“WTF!” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ***1/2 out of *****.

WTF! (2017), the debut feature from director and co-writer Peter Herro, is as dependent on slasher formula as it is stylistic boldness and storytelling innovation. The set-up concerns your usual assortment of cloying, drug-addled and sex obsessed teenage archetypes. Their destination is the equally garden variety isolated cabin in the woods. Tagging along is the reserved Rachel (in a solid depiction from Callie Ott); the sole survivor of a brutal massacre that occurred three years prior. She is continuing to suffer from the shock of the event. This is noted in her reaction to a graphic drawing a classmate composes in an early passage that takes place at Rachel’s high school. Herro, who penned the satisfying and aptly structured script with Adam Buchalter and Christopher Lawrence Centanni, also displays the same type of reaction in a later sequence. This is when Rachel glimpses a bloody fighting game being played by two young men. When an unknown killer begins to slaughter those around her once again, her sense of unease quickly controls her.

It’s a straight-forward concept. Yet, it comes together sufficiently well for a genre entry of this ilk. Peter Herro, whose guidance of the photoplay is riveting, makes the plot far more substantial than it is in retrospect. This is with an added police procedural component. Such oversees Rachel being interrogated about the recent carnage that has transpired. There is also the inclusion of Rachel’s flashbacks. Many of these recollections revolve around the foremost bout of murder that Rachel encountered. Though this is as much a trope as the characterizations stated above, Herro utilizes it in a manner that effectively gets viewers to understand and relate to Rachel. The bits which look beyond the terror and focus in on her relationships with others gives Ott’s persona increased dimension.

Herro spends nearly forty-five of the eighty minutes of this Cthulhu Crush Productions release following the Spring Break antics of those on-screen. Given that there is nothing unique about most of the individuals Herro populates the fiction with, the endeavor occasionally feels like it is merely treading water. There are some funny moments and broad attempts at developing our central figures in this division. Such makes the wait for the horror element to kick in worthwhile. Still, the slow movement in these sections, with nary an episode of suspense or build-up induced during this expanse, seriously hinders matters. Once the picture picks up, it delivers enough grisly kills and questions of whodunit to balance out the leisurely and ultimately underwhelming former half. The final twist, though obvious in hindsight, is assembled deftly enough that one can easily admire how slyly it was hidden throughout the runtime. There is also a collection of comic book-like renderings which can be spied during the concluding credits. Such incorporates extra layers of magnificence. This is via their eye-popping flair and general creativity.

Helping matters are the previously unmentioned performances. Sarah Agor steals the show as Lisa. Nicholas James Reilly is stalwart as Toby. Andrea Hunt as Bonnie, Benjamin Norris as Jacob and Adam Foster as Bevan are all spectacular in their respective turns. Chloe Berman as Jessie and Cheyann Dillon as Carla are transcendent. Johnny James Fiore is good as Sam.

Likewise, Justin Kemper offers truly gorgeous and immersive cinematography. It is especially impressive considering the small budget of the piece. Steve Parker issues proficient editing. Sabrina Castro’s make-up is phenomenal. Natalia Zuniga exhibits skillful costume design. The sound team contribution is masterful. Adrian Sealy provides terrifically tense and dramatic music.

The result is a lean and enjoyable arrangement. Though the exercise drags now and then, it opens with a captivating and sharply executed excerpt. It ends just as triumphantly. Furthermore, the wit at hand is made immediately apparent. This impression emerges when the primary words spoken in the representation are the title initialism cried out in full. Such a realization is reiterated when the commencing acknowledgments segment proves an imaginative spin on the evidence of a crime scene.

Even if Herro’s protagonists are routinely etched, it is all part of the joyous embrace of tradition so often found in these efforts. For example, the commonplace “car that won’t start so we can escape” scenario or the obligatory first act gas station stop. These permanent fixtures in the psycho on the loose narrative comfortably find their way into Herro’s affair. But, it is all in the spirit of old-fashioned, nail-biting fun. Such is among the reasons why these movies have remained so popular with audiences over the last several decades. These trademark items are just as successful in Herro’s opus as they have been in similar sagas. Even though this attribute makes for a presentation that can never be measured as groundbreaking, it is certainly absorbing. When combined with the complex touches Herro puts on the construction of the chronicle and a lead that resonates genuine interest, WTF! endures as many cuts above average.

Herro’s excursion into fear will be available on Video on Demand August 1st, 2017.

“The Covenant” – (Movie Review)

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

The Covenant (2017), an eighty-seven-minute full-length film from co-writer and director Robert Conway (2016’s Krampus Unleashed), is a moody and effective take on the frequently utilized demonic possession tale. It establishes its captivating grip on its audience as well as its impeccably honed atmosphere of ever accruing dread instantaneously. This is with a handsomely fashioned and somber opening bit. Such is as devastatingly emotive and haunting as it is surprising and well-made. From herein, Conway and fellow scripters Owen Conway and Christopher L. Smith relentlessly build on this palpable sense of mounting dread spectacularly. This is with a deft balance of the familial slant between our two leads. As is expected with narratives such as these, it is also demonstrated with an ongoing theme of personal religious faith. All of which propel and richly convey an incredible impression of meditation and genuine concern for our central figures. This is while, as is most obviously illustrated in the last thirty-five-minutes, fascinatingly enlightening us about informatory details of prior cases of diabolical control. These formerly stated attributes endure stalwartly in the duration of the fiction. This is without ever ignoring the imaginatively issued and taunt string of supernatural events that unravel throughout the exertion. This makes for a fun, petrifying and incredibly well-rounded genre composition. The FunHouse Features production and Uncork’d Entertainment distribution proudly towers over most entries of its ilk. This is through its victorious poise of account driven elements alone.

Yet, this is far from the sole selling point of the endeavor. The screenplay is intelligent, luminously erected and confidently paced. Correspondingly, it is filled with credible dialogue that is just as believably delivered. Moreover, the material often breaks out of the general arc of related horror items. Such transpires with groundbreaking results. This factor presents to bystanders a work of celluloid that proves to go into courageous, yet genuinely chilling and disturbing, avenues on its own accord. A wonderfully unexpected and terrifyingly conceived twist early in the second half, which drastically changes the stakes and potential outcome of the chronicle, more than prove the victoriously operative nature of this distinguishing factor. Such leads to a nail-biting, potent resolution. The final twenty-minutes, though generally rooted in the situations we have come to expect from such an affair, are more than satisfying. This is from a character-oriented perspective. It is also true of its victorious execution of the various happenstances of unholy phenomena that are brought to life herein. The last sequence is especially unnerving and brilliant. Such is most evident when considering how it turns what would be an otherwise wholesome situation quietly into a shudder-inducing nightmare.

The plot is equally intriguing. Conway focuses on our lead, Sarah Doyle (in a terrific, harrowing enactment by Monica Engesser). Suffering and vulnerable from the drowning death of her Leukemia afflicted daughter, Elizabeth (in a turn by Amelia Habberman that showcases a range far beyond her young years), as well as her husband, Adam (in a riveting interpretation by Chris Mascarelli), Sarah moves into the home of her youth. Accompanying her is Sarah’s brother, Richard (in an absorbing and marvelously wrought depiction from Owen Conway). Almost immediately upon her arrival, she begins to hear voices. Most menacing of all, she repeatedly sees her deceased child swinging and singing the traditional kid’s tune “London Bridge is Falling Down” before her incredulous gaze. A segment in the first act, where Sarah looks out her window onto such an ethereal view, is gorgeously crafted. It makes unsettling use of such a happenstance. As the runtime endures, odd acting townspeople seem drawn to Sarah. They also feel the need to warn her brother of impending danger. These proceedings become increasingly more bizarre and violent. This is as the “hellish creature”, as it is described late in the photoplay, takes hold. Upon doing so, it incites within Sarah an outlandish fixation with her own death. It is a dark obsession that could well give way to the demise of those around her.

The Globe, Arizona recorded venture also boasts exceptional representations from the entire cast. Clint James is stellar as Father Francis Campbell. His persona often calls to mind Jason Miller’s iconic treatment of Father Karras in William Friedkin’s immortal adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s best-seller, The Exorcist (1973). Likewise, Sanford Gibbons is just as sensational in his unflinching illustration of Father James Burk. Maria Olsen as Holly Manning, Shawn Saavedra as Gerry and Richard Lippert as Man in Black are equally enthralling. The same can be said for Greg Lutz’s embodiment of Detective. Sedona Feretto as Lilith and Josh Schultz as Nurse are memorably transformative in their brief secondary roles.

The technical details are just as masterful. Gian Marco Castro’s music is perfect for the material. Travis Amery’s cinematography is illustrious and foreboding. It reiterates the often hopeless tone of the labor splendidly. Justin L. Anderson and Robert and Owen Conway issue editing that is sharp and proficient. The make-up department, formed by Cat Bernier and Cory VanDenBos, is exceptional. This trait is most obvious in the conclusion. In this stage, our heroine is at her most overtaken by the savage monstrosity inside her. Jessica MBah enhances the potency at hand during these sections as well. This is with visual effects that are seamless and spellbinding. Furthermore, Benson Farris and Kenny Mitchell deliver an amazing issuance of sound. The costume and wardrobe design from Lore Haberman augments the everyday authenticity we encounter spectacularly.

More than anything, the effort is reimbursed in quality by the noteworthy chemistry between those who portray Sarah and Richard. Consequently, there is not a second we are not engrossed. There is a conviction that pulsates through the arrangement. It stems from the magnitude of concern we invest in this aforesaid duo. It is just as unmistakable in Conway’s remarkable and stylish, without ever being distractingly so, guidance of the project. The plentiful set-pieces of trepidation are also cleverly administered. Best of all, Conway keeps them coming within the first few minutes. From this point on, he sustains such a dispersal of ghoulish measures at a fervent clip. Yet, it never feels as if he is sacrificing storytelling for such plentiful pulse-pounding manifestations. Instead they are organically taken from the circumstances Conway conceives in the yarn itself. Even the more tried and true scares, such as an instance within the first half hour where a door moves by itself, come off as vigorous and fresh. This is without the undertaking ever resorting to cheap jolts or unnecessary red herrings to heighten the impact of the presentation. Such is a true testament to Conway’s storytelling skills. It is also an unspoken testimony to the high-value of this alluringly built exercise in apprehension. The Covenant is an instant classic. You can experience the terror for yourself when the movie hits video on demand on February 7th, 2017.