion-laced happenstances our central figures undergo in the later stretches.

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Babaev’s routinely erected on-screen personas, none of whom may prove as iconic as Raimi’s hero from The Evil Dead, Ash (Bruce Campbell), are united by a variety of past tragedies. This is both openly articulated among some and with others initially kept secret. Such issues a perfect pulpit to develop ever-enigmatic personalities. All of whom constantly keep audiences intrigued. Simultaneously, this gives Babaev an opportunity to erect several genuinely surprising dramatic twists. These are positioned throughout the undertaking. Such authentically gasp-worthy instances beautifully compliment the unnerving tone of the construction. Moreover, they bring a human allegory to the frightful fiends that dominate the fiction. These elements assist the exertion in showcasing that it is much its own entity. Such transpires to great consequence. This is while keeping its obvious inspirations much in check. It makes for a well-rounded, delightfully entertaining exercise in dread. Such is one which is capped off by an ingenious final scene. In this brief bit, Babaev issues a clever and sinisterly smirk-inducing change in roles and perspective. Such represents a deliberate turn from the expected. Though Babaev can never completely liberate himself from such trappings, the sum of the exhibition remains potently engaging because of such unique components.

After a tense, gorgeously realized and attention-garnering opening section, Babaev focuses in on Emily (in a credible and charismatic performance from Margaret Judson). She has been left to care for her cerebral palsy afflicted brother, Zach (in a depiction by Michael Johnston that is towering and powerful; the emotive driving force of the labor). We follow her and group of her friends. This is as they help Zach, Emily and her boyfriend, Jesse (in a stalwart enactment from Devin Goodsell) settle down in their new abode. Yet, almost immediately the group uncovers strange symbols and handwritten notes. Making matters worse is the discovery of a satanic mural. All of which are strewn throughout the edifice. These are signposts related to the catastrophic circumstances, unknown to Emily and her confidants, which were inflicted upon those who owned the house previously. All the while, Zach seems to be undergoing sudden, miraculous improvements in regards to his condition. Yet, once an effort is made to remove these bizarre markings seven so-called “guardians”, ominous defensive entities, begin to gather outside. Such is another emblem. It is one personifying the chaos that is about to be unleashed.

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Relatedly, this Uncork’d Entertainment distribution and Black Drone Media production, mostly shot in California’s Pine Mountain Club, is a triumph in the performance arena. It is graced with a hilariously energetic portrayal from David Banks. He plays the quirky, eccentric real estate agent, Richard Alonzo Jr. III. Mark Furze as Woodrow, Bobby T. as Michele and Victoria Clare as Christina are all wonderful in their portrayals. Gwen Holloway is particularly striking in her brief turn as Emily’s mother. Nick Saso as Dennis, Rob Tepper as Dr. Weisenberg and Svetlana Titova as Dolores are terrific. Pony Wave as Sarah and Greg Travis as Billy all bring distinctly remarkable life to the personas they embody.

From a technical standpoint, it is just as accomplished. The music by Paul Hartwig is compellingly constructed and masterfully moody. Correspondingly, the cinematography from Egor Povolotskiy is phenomenally proficient. Babaev’s editing is seamless. The camera and electrical department, make-up crew and sound team all deliver impeccibly in their specific categories. Augmenting this appeal is Catelin Dziuba’s fresh and exciting costume design. Similarly, Carlos Cortez’s art direction is eye-popping.

Such results in a flawed, but certainly admirable and worthwhile attempt. Many of the story beats ring with a sense of deja vu. For example, the anticipated episode early on where the team arrives at a rundown gas station. Such is a time-tested trademark often spied in motion pictures such as these. But, Babaev proves unafraid to boldly touch upon sobering subjects etched from real life fears and atrocities. Such illuminates and gives purpose to our protagonists. It makes us care for them even more because of this decision. We understand their motivations. Because of this, we feel the intensity of their plight. This is as they combat the otherworldly wickedness at hand. Such makes the suspense Babaev generates so ceaselessly here more profound and nail-biting. The pedigree of invention Babaev registers further elevates the material. Moreover, there are other slyly positioned winks to other entries in The Evil Dead series outside of the original. There is one especially smirk-inducing moment involving the tongue of the possessed and a pair of open scissors seen in the last act of Babaev’s latest. Such calls to mind Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake of Raimi’s masterpiece. The voices of the overtaken in the oddly titled Bornless Ones, though not wholly believable and shakily dispensed, also seem to mirror such a trait in the three film (or four if you count Alvarez’s previously addressed reboot) series. Such adds an extra undercurrent of fun, especially for fellow cinephiles, to the proceedings. Because of such measures Babaev proves all that can be done with a familiar plot and set-up. The culmination of these minutiae is certainly worth seeing for yourself. You can do so when the movie arrives in select theatres and is simultaneously released on video on demand on February 10th, 2017.

The Facebook page for the photoplay can be found here.

The Twitter page for the flick can be found here.

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“Night Job” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

The strength of writer-director J. Antonio’s eighty-five-minute debut feature, Night Job (2017), is built on the unpredictable. More specifically, the various encounters with a wide assortment of individuals our ever-likeable hero, James (in a charismatic and always watchable personification of a fictional persona by Jason Torres), encounters. For example, he faces, in one of the most unexpected and amusing flashes in the invention, a priest (in a terrific depiction from Robert Youngren). The man of God has been summoned to James’ building to perform an exorcism. Likewise, one of the climactic passages, which involves an accusatory homeless man (in a smirk-inducing and wonderfully eccentric performance from Brignel Camilien), works just as well in this respect. Along the way, James meets a psychic by the name of Josephine (in an excellent representation from Shanane Christine Harris), a con man (Adam P. Murphy, who is terrific) and an adult DVD Vendor (in an extraordinary presentation from Lester Greene). There is even a woman that incites in James a flirtatious rapport. Her moniker is Catherine (in an endearing and proficient turn from Stacey Weckstein). Such transpires late in the endeavor.

These sections are all beautifully done. Moreover, they make the demonstration layered, rich and full of life. Adding to the mix are equally well-timed and successfully uproarious sequences involving various partygoers, cops and relationship related spats. Yet, each accruing happenstance is so apparently random that it makes the sum of the picture consistently entertaining. It also mirrors a certain reality. This is one that folks in twenty-three-year old James’ situation, whose first night shift as a temporary doorman in a Manhattan high-rise apartment building is the unique focus of the composition, must constantly undergo. This is as one of the various unwritten demands of his current employer.

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But, what is just as pleasantly erratic is the tender sequences of heartfelt depth. These are seamlessly peppered among the many effectively humorous instances that run through the bulk of the composition. The most noteworthy of these items is a discussion with our central figure and a near blind woman, Stella (in a quietly powerful, consistently credible and charismatic performance from Bettina Skye). In this exceptionally harrowing bit, which comes right before the hour mark, we learn of James’ literary dreams. Stella makes this portion increasingly enchanting. This is with her shared life learned lessons and positive reinforcement of James’ ambitions. The segments involving Stella and James are the cornerstone of the movie. They tap into an emotional honesty that is natural, graceful and transcendent. These qualities enhance the variety. They also touch upon themes that will assuredly prove relatable to a widespread audience. The sole color configuration in the photoplay, which comes immediately after the portion involving James and Stella, is both smirk-inducing, eye-popping and heart-stirringly ambitious. Here James sees himself as the poised individual he could be. Such an image is conjured by Stella’s optimistic words. In this sense, Antonio seems to be balancing out the oddness of those James meets with an underlying message concerning the kindness and unexpectedly hope instilling measures of strangers. Such only adds to the sly profundity at hand.

Such a stalwart attribute is also a courtesy of Antonio’s smart, honest, confidently paced and surprisingly bold screenplay. His dialogue is perfect for the material. It elucidates the small talk and other commonplace discussions strangers engage in among one another splendidly. His characterizations are proudly born from this existence mirroring trait. Such details make it easy to understand the motivations and the frequent confusion James alternately embodies throughout the construction. The deliberate, meticulous pace of the script augments these physiognomies masterfully. The result, when combined with Antonio’s luminous and assured guidance of the project, is an endeavor that promotes a great new cinematic craftsman. Simultaneously, it summons the soaring charming inherent in the greatest independent films.

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Also, building upon this magnificent foundation is the herculean impact of the enactments. Besides those mentioned above, Timothy J. Cox is brilliant in his fleeting role of Mr. Jones. Brandon J. Shaw, credited here as “Apartment 718”, fares just as well. Greg Kritikos as Romeo, Una Petrovic as Charlene and Carmen Borla as Olivia are also remarkable. The same can be said for Laeticia De Valer as Kelly, Steven L. Coard as Mark and Jose Espinal as Eddie. It is a distinctively large cast for an exertion that feels so intimate. Everyone involved delivers spectacularly. In turn, the labor is amended another of its many superior charms.

The crew is just as indispensable in creating the high-quality art that proudly radiates through every frame on-screen. T.J. Wilkins’ jazzy music is tone-setting and undoubtedly appropriate for the material. We notice this in the opening moments, which when combined with Valentin Farkasch’s immersive black and white cinematography, is guaranteed to generate nostalgia in fellow cinephiles. This is as an undeniable alignment to an old-fashioned noir from the 1930’s or 1940’s becomes evident. Such an impression is lifted throughout this comedy-drama. This is even when modern components which seem to dictate otherwise meet the bystanders’ gaze. Such an atmosphere is riveting and endlessly admirable. The seamless and sharp editing from Sam Druckerman makes this allusion complete. Correspondingly, Magda Suriel’s make-up is top-notch. Jennifer Humala and Luis Inestroza offer a crisp issuance of sound. Kyle Brown’s visual effects are a marvel. Unlike many modern mainstream undertakings, they do not take you out of what is occurring. Instead they vastly enhance the viewer absorption. Jonathan Alvarez’s camera department contribution is just as deft, capable and exciting.

Antonio has crafted a memorable masterpiece of movement and interaction. It calls to mind Kevin Smith’s ground-breaking debut, Clerks (1994). Not only is this noteworthy in its general focus on the inner-workings of a young man (or men as in Smith’s case), but it is true in the way it effortlessly develops its protagonists. This is while simultaneously diverting spectators via purportedly routine occupational dealings. Enhancing this comparison, is that in neither venture do any of the happenstances feel forced or inorganic. There is a low-key beauty to both, especially in its clever banter-oriented emphasis, that will keep cinema patrons repeatedly returning to the narrative. Such makes Antonio a promising talent. He has arranged an affair that is victoriously witty, graceful, funny and inspiring; a tour de force that onlookers will delight in seeing. Night Job, a Sacred 9 Films production, is scheduled to be released in November of 2017.

The Facebook page for the flick can be found here.

The Twitter page for Sacred 9 Films can be found here.

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