“Locked Up (2017)” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Locked Up (2017), writer-director Jared Cohn’s brilliantly realized take on the women in prison sub-genre of exploitation film, is gritty, unflinching, no-nonsense entertainment. Boosted by a stellar, star-in-the-making portrayal from Kelly McCart as our ruggedly endearing heroine, Mallory, the eighty-six-minute picture is spectacularly well-made on all accounts. For example, the pace is pitch-perfect. The various turns in the chronicle are seamless. Even from a technical standpoint Cohn’s application, produced through The Asylum, is just as spellbinding. Proof of this can be unveiled in Josh Maas’ immersive and brooding cinematography. Maas’ influence compliments the gorgeously dark tone of the manufacture masterfully. The same can be said of the stirring and vastly cinematic music from Christopher Cano and Chris Ridenhour. Rob Pallatina’s editing is just as triumphant. The camera and electrical team is similarly phenomenal. Furthermore, the affair is an exemplary showcase for Cohn’s deft characterizations. Relatedly, it is filled with his trademark ear for rich, credible dialogue. This Thailand recorded endeavor also rises as a bravura demonstration of Cohn’s magnificent ability to instantly transport viewers into the quietly wounded, repressed and aggressive mind-state of his protagonist.

Such is established in an equally jarring and captivating five-minute opening sequence. It takes place in Mallory’s soon to be ex-school in Southeast Asia. The succession concerns Cohn’s lead violently attacking a peer out of vengeance and frustration. This is after the continual taunts of a group of young women become too much for our lead to bare. Such an act gets Mallory sentenced to two years in a reformatory. Yet, there is a horrific underbelly writhing beneath the sanitized veneer Mallory’s uncle, Tommy (in a terrific and charismatic turn from Cohn), whom Mallory is currently residing with, spies. This is as he explores the area Mallory will be staying to pay her debt to society alongside the soon-to-be inmate. What Mallory has yet to discover is that there is a sadistic side to the institution. It is one where the guards rape and abuse Cohn’s central figure. She is also forced to fight fellow detainees. When the promise of her freedom is introduced by a malicious higher-up in the third act, Mallory’s stakes and necessity to win increase dramatically. But, is this reward simply a ruse to get her to become more brutal and relentless in her combat? Or is this nefarious keeper simply providing another in her long line of lies to see a genuine showcase of Mallory’s conflict-oriented skill? These inquiries only add to the nail-biting attention Cohn fluently generates throughout this top-notch invention.

As can be ascertained from the plot description above, Cohn weaves an intriguing plot. It is one that revolves around the expected tropes from similar tales. Regardless, the fiction hardly comes across as anything less than groundbreaking. This is because Cohn’s execution of the piece, particularly in his mesmerizing scripting and behind the lens contributions, pushes audiences immediately into Mallory’s corner. Throughout the labor we find ourselves cheering her on to rise above her overwhelmingly grim surroundings. This as we glimpse the extent of her victimhood. Correspondingly, we impress upon ourselves her intensity and passion to do so. Such occurs via the physically and emotionally compelling components of the narrative. All of which are proportionately balanced. Likewise, the riveting incidents of hand-to-hand combat, from which every action scene in the flick is composed, ring with a teeth-gnashing authenticity. Such factors build up an ever-accruing wall of fascination. It is a captivating allure that effortlessly pulls bystanders through the runtime. It also makes the tremendously fashioned concluding twenty-minutes especially thrilling.

Further assisting matters are the electrifying performances. Katrina Grey is exceptional as Mallory’s trainer and eventual love interest, Kat. Christiana Chaiwanna as Nenita and Anastasia Maslova as Mallory’s final opponent, Riza, are terrific. Maythavee Weiss is incredible, memorable and enthrallingly nefarious as The Warden.

Packed with a relentless barrage of moments so explicit they call to mind frequently banned, cult classic features such as Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975), Cohn’s creation is harrowing even in its bleakest segments. A midway arrangement which details an attempted suicide in the shower is proof of the effectiveness of such elements. Yet, there is a layered artistry to the fabrication. Such makes the undergoing much more than an assembly of engagingly nerve-frying and fist-flying flashes. This is because Cohn administers a concern for Mallory. It pulsates resplendently from the first frame to the last. He also augments an always in bloom curiosity as to her plight. This extends to those who fill the screen with her. Such prevalent attributes are as noticeable in the quiet instances as they are in its rowdier episodes.

In a year that has repeatedly showcased Cohn as one of the most talented and exciting figures in independent cinema, Locked Up stands among his best work to date. The labor is uncompromising, ever-serious and powerful. Best of all, it doesn’t give into the tongue-in-cheek trappings of far too many related entries in this storytelling genus. The result of these forever welcome qualities is a superbly accomplished, adrenaline-pumping masterpiece. Cohn has crafted a must-see for fellow B-movie admirers and sincere cinephiles alike.

(Unrated). Contains graphic violence, nudity and scenes of sexuality.

Available now on FlixFling, Netflix and Vudu.

“Zoombies” – (Movie Review)

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By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ½ star out of *****.

Zoombies, from director Glenn R. Miller and screenwriter Scotty Mullen, desperately wants to link itself to the ground-breaking Jurassic Park series. The most obvious of this is the tagline, seen on the fairly intriguing cover art, which screams: “It’s Jurassic World, of the Dead”. At one point, a character even shrieks: “It’s a zoo, not Jurassic Park.” In a later bit, two giraffes rip a man apart in the same manner a pair of Tyrannosaurus Rexes do to a human entre in 1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Even the logos the employees adorn on their shoulder are eerily similar to the JP design. Yet, Miller and Mullen seem to forget what made the original film in that series so legendary.

Miller and Mullen tell the story of a safari park dubbed Eden. As a gathering of patrons assemble at the area, so does a virus. It is one which turns the animals of the once tranquil area into the undead. From herein, as with all other entries of the ilk, there is little more narrative. What account remains, predictably, concerns the individuals involved in this catastrophe trying to band together and survive the violent onslaught.

Stephen Spielberg brilliantly spent the first half of Jurassic Park (1993) believably developing his intelligent, heroic and uniquely quirky entities. This is much as Michael Chrichton did with his same named novel from 1990. All the while, Spielberg spent the time gradually building suspense. There were instances aplenty of sheer awe amid the theoretical discourse the beloved individuals on screen engaged in. It was these gentle, meditative sections that made Jurassic Park so much more than ‘just another monster movie’. Moreover, when the second half kicked in, Spielberg delivered one spectacular, now classic sequence of nail-biting action after another. All of these previously addressed elements are noticeably missing from The Asylum’s latest disaster.

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Instead of the charismatic, paleontological Indiana Jones that was Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), the quiet strength of Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) in Jurassic Park or even Owen, Chris Pratt’s unique interpretation of much of Grant’s personality traits in Jurassic World, we are given a half-hearted, annoying cluster of one-dimensional archetypes. None of whom have anything that is stimulating in the least to add to its endless reams of chatter. There is nothing new or defining about any of these on-screen personalities. They all follow The Asylum’s routine, garden variety representations and general arc. This is done blindly and without wavering from them. Miller and Mullen aren’t out to make us care for the humans or the wildlife that is chasing them. This is, yet, another undeniable differentiation between Jurassic Park and this sad imitation.

The pace is choppy. It isn’t anywhere near as meticulously crafted as Spielberg’s masterwork either. In Miller’s exertion, we are no more than five minutes into the feature before the beasts begin their attack. It is no more than fifteen-minutes later when ‘all hell is breaking loose’. This breakneck progression wouldn’t be so difficult to look past if Miller and Mullen used the sixty-two minutes that was left of its eighty-seven minute runtime to generate intensity and interest. At the least they could provide us a reason to care or even try to ‘wow’ us with an original idea. As it is, the most creative turn of events occurs in the aviary near the finale, when Miller and Mullen turn to Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) for their inspiration. Instead, the whole composition, as well as the team behind it, is in a rush to go nowhere. Such is evident from the poorly executed two-minute opening segment. This attempts to be a clever wink of an advertisement for Eden.

Yet, the most evident alteration between Zoombies and the Jurassic Park series is in the quality of the illusion created by the graphics. Where Jurassic Park remains arguably the single most jaw-dropping display of such a technical aspect put on screen, Zoombies gives us cringe-worthy, cheaply rendered computer generated imagery. It is the type that is blatantly cartoonish and laughable. What’s worse: the re-animated giraffes, monkeys, apes, birds, koalas and various other re-animated figments of nature involved in this absurd, derivative yarn are rarely seen. Given the shoddy quality of Denise M. Chavez’s special and Glenn Campbell led visual effects. Perhaps, this is for the best.

But, the most inescapable crime for a cinematic venture that is trying to be merely a guilty pleasure, a B- style romp is that it cannot even be seen as mindless, mild entertainment. Since the rampant beasts are so rarely viewed, and the people who dominate the screen and their shallow dialogues are ingratiating, we do nothing but wait for most of the picture. We wait for something to happen. We wait for it to end. We wait for some redeeming value. Even the rare emotive plot points, especially one involving a young girl named Thea (La La Nestor) and a gorilla she adores named Kifo (Ivan Djurovic), are hollow and obvious.

The performers are from adequate to grossly underwhelming. From Ione Butler as Lizzy, Andrew Asper as Gage, to Kim Nielsen as Dr. Ellen Rogers this attribute is just as uninspired as the rest of the affair. To its credit, Christopher Cano’s music is thrilling. It summons the feel of an old-fashioned adventure well. Bryan Kross’ cinematography is solid, despite its low budget trappings. James Kondelik’s editing is outstanding. Erica D. Schwartz’s costume design and Daria Castellanos’ art direction is admirable. The same can be said for the sound and make-up department. Yet, it cannot overcome the sense of exhaustion that hangs over the proceedings.

Miller’s production is a failure down to its concluding shot. Such appears copied from innumerable ‘last jump’ scares before it. Even this is treated as an afterthought. It’s an impression left in the way it shrugs its shoulders at all the mechanisms which make a moving picture a standout, a triumph or, even, slightly stimulating. This is especially sad given the unique potential the tale could’ve contained. Instead, we are given a forgettable trek through a photographic wasteland. It is one so pointless that even its brightest moment is constructed from a vastly superior undertaking. Even Jurassic Park III (2001) was better than this.

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