“Art of the Dead” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Art of the Dead (2019), from writer-director Rolfe Kanefsky, is a surreal, wildly entertaining and wickedly inventive work of cinematic horror. It ranks among the best genre pictures of the year. As was the case in earlier Kanefsky productions, such as The Black Room (2017), there are touches of movie masters Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci (such as one gloriously gooey occasion near the midway mark where an image of a slug oozes slime) and Mario Bava. These are unmistakably located throughout the ninety-seven minute project. There is also a first act death scene involving overdrinking that lovingly calls to mind a moment one might see in a feature from Troma Entertainment. Such examples showcase that Kanefsky is clearly inspired. His ability to evoke memories obtained from so many sources is commendable. It increases the varied and effortlessly enjoyable nature of the proceedings.

What is just as gripping is Kanefsky’s theme of the art world. In particular, the artist being underappreciated by his or her audience. This is displayed effectively in the eye-opening and attention-garnering six-minute opening segment. There is also a concentration on the hindrance of critics through the eye of said artist. Such an emphasis adds layers of insight to the proceedings. These gently sewn bits help make the work evermore resonate.

The efficiently paced effort is further propelled to excellence by its engaging plot. It involves a family, the Wilsons, who, unbeknownst to its tragic past, are slowly taken over by the Sinsation Collection. These are an assembly of beautifully rendered paintings that revolve around the seven deadly sins. In so doing, the clan begin to enact the transgressions depicted in the canvases. This is as the handspun portraits individually speak to the members of the kin and use them as pawns in their wicked bidding.

From a narrative perspective, Kanefsky’s latest also benefits from a solid and intense third act. It weaves its various plot threads into a spectacularly sinister and satisfying climax. The concluding sequence is intriguing and ominous. It offers the perfect punctuation point for the material. The sections of backstory found in the first sixty minutes mechanize just as well. It serves as engaging exposition. The handling of this attribute adds to the wonderfully bizarre and unpredictable atmosphere of the undertaking.

Kanefsky’s script, from a story by Michael and Sonny Mahal, has the right amount of character focus, development and content. The dialogue is believable and enjoyable. Furthermore, it is brought richly to life by a game cast. Every actor and actress involved with the development delivers with a fantastic performance. Jessica Morris as Gina Wilson, Lukas Hasssel as Dylan Wilson, Richard Grieco as Douglas Winter, Tania Fox as Tiffany Roberts and Tara Reid as Tess Barryman are especially good.

The exercise is just as stalwart from a technical standpoint. The cinematography from Michael Su is colorful and striking. It increases the imaginative and hypnotic essence of the exercise. This can also be said of the smartly utilized visual effects. They were supervised by Clint Carney. Christopher Farrell’s music is moody and masterful. The costume design by Monique Marie Long, editing by Jay Woelfel and the collective contribution from the makeup department is also astounding. These characteristics are all wonder-inducing highlights of this gloriously grim gem.

In turn, Kanefsky has crafted a brilliant genre outing. The venture is ambitious and thoughtful. It can also be quite graphic at times. The subtle moments of terror are instrumented just as phenomenally as the more daring, aggressive instances of fear. Much as he had done prior, Kanefsky draws from a large catalogue of genre-related elements. This will assuredly be a source of endless appeal and admiration to fellow fans of fright flicks of all varieties. What is just as exemplary is how well he wields them into a memorable composition. It is one that is wholly his own. Regardless of the familiarity of some of the items in Kanefky’s arsenal, there is never a sense of anything in the endeavor being overdone. Best of all, there is also not a dull second in sight. For these reasons, Art of the Dead is a must-see this Halloween season. It is guaranteed to satisfy.

“Hand In Hand”- (Short Film Review)

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

“Hand In Hand” (2016), a six minute and fifty second short from producer-director Haley McHatton and writer Kris Salvi, is definitive proof of the high-level of dramatic tension that can still be derived from a classic thriller set-up. This design is that of an unhinged man, Mike (in an unflinching and captivating portrayal from Justin Thibault). The account finds him kidnapping his former lover, Anthony (in a gripping and ever-watchable enactment from Salvi), in a jealous rage. After doing so, Mike takes Anthony out into the most abandoned regions of the nearby woods. With a gun pointed at Mike’s head, Anthony commands him to dig his own grave. Such morphs into a fascinating, argumentative speech between the duo. This inevitably unveils pent-up emotions. With these once concealed sentiments also comes a flurry of secrets and suspicions. All of which are rivetingly administered to the audience. This is in a manner that is as cryptic as it is nail-biting. In this discourse, Anthony sees signs of potential weakness in Mike. Anthony senses this feebleness as a chance to take the upper-hand. In so doing, Anthony may have a potential chance to get out of the situation. This is with his life intact.

Such twisty, expository banter forms the pushing force of the chronicle. Credibly and powerfully issued, this item proves to be one of the most suspenseful and enthralling components in its cinematic catalogue. It also showcases how well-delivered lines, which balance unforced character development and gradually tease motivations, can be ruthlessly engaging. This is far more so than the splashy, big budget special effects and overblown action sequences that may be incorporated in a lesser effort of this ilk as a substitute for craftsmanship. A splendidly piqued attribute such as this adds an accruing element of surprise to what could’ve easily been an all too straightforward narrative. Such arrives via Salvi’s gritty, meticulously manufactured and tautly paced script. It is also a courtesy of McHatton’s masterful, wisely uncluttered and focused handling of the material.

These potent articles have an augmented luster. This is when mixed with Mitch Severt’s spectacular cinematography. Severt exposes a bravura capacity to catch the multitude of shades, primarily the dark reds and gentle yellows illuminated from the fallen leaves glimpsed in the backdrop of the exertion. Such transpires in an undeniably immersive, eye-catching and gorgeous fashion. Other natural structures casually spied in the area fare just as wonderfully. For instance, the endless rows of sinewy trees, which also can be viewed as a perfect symbol of the general seclusion of the location, visibly looming behind Mike and Anthony at most moments. Yet, Severt’s work, as beautiful as it is, never defies the no-nonsense, white knuckle atmosphere which is unwaveringly orchestrated throughout the fabrication. Such is certainly a feat worthy of praise. The piece is further enhanced by the proficient and sharp editing from the team of Steve Polakiewicz, Carlo Barbieri and McHatton. Kyle Joyce’s audio is herculean. Jeremy Arruda’s brilliant, Ennio Morricone-esque piano driven score, which sweepingly echoes through the stylish and splendidly erected concluding acknowledgments, splendidly exhibits the technical prowess at hand.

Likewise, the plot, perfect for a single location and extended solo scene undertaking such as this, grips us from Anthony’s attention-garnering, opening quip to Mike. This is: “I guess you didn’t think it  would go down like this, huh? Keep walking”. From herein, the interest and intensity amplifies continuously with each respective frame. Such gives way to a climax that is foreseeable. Yet, it is so well-engineered and resonant that it is easy to look past such comparatively miniscule details. All of this is propelled by authentic, well-etched leads. Our protagonist, Anthony, and antagonist, Mike, are amended great dimension and depth. Consequently, they avoid becoming mere genre archetypes at every turn. Based on the staggering strength of the depictions of these personas, we find ourselves readily seeing and understanding both the measures and reasoning behind the pair we follow on- screen. Such is as much a testament to Salvi’s impactful authorship as it is the same said performances themselves.

The result of this official selection of The Massachusetts Independent Film Festival, and Hatt On Productions presentation, is pure magic. It is a violent tale. Yet, it doesn’t rely solely on its inherent ferocity to weave or sell the fiction. Such is as refreshing as it is rare. Moreover, the exercise organically and competently builds the intrigue of its story. This can also be stated when considering the sly unfurling of events as well as brisk runtime of the endeavor. Such is elucidated without ever overreaching in its successful attempts to convey its message. This is also accurate when pondering its ability to fluently generate intensity. Additionally, the vehicle is slick. This is without ever being so glossy in appearance as to betray the believability it calmly evokes. It is just as smart in its execution. There is a plethora of intelligent creative choices and obvious skill for making fiction demonstrated here. Because of this, “Hand In Hand” serves as an absolute bulls-eye. McHatton, Salvi and crew have constructed an awe-inspiring triumph of simultaneous entertainment value and moving picture dexterity. It is one that fellow bystanders are guaranteed to admire and reflect upon long after their sit down with the arrangement is complete.