“Queen of the Desert” – (Movie Review)

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

Writer-director Werner Herzog’s long shelved Queen of the Desert (2015) is a stunning and beautiful portrait of writer, archeologist and cartographer Gertrude Bell’s journey through the middle east in the early 1900’s. These qualities are most readily reflected in Peter Zeitlinger’s striking cinematography. The same can be said for Klaus Badelt’s sweeping, exciting and spectacularly dramatic music. Likewise, Nicole Kidman’s lead performance, alongside James Franco’s turn as Henry Cadogan, are spectacular. They highlight the top-notch enacrments of this A-list cast. The notable exception to this rule would be Robert Pattinson’s robotic depiction of the legendary “Lawrence of Arabia” himself, T.E. Lawrence.

Yet, the film has an old-fashioned demeanor that is consistently endearing. This is glimpsed in Herzog’s hopelessly sentimental treatment of the various romantic sub-plots Kidman, often unwittingly, finds herself entangled within throughout the affair. This is even if the assorted characters she falls for often visibly lack genuine on-screen chemistry with our heroine. They are also generally unlikable. The major exception being the first act fling involving Franco. These early scenes showcasing the aforesaid duo are among the most visually alluring and captivating sequences herein. Still, there is a palpable stiffness to these arrangements. It is also apparent in the often sluggish, calculated pace. These traits give the presentation an impression of being admirable but, never fully encapsulating. This feeling is generated through every frame of its one hundred and twenty-eight-minute runtime. Such results in an effort that errs by always reminding audience members that they are bystanders. It does this by never becoming warm or inviting enough to kindly welcome and pull them completely into the world on-screen.

This coldness is especially interesting given the fact that Herzog’s production frequently revels in its wonderful esteem for poetry. It is a fondness shared by a large portion of those Kidman meets along the way. There is also an incredible ability in the feature, articulated outright in a second act line of dialogue from Kidman, to find the elegiac in both the memorable and mundane moments of Kidman’s travels. These instances are most prevalent in the second half of the exertion. This is more than welcome. I state this because the last hour often comes across as if it is crawling to its conclusion. Such is increasingly disappointing given the grand, highly cinematic promise of what came beforehand.

But, it is this gentle eloquence and maturity which saves the exertion. Such is echoed in Herzog’s masterful behind the lens contribution. It is also overseen in his proficient, if formulaically structured, scripting. The outcome is undeniably stalwart. Even if the labor isn’t as detailed as it could be, the picture is a triumphant marriage of effects, sound, breathtaking landscapes and Michele Clapton’s astonishing costume design. In turn, there is almost always something in the imagery or speech bystanders can appreciate. Best of all, we leave Herzog’s latest with a sense that we have trekked alongside Bell. Consequently, we have grown to understand her, and maybe ourselves, a bit better. That is why Queen of the Desert is, despite its previously stated flaws, an adventure well-worth taking. It’s not as meticulous and brilliant as Herzog’s 16th century set Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972). There also isn’t any of the oddly enlightening observations or obsessive viewpoints into the creation of art that made Fitzcarraldo (1982) so invigorating. The attempt is deliberately restrained and surprisingly straight-forward. Regardless, it does what all worthwhile movies should do: give us an experience we can reflect on and ponder long after the end credits have scrawled past our gaze. For that alone, I have no problem giving Herzog’s current opus my recommendation.

(PG-13). Contains adult themes and some profanity.

On video on demand and in select theaters today.

“Don’t Be Bad” – (Movie Review)

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

Don’t Be Bad (2015), the final flick from acclaimed Italian co-writer-director Claudio Caligari, continuously calls to mind the works of legendary poet, novelist, essayist, political activist and fellow moviemaker Pier Paolo Pasolini. This is most visible in Caligari’s deft ability to muster intrigue through his deliberately aimless anecdotal sensibilities. This is inherent in both the pace and general events of the respectable, if wholly familiar, script Caligari (who also formulated the storyline) co-penned with Giordano Meacci and Francesca Serafini. Such a factor is a trait most accessibly glimpsed in Pasolini’s ground-breaking, Franco Citti starring debut picture, Accattone (1961). It is also noticeable in Pasolini’s earlier novels, Boys of Life (1955) and A Violent Life (1959). This is the tome which Accattone is rumored to be partially based upon. Besides, the character-oriented essence that bridges these earlier stated creations, there is also an emphasis on our leads being thieves that is as much a part of Accattone and Pasolini’s brilliant literary fiction, A Street Life (1955), as it is in Caligari’s Toxic Love (1983). Interestingly, the later declared construction is referenced early on in Caligari’s seventh feature, Don’t Be Bad. The exception is that Pasolini was known to fixate on pimps and prostitutes in these prior addressed classics, the central figures of Caligari’s landscape were frequently an assortment of partially misunderstood drug dealers. The hedonistic individuals unveiled in these masterpieces were frequently those who, in hindsight, yearned for a better existence. This is despite the underlying tragedy that recurrently taunted them.

There is also a detached, clinical approach, that burns with an emotion that is present but rarely expressed, to both of Pasolini’s mediums. It is much in line with Caligari’s overall narrative tactics in Don’t Be Bad. Such adds an increasingly authentic, almost ruggedly documentary-like, veneer to the proceedings. The gritty cinematography from Maurizio Calvesi, as well as the everyday, straight-forward, though intermittently comic, dialogue, further heighten this impression. Thus, when a genuinely heartfelt illustration is conveyed it makes the scenes that they occur in, such as one in the aforesaid opus that transpires at circa the one hour mark, evermore painful and powerful. In turn, these arrangements force themselves to standout and linger on in our subconscious. Yet, one can’t help but think that there is still not enough of these moments to make the entire presentation memorable. Consequently, this lack of open sentimentality, as commendable as it endures throughout, and as perfect as it is for the types of people who dominate this tour de force, makes for protagonists that come off as assuredly angry. Yet, they are undeniably cold. Furthermore, it gives them the sensation of not being sufficiently fleshed-out. This makes them appear no different than those we’ve encountered in similar ventures. Maybe this is the purpose of such an exercise. Regardless, the distance Caligari and Pasolini creates, which can also be perceived as another of the life mirroring qualities on display, is as frustrating as it is invigorating.

Set in the peripheries of Rome (another connection to the tales of Pasolini) in the 1990’s, Caligari chronicles the relationship between Vittorio (in a solid enactment from Alessandro Borghi) and Cesare (Luca Marinelli, who is quietly riveting in his portrayal). They are self-proclaimed “brothers for life”. When the depiction begins, we spy them engaging in a life of excessive alcohol and drugs. Their nights are largely spent at the local disco. They also appear to be drawn to material flash. This is with fancy automobiles being among the shared interests of the duo. When Vittorio encounters Linda (in a unflinchingly stalwart turn from Roberta Matteia), he sees this as a chance to get out of the endlessly risqué being he has erected with Cesare. Yet, where Vittorio has found love, Cesare has uncovered a world that is slowly unraveling around him. Still, the distance between the pair is not eternal. Soon Vittorio and Cesare reunite. From herein, they attempt to live a “normal” being; one that is sewn from honest labor. But, will the past catch back up with them? Or will they be able to maintain this less hazardous, more gradual, routine they are currently building?

The plot, though sturdy, offers no real surprises. Not to mention, the otherwise well-made climax is cut from far too many similarly themed photographic entries. It also comes across as slightly overlong. But, Caligari has an eye that never leaves what should be the focus of any truly good narrative: those who dominate the presentation itself. Also, assisting matters is that none of the occurrences herein feel inorganic. Nothing in the one hundred and two minute and twenty-five second runtime of Don’t Be Bad, which has also been translated to Don’t Be Mean, comes off as placed in the invention to fashion unearned dramatic or tense instances. Such would simply be for the sake of garnering audience attention. The tone is also striking. This is especially true given the changes Vittorio and Cesare undergo throughout the affair. Yet, Caligari finds a method for the entire piece to continuously echo a tough, gritty, yet, somber and mature atmosphere. Such is a wondrous feat itself. This is made all the more awe-provoking given the fact that all of this unravels in a confident and unrushed fashion. Additionally, the performances are captivating all-around. Silvia D’Amico’s turn as Viviana is a magnificent highlight in this arena. When these exceptional constituents are combined with the consistently impressive reality that the photoplay unveils: it is all too easy to look away from the minor flaws of the application. Because of this, one cannot deny the satisfactory, ever-admirable nature of the production.

This endearing marker of quality, is made progressively evident by Caligari’s taunt, proficient direction. Co-composers Alessandro Sartini and Paolo Vivaldi offer terrific music. Their numbers marvelously illuminate all that is transpiring in Caligari’s construction. In turn, this detail augments both the beats of the exertion as well as impact of the bits they transpire within. Likewise, Mauro Bonanni offers seamless and sharp editing. Chiara Ferrantini’s costume design is superb. Paolo Soldini’ set decoration is masterful. Franco and Paolo Galiano’s special effects blend perfectly with the authenticity Caligari has meticulously carved into the effort itself. The same can be said for the team of individuals who put together the visual component of these celluloid illusions. Correspondingly, the make-up and sound squads are equally remarkable in their respective contributions.

The consequence of these elements is a reliably cinematic fabrication. This is most apparent in the quieter episodes. For example, the second act configurations which involve Vittorio and Cesare toiling alongside one another in a more commonplace location for employment. They are far more arresting than the combative notes the presentation commences upon. Yet, this Italian entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards, soars because it provides what all great works should unveil: a demanding, beautifully crafted and singular experience. There is an easy, graceful movement to both Caligari’s on-screen style that is evident in the smooth handling of the various relationships, especially that of Linda and Vittorio, in the endeavor. It is also viewable in the manner the sequences and fiction unfold. This is another of the many attributes Caligari shares with Pasolini. With Don’t Be Bad, which opens in theatres on April 7th and will be available on video on demand May 23rd, 2017 through Uncork’d Entertainment, Caligari has erected a satisfying, stalwart conclusion to a fantastic career.

(Unrated). Contains violence, language and adult themes.

“Life”- (Capsule Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: *** out of *****.

Life (2017) is, for better and for worse, exactly what I expected it to be. The photoplay, predictably, takes its every move from the Alien (1979) playbook. Correspondingly, the plot, which involves a space crew being systematically slaughtered by an ever-evolving extraterrestrial creature, is where this is most evident. Yet, it forgets many of the things that made Ridley Scott’s movie so legendary. This is its constant balance of the awe-inspiring and the ominous. But, what is most noticeably lacking is Scott’s well-developed, relatable characterizations. Moreover, Life is in too much of a rush to unveil its monstrous threat. The consequence of this is, besides ignoring the gradual and meticulous build-up of Scott’s classic, merely a forced attempt. This is at getting the audience to know its broadly etched leads in a wholly secondary and unoriginal fashion. Albeit, in the scant twenty-minutes of screen time allotted before the martian organism, Calvin, takes over. Such makes the endeavor ultimately feel heedless and generic. In turn, this science-fiction/ horror entry never gives its proven capable cast, helmed by Jake Gyllenhaal as David Jordan and Rebecca Ferguson as Miranda North (both of whom deliver satisfactory, serviceable performances), a chance to really make their characters a stand-out. Additionally, Ryan Reynolds again enacts another cloying, and unnecessarily comic, variation of his usual on-screen persona. This is in his one-note representation of Rory Adams. What also hurts matters is that the sets, though detailed, and low-tech effects are mediocre at best.

Yet, there is a dogged B-movie charm to the whole endeavor. This is heightened by the competent writing from Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and Daniel Espinosa’s same-said direction. Such qualities make these flaws easy to forgive. Seamus McGarvey’s eye-popping cinematography, Jon Ekstrand’s score and Jenny Beavan’s costumes are also impressive. The same can be said of the sharply rendered sound department work as well as Mary Jo Markey and Frances Parker’s seamless editing.

Espinosa’s endeavor is never terrifying. It also fails to sufficiently erect and maintain a genuine atmosphere of suspense. This is despite its numerous attempts. Furthermore, the majority of the scares are of a garden-variety ilk.  Yet, this Skydance Media, Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) and Columbia Pictures release is certainly an enjoyable, if ultimately minor, distraction.

The project undoubtedly benefits from concluding on one of the most intriguing and smirk-inducing bits in the whole production. Such is a nice send-off to a third act that is, like the movie itself, alternately amusing and absurd. A prime example of this is found in a near-climactic segment which involves Gyllenhaal tearfully reading Margaret Wise’s timeless children’s book Goodnight Moon (1947). It is clearly designed to evoke an emotive resonance with its audience. Instead it conjures laughter. As this sequence goes on, it also proves to be extraneous. Still, the overall result of this severely flawed affair is familiar, but fair, entertainment. Espinosa has constructed the type of clunky, imitative picture that is best described as “a guilty pleasure”. It is one perfectly suited for viewing on a rainy day.

103 minutes. Rated (R) for violence and language. Opened on March 24th, 2017.

“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.


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.


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.


“Pitchfork” – (Movie Review)

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

In Pitchfork (2017), the ninety-four-minute full-length feature debut from director and co-writer Glenn Douglas Packard, great strides are taken to align the title entity to the notorious razor gloved killer from Wes Craven’s seminal classic Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Freddy Krueger. This is most evident in a beautifully realized moment near the half hour mark. Here Packard’s antagonist pauses, visibly relishing the adrenaline rush of hunting his next victim, at the top of a flight of basement steps. His shadowy frame is unmistakably reminiscent of that of Craven’s creation. The parallel is further complete as Packard’s fiend holds the murderous farm tool of his moniker to his right side. This is much as Krueger did when stalking uncountable teens in the aforementioned series. There is also a third act instant where Packard’s uniquely designed antagonist splays his instrument of death against a set of boards as he slowly walks by. Such a measure causes sparks to fly from the place of impact. This was another common Krueger taunting action. Such an instant happened several times throughout the eight (or nine if you count the inane 2010 remake) exertions in the Craven commenced franchise.


Episodes such as these only enhance the consistently high amusement value of Packard’s Clare and Houghton Lake, Michigan recorded construction. Likewise, Packard and accompanying co-producer Darryl F. Gariglio deliver a solidly wrought screenplay. It is structured, characterized and paced much in the manner of the pantheon of prior efforts in the slasher sub-genre. Furthermore, Gariglio captures every one of the various tropes established in these cinematic undertakings. Given that this is a source of pride for fellow fanatics of these types of tales, this trait comes off as knowing and respectful to the foundation laid down by these past horror entries. This also adds to the lively, playful fun inherent in the first hour. When the picture takes on an ever darker, almost sadistic tone in the concluding section, it seems to be sending-up an entirely different classification of terror opus. This is that of the so called “torture porn” productions. These were given mainstream popularity in the early 2000’s. Such occurred with the arrival of James Wan’s genre-redefining Saw (2004) and Eli Roth’s imitative Hostel (2005).


Still, this late segment succeeds just as well as what came beforehand. This is because it provides Packard plenty of opportunities to showcase his aptitude for providing extended sequences of prolonged intensity. For example, the events encapsulating the final twenty minutes are a masterclass in this arena. Packard wrings claustrophobia from a situation that is as tried and true as much of what came prior. This is as much a testament to the caliber and commitment of the performances as it is Packard’s own work. For example, Daniel Wilkinson is terrific as the murderous antagonist (also referred to as Ben Holister Jr.). His portrayal is, common to the modern fright film, based more on movement and demeanor than articulation. This is a long proven and effective means of conveying the antihero in these types of undertakings. It also makes the proceedings more enjoyable. This is as it calls to mind another iconic terror show entity: Jason Voorhees. Similarly, the rest of the cast is just as captivating. Brian Raetz as our lead, Hunter Killian, Lindsey Nicole as Clare, Ryan Moore as Matt and Celina Beach as Lenox deliver vibrant, watchable enactments. The same can be said for Nicole Dambro as Flo, Keith Wabb as Rocky, Sheila Leason as Janelle and Vibhu Raghave as Gordon. Rachel Carter as Judy Holister (or “Ma”) and Andrew Dawe Collins as Ben Holister Sr. (or “Pa”) present gritty, unflinching portrayals in their respective turns. Like the rest of the players, Carter and Collins are relishing their depictions. The evident fun these two are with their particularly ravenous illustrations only magnifies that illuminated on-screen.


Packard chronicles Hunter facing his parents for the first time after telling them a long held personal secret. Nervous about such an encounter after divulging such highly personal information, he organizes a group of close friends. Their mission is to arise from New York to the farm where he was raised. Seeing this as a chance to party, Hunter’s close accomplices turn his mother and father’s barn into a celebration of music and conversation. But, this happiness soon fades. What our thrill seeking, care free spirits didn’t count on is the fiend connected to the bygone days of our central youngsters. He has come to turn the laughter and joy into bloodshed.


The plot is kept deliberately straight-forward and simple. Yet, it is perfect for a vehicle such as what Packard has expertly crafted here. The dialogue retains this same attribute. The collection of scenes that erect the get-together in the outbuilding are undeniably well-done. They project the merriment our protagonists are elucidating ingeniously. A dance number which transpires herein is where this radiant joy is most significant. But, Pitchfork succeeds in a category pivotal to this specific brand of photoplay. This is in its plethora of imaginative kills. Best of all, they do not need a heavy reliance on gore to be considered striking. A double slaughter near the halfway point is especially creative. It also stunningly balances its alternately playful and brutal tone. The opening five-minute segment is especially attention-garnering. Not only does it start things off brilliantly, but it also is a tremendous showcase of Rey Gutierrez’s moody, gloriously fashioned cinematography. A riveting, intimate shot which seems as if the camera is quickly moving through the fields in this early section is definitive proof of such a statement. Additionally, Gutierrez and Kristin Gerhart issue editing that is sharp and stalwart. Christie Beau’s original music is phenomenal. It is atmospheric and haunting in equal measure. J. Cullen Humphreys’ set decoration and Veronica Porras’ wardrobe department contribution adds to the everyday authenticity apparent throughout the labor. Danielle Montini, Timothy Montoya, Cassie Packard, David Root, Emily Sigler and Carrie Stalk create a camera and electrical team whose wonderful, proficient input guides every frame. Tim Alward, Patrick Busby, Michael Capuano, Evan Menak and Harryson Thevenin evoke masterful sound. Moreover, Joshua Romeo’s various stunts are proficiently and credibly executed. The result is easy to admire endeavor. It is one that is as naturally likable as the personalities we follow in the affair.


Distributed through Uncork’d Entertainment, Pitchfork ascribes to be among the ranks of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th series. In so doing, it proves itself as more than worthy. Though it holds a bit too closely to the traditions of former offerings of its ilk to be a true groundbreaker, the enjoyment inherent throughout never wavers. This is a decidedly old-fashioned voyage into fear. It is one that is devoid of much of the gimmicks or unyielding seriousness present in far too many modern attempts at trepidation. This factor alone makes the application recommendation worthy. But, it is remarkable on both a technical level. Everyone involved does spectacularly with their individual tasks. Likewise, it ends with a smirk-inducing note. It is one which cryptically hints at all the details of the tale left to be told. This is while simultaneously forcing us to reanalyze everything we thought we knew previously. It is a perfect set-up for a sequel; an unspoken promise I hope Packard and crew make good upon. As it is, this is a fantastic inauguration to a franchise that promises to be described in the same manner. This stands as an incredible reminder of what made me initially admire celluloid shock. More than anything, it gloriously exhibits the timelessness of these items. In turn, it also validates how they retain their enduring appeal. Packard has unleashed an instant classic; an outstanding new boogeyman to haunt the dreams of a generation.


“31” – (Movie Review)


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

The tenth full-length feature from heavy metal rocker turned writer-director Rob Zombie, 31 (2016), plays it too safely to be anywhere near as effective as the 102 minute undertaking clearly desires to be. Coming recently off of the subtle, restrained and daring The Lords of Salem (2012), Zombie’s latest seems like a jumbled montage; a collection of greatest cinematic hits. Regardless, the grainy, brazen approach of uncountable films from the 70’s is utilized beautifully throughout the presentation. Such is present in nearly all of Zombie’s big screen thrillers. Even though this particular focus has become a familiar staple of his photographic vision, it is a consistently strong point of the production. The gorgeously gritty cinematography from David Daniel makes this aforementioned attribute all the clearer. With some classic tunes fueling the soundtrack, courtesy of Chris Harris, John 5, Bob Marlette and Zombie himself, the illusion of stepping backwards four decades becomes all the more immersive. But, there is a reinstatement of such Zombie tropes as maniacal clowns, road trips, a simple set-up and a Halloween setting. Such restrains the imagination, and overall enjoyment, greatly. We are even awarded the obligatory first act gas station stop, another Zombie and general fear narrative practice, before the terror commences.

What also hurts the labor, and endures as another Zombie custom, is the frequently trite dialogue. The speech hits all the expected expository topics. But, it does it without a shred of thoughtfulness or insight. Such is especially suspect given that the endeavor opens with an appropriate, haunting quote from the German-language auteur, Franz Kafka. Such gives way to what is undoubtedly the highlight of the movie. This is a disarmingly twisted, attention-grabbing address to the audience. Such is via the most fascinating antagonist we uncover, Doom-Head (in an arrestingly berserk portrayal by Richard Brake which gives us one of many glimpses into what this endeavor could’ve been). The sequence is also artistically gripping. Shot in stark black and white, it promises much more than what Zombie ultimately delivers. Though the guttural energy evident herein is fairly unwavering throughout, we can’t help but feel disappointed. This is as the rest of the affair gives us nothing else that garners our interest so ruthlessly.

Yet, the biggest obstacle here is not so much these elements. It is Zombie’s refusal to give his protagonists any dimension. Such is all the more perplexing when he goes out of his way to infuse an extraordinary amount of invention into every one of the myriad villains which dominate his latest project. Moreover, the central characters are treated, in another manner frequently found in the grindhouse fashion Zombie is going for, as no more than possible victims. Though such completes his B-grade, antiquated prospect, it makes it impossible to become fully engaged in what is occurring. Adding to this distraction is Zombie’s difficulty in building and sustaining a continual wall of suspense. The most we get is an incredible idea, image or quick, sadistically gratifying moment of slaughter before the story goes back on itself. From this point it plods along. This is until Zombie’s next stab at trepidation fills the screen.

Zombie chronicles Charly (in a depiction by Sheri Moon Zombie that is watchable but, never harrowing or unique). Alongside four other carnival folk, she is, in an arrangement so quick and vague that it successfully captures the confusion the team five entities must be feeling, kidnapped during the early hours of October 31st, 1976. True to the custom of photoplays like James Wan’s brilliant Saw (2004) and Paul Michael Glaser’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Running Man (1987), those who have been abducted are made to take part in a wicked game. The name of such, which we learn little more about than the fact that it signifies “war”, grips the title. What else we unveil about 31 is that the five unwilling players must survive twelve hours. This is in a desolate building, the ins and outs of which they know nothing about, against an endless landscape of fiends with masks and painted faces. All of which are out to kill them.


The story is routine. Yet, it has a likelihood to be worthwhile. Zombie’s fairly resourceful, yet never bold enough, screenplay has its impressive morsels. But, the arc holds to the basic structure of so many horror exertions beforehand. This can be seen as another of the genre customs Zombie appears so intent on respecting. But, such creates an equally standard pace. This is evident as much of the first half hour rolls by with our leads driving along in a white van. During this era, we cover the essential informal bits, and playful subject matter, noteworthy in far too many slasher efforts of the past. The esteem Zombie parades in such an arena is appreciated at times. Yet, there is too much of an over-reliance on it here. Such is unsatisfactory given the sheer creativity we know Zombie is capable of evoking. His striking, frequently lavish, direction only proves the flare he contains in this area. To its credit, the ending is solid. This is as much in what it tells us as what it leaves unsaid.

All of the actors and actresses we encounter are obviously enjoying their turns. Malcolm McDowell as the eccentric Father Murder, who acts like one of the privileged and powerful French aristocrats in a novel by the Marquis de Sade, is the most proficient and intriguing in this category. Jane Carr as Sister Serpent and Judy Geeson as Sister Dragon follow suit in somewhat similar roles. The more blatantly unhinged representations, such as Pancho Moler as Sick-Head and David Ury as Schizo-Head, fare nearly as well. The victimized Jeff Daniel Phillips as Roscoe Pepper, Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs as Panda Thomas, Meg Foster as Venus Virgo and Kevin Jackson as Levon Wally bring remarkable life to their one-note classifications.

Likewise, the editing by Glenn Garland is spectacular. The art contribution from Kevin Houlihan is certainly eye-catching. Siobhan O’ Brien’s set decoration and Carrie Grace’s costume design are equally stunning. The make-up department, composed of a dozen individuals, is undoubtedly a highpoint. Zombie leans on them throughout, expressly with his antiheros, and they deliver delightfully well. Zak Knight’s special effects are seamless and credible. The optical component of this group, the collective contribution from eleven people, is just as authentic. In terms of sound, stunts and camera usage: the piece is just as operative.

Though this is a mid-level opus, I enjoyed it as a whole. This is despite the fact that it is oddly timid. Such is in the liberal use of gore one would expect from Zombie. Much of this, I presume, would have to do with the several cuts made to the flick. This was done to avoid the NC-17 rating. Maybe if a version with everything intact was offered it would make the endeavor feel more singular, comprehensive and courageous. But, I don’t know if it could completely take away from the commonplace sense which hangs over the proceedings. Being among those who can say they helped crowdfund some of the $1.5 million dollar budgeted epic, I am still full of pride for my involvement in this construction. But, there is also a part of me that cannot deny that this is a stylistic regression for Zombie. He stays unwaveringly in the comfort zone. This is where he provides solely what he believes fans want from his moving tales. It may be pleasing, but it feels like compromise. It is this silent pandering which keeps this merely good exercise from living up to its potential as a great one.


“Shadows Fall” – (Movie Review)


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

Director Aditya Vishwanath has crafted an unusually successful blend of love spectacle and haunted house narrative with his ingenious feature-length debut, Shadows Fall (2016). Co-written by Raj Jawa and Kuber Kaushik, the ninety minute production takes inspiration from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). It also aligns itself to the works of David Lynch. Vishwanath makes these encouragements continuously apparent. This is with a focus on the themes of marriage, life after death and good in the sway of evil. These were among the focal points of Stoker’s classic text. Vishwanath’s bold, immersive and stylish approach, along with the Jawa and Kaushik’s manner of storytelling, erect an always striking Lynchian parallel. It is one which makes the material jump off the screen. These constituents demand our attention through the duration. What is most stunning is that, while the respect and knowledge of Stoker and Lynch is perceptible, the outcome never comes off as pure imitation. Vishwanath gives us a truly haunting, memorable saga. The Garaj Pictures production can be seen as a far more mature version of what Hollywood often tries to recreate from young adult novels. This is on vastly expanded budgets. The results have only accrued increasing failure and box-office fatigue. But, Vishwanath excels where these exertions fail. This is because the essence of his yarn never feels artificial or pre-calculated. It also genuinely cares for the plight and circumstances of its protagonist.

Likewise, Vishwanath grips his addressees straightaway. This is via his daring, incredibly bravura direction. Such occurs with a brilliant opening five and a half minutes sequence. This segment fuses a sophisticated commencing credit bit with the voices of the two leads, Senka (Dylan Quigg) and Jonas (Jener Dasilva). They offer engaging exposition into their private lives. We ultimately learn of how the two met and the various stages of their relationship. Yet, the truly extraordinary item is that the bit is cut as if the duo are having a nostalgia permeated conversation with one another. This is as images of Senka and Amis in their younger days resonate before our eyes. Such transpires to remarkable significance. It also immediately sets an inventive, ardent air. This is one that showcases a deft balance between the heart-stirring and the heart rendering. Such endures as stalwart once the supernatural terror sections are put into place. This ensues promptly.

Vishwanath tale is led by Senka. She makes a deal with the demon, Amis (in a depiction by Christian Wennberg that efficiently drips with wicked charisma). This is to have some more time with her deceased husband. True to the tradition of similar tales, there is unforeseen consequences. Such finds Senka imprisoned in her home. What is all the more terrifying is that she seems to be caught in a torturous state. This is a purgatory where her most treasured instances with Jonas are measured with the sheer wickedness that Senka willingly welcomed into her life. Worst of all: Jonas appears to be someone completely different from the attentive individual Senka once knew him to be. Ultimately, Senka realizes that the only manner to find out what is going on with Jonas is to further communicate with the fiendish Amis.


It is a gripping, if at its core occasionally familiar, account. The dialogue is a mixture of the mundane and the poetic. To its fault, it is occasionally melodramatic. Regardless, it commonly flourishes as a modernized extension of its motivations. Vishwanath keeps the pace quick. The mood remains intense and captivating. This is without feeling rushed. Moreover, it is never as if the auteurs are ignoring character development to do so. As a matter of fact, such progress is satisfactorily, credibly mixed into the proceedings. The atmosphere is unwavering. This is even in the more theatrical stretches of the chronicle. Such creates a visually and audibly pleasing script. It is one that is made all the more  impressive with its incorporation of several unexpected and enthralling twists. This is despite the fact that it is plagued by a generally routine arc.

The affair is heightened by commanding, alternately vulnerable and fear-inducing performances from Quigg and Dasilva. Additionally, Kinsey Diment as the upbeat, yet intrusive neighbor, Rain, and Talmage Tidwell as her spouse, Wilhelm, offer likable presentations. Marc Carlis as Samuel Collins, Jawa as Doctor and Christopher Gay as Preacher all fare just as wonderfully. Elliott Goldkind provides impassioned, pulse-pounding music. It fits the ambiance well. Vishwanath’s editing is superb. The black and white and color cinematography from Artiom Maskimov is dazzling and gorgeous. Leon Klima’s make-up and Clara Soler’s art category contribution are just as fantastic. Yet, the special effects from Neha Kandpal and the optical component of this arena from Sujeen Nepali and Saurabh Tripathi are infrequently cartoonish. But, they still do little to take spectators out of the immersive experience Vishwanath instills in each frame. Much of this aspect is saved by the pure creation in many of its jolts. A happenstance at sixteen minutes in, involving a single knife in a butcher block spontaneously shifting places, is especially smirk-inducing. An earlier engrossment showcases the coffee in a bulky cup slowly moving by itself. It rises up and crashes onto the table it is sitting upon. From herein, mysterious shapes seem drawn by invisible hands in the fallen liquid. Such flashes, prevalent in the first forty minutes, make the aforementioned detraction petty and easily forgivable in comparison.

“Life can go in many directions. You just have to be sure of the path.” Rain declares this at about the midway point of Vishwanath’s cinematic undertaking. This becomes a thesis proclamation, the cornerstone of the movie articulated. The solid, if a shade predictable, climax re-iterates this spectacularly. We unveil it through the smartly realized and penned classifications pulsating throughout the body of the opus. It adds fresh layers of depth. This is to a fiction that, aside from its previously identified muses, also seems to be also akin to Jerry Zuker’s comically overblown Ghost (1990) as told by Clive Barker. Such assists in the fashioning of a beautifully honed, multi-dimensional marvel. Vishwanath has given his audience a chronicle that mechanizes equally as both drama and an unnerving display of trepidation. Filmed in a mere fifteen days in Los Angeles, California, the exhibition is consistently meditative and alluring. Such is in the manner of the greatest independent photoplays. Vishwanath has provided a grand display of talent. It is one that is both an artistic tour de force and an all- around fascinating endeavor. Various photographic exertions claim to “have a bit of something for everyone”. Shadows Fall is one of the rare entities that lives up to this all inclusive promise. It also executes it with professionalism, skill, and grace. Such marks a mandatory, must-see masterpiece that both high-brow cinephiles and general observers can looking for escapist entertainment can correspondingly delight in.


“Blair Witch” – (Movie Review)


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

The imagination is the most terrifying place of all. It generates maniacal boogeymen out of distant sounds; unfathomable nightmares out of obscurity. This is why horror, especially in an optical medium, is most effectually drawn from what is left in the darkness. Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez provided brilliant proof of this with their ground-breaking, $60,000 budgeted psychological terror fabrication, The Blair Witch Project (1999). It was a marvel in this artistic department. Such a sensation was propelled by its insistence on letting the slowly unraveling minds of its three central figures, Heather (Heather Donahue), Josh (Joshua Leonard) and Michael (Michael C. Williams), augment this already hypnotic susceptibility. This aspect only accrued as they all found themselves lost in the indistinguishable surroundings of The Black Hills near Burkittsville, Maryland in 1994. To its continued credit, Myrick and Sanchez’s debut presentation was a stroke of genius in its marketing. The same could be said for the rarely used, at least at the time, found footage motif. A web site for the big screen arrangement (http://www.blairwitchproject.com/), which now advertises the new movie, aided in swaying audiences to believe what they were viewing was real. This was with announcements of the leads of the endeavor being declared missing. The sheer authenticity visible in every frame of the 81 minute, Haxan Films construction did little to dissuade this belief.

After uncountable imitators’ dabbled in this sub-genre, fellow cinephiles have been showing fatigue for the gimmick Myrick and Sanchez made so instrumental in contemporary attempts at trepidation. The hurried sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch II (2000), didn’t even try to duplicate Myrick and Sanchez’s triumph. This was most accurate in these previously stated arenas. So after a sixteen year absence, director Adam Wingard and scripter Simon Barett, who have teamed up previously on You’re Next (2011) and The Guest (2014), have successfully given the once dormant series the addition it needed. This is with the third installment in the franchise, Blair Witch (2016).

Wingard and Barett return to the roots of the commencing undertaking. This is by bestowing its evidence with conviction. Such is also unveiled in the gradually unnerving manner we have come to expect. This is in a modus which, parallel to the initial opus, forces patrons’ minds to fill in the blanks. It demands that the viewers become one with what is on-screen. Yet, there is a downfall to the 89 minute picture. This is that the piece isn’t as confident in itself and its spectators. There is significant emphasis on sudden, head-splitting crashing noises. These mechanize better than expected in execution. Regardless, they retrospectively come off as a cheap stab at suspense building. The episode is also watered down by an onslaught of garden variety jump scares. This is especially perceptible in the first half. Such is a sad replacement for the subtle, proficient, psyche-bending shock of The Blair Witch Project. The Lionsgate, Room 101, Snoot and Vertigo Entertainment release, on this occasion financed at $5,000,000, is weighed down by the overwhelming impression projected onto uncountable developments. This is that a lingering feeling of déjà vu hangs over much of what we encounter.

Such is noteworthy in its insistence on reconstructing many of the iconic events from The Blair Witch Project. This transpires repeatedly in its inaugural thirty-five minutes. Likewise, the final twenty-five minutes, though tense and intriguing, showcases the identical destination as Myrick and Sanchez’s tour de force. Such deflates much of the nail-biting and unexpected elements that made the end of the aforesaid effort so genuinely chilling and memorable. In comparison to the sparse several minutes that posed the finale of Myrick and Sanchez’s creation, Wingard’s climax is overblown. But, it never feels that way. It gives us an extended chance to explore this ethereal, haunting, yet simple, setting The Blair Witch Project introduced late in its last act. Though the ultimate fate of our chief players foreseeable from a title card early on, we are constantly permitted to be one with, and undergo, what the protagonists are enduring. Most enthrallingly, it gives us an opportunity to explore these familiar surroundings deeper. This certainly is in its favor. It also benefits Wingard’s affair. This is in becoming simply a pale imitation of a vastly superior model.


These moments are certainly deftly crafted. Such is the case with the notion of time manipulation and disorientation. It allows us to analyze certain sequences in The Blair Witch Project in a different light. Such also brings forth a whole array of fresh inquiries into what exactly is going on. This makes the primarily overwhelming belief that this is as much a carefully packaged remake as it is a supplement easily fade. Such occurs when we see what Wingard and Barett are doing with the material. The several fascinating twists, and the induction of different notions which occur largely in the second act, assist in making for a follow-up that is stronger and bolder than anticipated.

The narrative is admittedly thin. The flick opens with the ill-fated heroine of the foremost venture, Heather, being spied in an online video by her brother, James (James Allen McCune). This exhibits that which closed Myrick and Sanchez’s exercise. Trusting this is a sign that she may still be alive, James rounds up a crew of individuals. They want to document his trip to find his sister. These are Lisa Arlington (Callie Hernandez), Ashley (Corbin Reid) and Peter (Brandon Scott). Those responsible for putting the recorded material which heralded this journey on YouTube, Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), eventually meet the group. Soon the presence of the title character is noticeably felt. Our amateur documentarians discover themselves running into the problems which gripped those in Myrick and Sanchez’s outing. This quickly spirals out of control. They frantically utilize the HD cameras, iPads, GoPros and even the drone they brought along (which is pivotal in an unusually frightening instance at about the 2/3 mark involving the climbing of a tree), to capture and understand the increasingly bizarre measures as they unfold. But, it isn’t long before they uncover that their technical prowess is no match for the wickedness they disclose.

All of the enactments are fair and watchable. But, the human entities that populate what we see in Blair Witch are all one-note stereotypes. In modern fashion, they are merely potential victims. They are treated like pawns. All of whom we hardly get to know before The Blair Witch begins her systematic slaughter. None of the everyday realism engraved into the charismatic personalities in Myrick and Sanchez’s classic are evident in any shape or form in Wingard’s undertaking. Their motives are equally rote. Because of this, they are largely predictable. This also hurts the composition. Such is distinguished when the dreadful circumstances begin to unfurl. This is because we don’t care for them above the garden variety genre personality. The dialogue, and the story arc itself, courtesy of Barett trails suit with the average, commonplace excursion into fear. Still, Barett’s screenplay takes chances, issues sufficient innovative thoughts (particularly in the second act), and offers some genuinely surprising twists. In turn, Barett moves the narrative onto its own path respectably.

Wingard’s claustrophobic, immersive behind the camera flare is undoubtedly the impetus of the photoplay. He knows how to erect a startle. Even the most tired ones appear vigorous and novel. There is a wall of intensity he victoriously instructs. It is one which is largely unwavering throughout most of the production. But, unlike Myrick and Sanchez’s contribution in The Blair Witch Project, Wingard makes the proceedings seem a bit too comparatively artificial, false and photographic.

The positive nature of these qualities are all greatly heightened by Robby Baumgartner’s sharp, lush cinematography. Louis Cioffi’s editing is stalwart. That is if you can accept the obvious faults inherent in this section from its primary conceit. Wingard’s music is appropriate and evocative. Kate Marshall’s set decoration, Sheila Hailey’s art direction, Hayley Miller’s make-up and Katia Stano’s costume design all fare as well. The special and visual effects, a combined involvement from a half a dozen personages, are vastly plausible and impressive.

Blair Witch, formerly called The Woods, can be straightforwardly coined: “a true extension of its source material.” It re-introduces much of what we learned prior interestingly enough via casual conversation. This never feels forced. Yet, it expands this data, and the general mythology itself, with further details about the protagonist of the tale. Such will guide those who have not yet experienced Myrick and Sanchez’s masterpiece. This is while operating as a pleasant reminder to those who have seen the arrangement. Those who expect to be as thrilled, and view something as inventive as The Blair Witch Project, may be disappointed. Wingard and company spend too much of the bulk tracing the footsteps of Myrick and Sanchez’s introductory chapter for such an accomplishment to take flight. Moreover, the novelty of the concept has run its course. Yet, those of us who are willing to accept this and overlook these shortcomings should be satisfied. This is in favor of a few beautifully honed jolts and a correspondingly alluring aura of ever-mounting dread. Others may want to simply re-watch the original with the lights off and the volume turned up. In so doing, they can fully recall the full degree of fright they once felt.


“Hotel Inferno” – (Movie Review)

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

Rarely since Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive (1992) has a silver screen horror reveled in the gory inventiveness of writer-director Giulio De Santi’s third full-length feature, Hotel Inferno (2013). The 77 minute opus of murder and madness largely gains such ingenuity from the conceit of being, as the photoplay’s original tagline read, “The first and only splatter film in ‘first person point of view’.” This was a full two years before Ilya Naishuller used this perspective, so common among video games, successfully in the action romp Hardcore Henry (2015). Though both depictions involve similar protagonists, men trained in lethality who find themselves on personally risky assignments, Hotel Inferno is a completely different experience. It is darker, bolder and more foreboding than Naishuller’s labor. It may not have the sharper veneer of Naishuller’s $2,000,000 budgeted endeavor. Still, this works grandly in its favor. It’s often grainy luster, courtesy of the ambient cinematography of Stefan bergi, adds a continuous sense of claustrophobia and intensity to the proceedings. This highly victorious element of the Necrostorm, Ledick Filmhandel, Wild Eye Releasing and Eclipse distribution is only heightened by De Santi’s brutally stirring direction. Likewise, his script is a well-constructed presentation. The dialogue in this Tunisia, North Africa and Rome, Italy recorded account is minimal. It is also rudimentary and straight to the point. But, this mechanizes to its favor incredibly. The result is an opus that, though occasionally plagued by a sense of routine familiarity, is certainly memorable. This is despite the actuality that it is never overly terrifying.

Furthermore, the story is kept deliberately thin. But, there is a mercilessly taut arc to the application. Such makes these otherwise minor criticisms all the more arbitrary. This is when we realize that these afore-mentioned components are deliberately erected this way. It is done in order to help craft the movie into such a consistently entertaining parade of extreme graphic violence. De Santi also deliberately induces layers of enigma by what he leaves unsaid. This is as true as it is when considering what is directly communicated to De Santi’s spectators. It accomplishes this in savage spades. Such is utilized with attitude in abundance.

The gimmick of De Santi’s production is just as immersive, and used just as imaginatively, as in Naishuller’s later developed undertaking. Both flicks issue a breakneck pace. This is via an immediate jump into their respective optical extravaganzas. It is one that pulls us in as soon as the effort commences. Also paralleled in both Hotel Inferno and Hardcore Henry, the particular head of the fiction remains shadowy throughout. Moreover, the appearance of each specific principal entity is often deliberately hidden.

For example, De Santi provides an early second act instance in his exertion, unveiled at twenty-seven minutes in, which finds his hero unwrapping a bloody bandage. His hands are stretched out in front of a bathroom sink. Yet, his head is cocked down to avoid the mirror. This, we can only presume, is above this basin. Such smaller details showcase the creative flare this decision conjures. It makes it all the easier to see the extended tips of his extremities as being our own. The outcome of this is deft. It gives the production the illusion of being almost interactive. Not only is this stimulating to the eye, but it also enhances the undeniable factor of fun, present throughout, immensely.

Despite this intentional vagueness, we can still sense the urgency behind the central figure of each involvement. On some vastly unspoken level, the bare-bones information we are given is more than satisfactory. This is demonstrated so skillfully that the illusion of becoming one with the lead, sharpened through the ploy at hand, is all the more seamless. Consecutively, we find ourselves thinking, questioning and assessing each situation. This is as the main character must be doing himself. Such is just another signpost of the daring instincts courageously instilled into each affair.

In De Santi’s account, contract killer Frank Zimosa (in a gripping portrayal by Rayner Bourton), checks into a room. This is in the sprawling building referenced in the title. Here he receives instructions, supplied through a pair of experimental glasses, which inform him that he must kill two people. They also have recently checked into the area. Given precise details as how to slaughter this duo, one of whom is a crime boss by the name of Jorge Mistrandia (a sparse, but absorbing, enactment by Michael Howe), he immediately fails to carry out the specific manner of killing. From herein, his rules of delivering death fade away. In turn, so do the once limited instruments he can use to evoke such bloody deeds. But, soon Frank finds out that something unholy and otherworldly is going on amid his surroundings. This is when his mission turns into a living nightmare. It is one that he finds himself struggling to survive at all costs.

This is an intriguing concept. It is one that is benefited by being beautifully, cryptically mounted. The plot unfolds in the fashion of a puzzle: piece by piece. What augments the quality unveiled throughout is the stellar performances. Jessica Carroll as Frank’s Girlfriend, Christian Riva as The Plague Spreader and the Huge Female Henchmen are terrific. This is despite the fact that their roles are as limited in their development as that of Frank. The same sentiment is echoed in the representations of Wilmar Zimosa as Gomorra and Monica Munoz as the Female Serial Killer. Riccardo Valentini as Henchman in Good Health, Bonini Mino as Henchman with Chainsaw and Enrique Sorres as Sacrificial Human carve a lasting impression. This is all the more incredible given the brevity of their individual turns.

The technical details are just as stalwart. Protector 101 and Razzaw’s fierce and combative music delivers a perfect ambiance for De Santi’s cinematic bloodbath. David Borg Lopez and Sigma4’s special, and De Santi, Piranhasoldier and Tintapiatta’s visual, effects are vastly credible. Additionally, the make-up from Mo One is exceptional. The editing is just as phenomenal. De Santi, Piranhasolider, Secret Plant and Tintapiatta’s contribution to the animation department is equally spectacular.

Hotel Inferno begins and ends strongly. This is with eye-catching, repellently gruesome images. These can be seen as attention-garnering bookends. What is unveiled in between is every bit as uncompromising and grimly alluring. De Santi also presents to his audience patrons starting and concluding credit sequences that are indisputably stylish and striking. Similarly, the outdoors arrangements late in the third act are gritty, expertly shot and pulse-pounding. A segment involving an evil cultist drawing satanic figures in a room swarming with flies is one of the most hypnotic items in De Santi’s terror arsenal. Yet, there is a specific rhythm, a repetition to some of the scenes. These suggest a purgatory for Frank. This is amid the earthly hell he finds himself unwittingly drawn into.

Such items, along with the various qualities stated prior, brand this much more than a victorious cry of delight for fellow on-screen carnage fanatics. Much of De Santi’s big screen journey finds a fine balance between violent genre traditions. Yet, one would be hard-pressed to find a moment that doesn’t satisfy, enchant and encapsulate on a primal, visceral level. There also isn’t a second here that doesn’t excite or fail to feel fresh and new. Because of this, De Santi has surpassed the trappings of low-budget trepidation. All the while he simultaneously respects them. He has presented a vigorous ploy for moving picture fear. It is one that may prove to be as longstanding as the concept of found footage was when it initiated its heyday in the late 90’s. The recent announcement of an upcoming sequel, called Hotel Inferno 2: The Cathedral of Pain (2016), makes me all the more eager to see what De Santi has in store.

“Exorcist: The Fallen” – (Movie Review)

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

Exorcist: The Fallen (2014), the debut feature from writer-director Garrett Benach, opens, after a stimulating glimpse of scripture from 1 Peter 5:8, with a sequence which signifies the various observations ever-present in its scant eighty-one minute runtime. In this segment, Father David (in a stalwart performance by David Withers) initially confronts the manipulated Victoria Martin (in a commanding turn by Tara Marie Kirk which blends the vulnerable and manic elements of such a role impressively). The internal struggle Victoria is having with the biblical Book of Revelation entity, Abaddon, is present early on. It is also beautifully, hauntingly portrayed. As the sight progresses, she becomes wide-eyed and spasms, with blood dripping down her mouth. In these later expanses of the division, Victoria’s appearance calls to the similarly overtaken Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) in William Friedkin’s unparalleled, The Exorcist (1973). When Victoria speaks the initially innocent and, eventually, raspy and vulgar tones she elucidates also mirrors Regan’s mannerisms in Friedkin’s ground-breaker. It does this tremendously. Such is issued in a sharp display of Shawn Willis’ technically proficient sound. It almost makes us briefly forget that Benach’s application is only affiliated with Friedkin’s composition in content. The same is true of its deceptively comparable title.

The two minute and ten second prologue, glimpsed around the conclusion, is uncommonly effective. It sets the stage for another example of the classic battle between the earthly and the otherworldly fabulously. Yet, one cannot deny the overwhelming familiarity which hangs over the proceedings. This is undoubtedly brought upon by the flux of correspondingly themed efforts which have come to fruition in the forty plus years since the release of Friedkin’s tour de force. It can also be seen in the general design of the story arc. Yet, it still entertains. Benach’s piece resonates with B-movie charm. The Wild Eye Releasing distribution and Garrett Benach Films manufacture is an admirable spectacle. It pulls great punches without an over reliance on gore. Such is also in line with its treatment of overdone shock motifs.

Originally titled Victoria’s Exorcism, Benach’s tale follows the title lead and her family. After playing with an Ouija board one night with a group of friends, Victoria begins to act strangely. This is captured in a passage, seen at fifteen minutes in, which showcases Benach’s knack for making discussions between individuals simultaneously intimate and intense. The portion is also an incredible example of how Benach weaves suspenseful tropes, such as the circumstance itself, into a configuration that feels fresh. As the narrative progresses, Victoria finds herself sleepwalking at night. The next morning, she has no recollection of the event. Further along, she unveils a strange figure, in another terrifically concocted bit, through her window. It is not much longer until Abaddon takes hold. Victoria’s brother, Glen (in a representation by Rollyn Stafford that is proficient throughout), experiences these happenings upfront. After failing to get Victoria to believe her own actions, he is the one who summons help. This is where Father David enters. Soon the duo begin their battle for both Victoria’s physical state and her immortal soul.

This leads to an engaging third act. It is more traditionally driven than that spied in the near hour beforehand. Regardless, it never defies what was so meticulously erected prior. This is by never going overboard with its paranormal situations. Instead, it finds a comforting balance between its alternating emphasis on theology, domestic interests and the pivotal terror aspects. This section respects the small scale, largely subtle scares and ominous, foreboding atmosphere Benach has deliberately crafted. There is also a consistent focus on how these abhorrent proceedings strengthen Victoria’s non-religious family. It also provides some intriguing, contemplative morsels of conversation between the Martins. This dramatic cornerstone, essential in accounts such as these, mechanizes to enhance the investment of its spectators luminously. Such emotive intensity in this arena helps make the final ten minutes especially riveting. This particular strength also finds Victoria contemplating the consequences of her actions. The aforementioned prompt occurs right before the credits roll. Such a post-tragedy look back from the formerly controlled is highly infrequent in related productions. Because of this climactic bout of meditativeness, Benach leaves his audiences on a high note. This is with several concluding scenes that are easily among the highlights of the endeavor.

However, the human renderings in Benach’s otherwise solid screenplay are largely genre stock. This is most visible in Victoria’s friends. Such is especially clear in the originating stretches. Not to mention, Victoria herself is given sparse exposition. What we do learn in this respect is largely of the garden variety genus. This attribute is also just as remarkable in the dialogue, motivations and situations that arrive before Abaddon’s inevitable entrance. Still, we find those we are surrounded with on-screen relatable and compelling. This is because these fictional personalities are expertly performed. Justin Hall as Mark Russell, Petra Boyd as Victoria’s mother, Susan, and Todd A. Robinson as Victoria’s father, John, fare phenomenally. Tom Slater as Joey Prentice, Theresa Park as Kristen Gario and Tony Teach as Martin Lamos deliver. This is with equal doses charisma and power in their individual depictions. The same can be said for Benach’s high-caliber interpretation of Robert Fox. Justys Spencer as Young Emily and Raegyn Spencer as Young Victoria are brilliant in their fleeting parts.

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Benach’s direction is taunt. It is also consistently striking. With the accompaniment of Michael Weiss’ appropriately shadowy cinematography, Benach’s aptitude to stage an arrangement dripping with a rugged atmosphere of dismay is ever-apparent. There is even a dazzling reverie segment at forty minutes in. This part, with its eye-catching use of the color palette to add artistry and accrue sheer terror, immediately calls to mind Italian Giallo maestro, Dario Argento. It’s a bold bit that lasts approximately thirty seconds. Nevertheless, it leaves an indelible impression. This is the showiest exhibition of Benach’s talent found in this feature. Hitherto, his capabilities in this arena are visible throughout. Best of all, he builds his fright tactics organically. Rarely are we given a cheap jolt. This is as much courtesy of Benach’s behind the camera work as it is his deft scripting facilities.

Contributing to the technical impact at hand is Torrey Richard’s pulse-pounding and successfully dread inducing music. Damien Brooksbank gives us impressive special effects. They certainly augment the realism Benach is striving to project with this photoplay. Shawn Willis’ sound is sharp and terrific. It punctuates the hints of trepidation in the attempt all the more. Carrie Brandon’s animation is superb. Meg Gamez provides wardrobes that are magnificent. This quality boosts the everyday charm of our antagonist and those who surround her beautifully. Gamez’s art direction and Benach’s editing are also tremendous. They instantly grab our attention with their acclaim worthy merit. This distinction is carried unblemished throughout.

Benach’s Portland, Oregon shot opus is a gripping, worthwhile entry in its particular field. The sum of Exorcist: The Fallen is comparable in scope, pace and build-up to Ole Bornedal’s The Possession (2012). One can likewise find numerous parallels to Oren Peli’s original Paranormal Activity (2007). Benach’s stab at evoking alarm lacks the ground-breaking approach of Jordan Galland’s excellent comic fear composition, Ava’s Possessions (2015). The same can be said when aligning Benach’s affair with Daniel Stamm’s well-done found footage release, The Last Exorcism (2010). Benach doesn’t hit the visual pinnacle of Mikael Hafstrom’s criminally underrated, The Rite (2011). But, there is a contemporary gothic approach to the endeavor that is timeless. Most importantly, Benach genuinely cares for his heroine. Because of this, patrons will find themselves doing the same. We are with Victoria and her grief-stricken kin every painful step of the way. In a world where such traits are often given a cold shoulder in exchange for upping the ante on cheap shock, Benach’s labor rises far above the competition because of this concern. We are acquainted with all that transpires herein. But, the pieces of the puzzle are fascinating. Moreover, they fit grandly into place. These are all signs that both Benach and unholy proprietorship stories such as these will continue to thrive and enjoy the wonderfully long cinematic life remaining ahead of them.

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