“Hell’s Kitty” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Hell’s Kitty (2016), the 98-minute sophomore feature from writer-director Nicholas Tana, is an affectionate and wildly hilarious sendup of the ardent bond between owner and pet. It also successfully operates as a loving parody of the horror genre. Particularly, the compositions of literary maestro Stephen King. Additionally, sly references to classic films rooted in this genre abound. Nods to Ghostbusters (1984), Poltergeist (1982), Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), Halloween (1978), the Friday the 13th franchise (1980-present), The Fog (1980) and The Omen (1976) are all cleverly woven into the fabric of the narrative. Yet, the most brilliant of these bits is a black and white lampooning of the iconic shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Psycho (1960). It occurs near the one-hour mark. Heightening the enjoyment of this factor is an all-star cast of categorically related cinematic veterans. All of whom have small roles throughout the picture. They are also frequently named after personas from the opuses of terror mentioned above. Nina Kate’s amusing representation of Dr. Laurie Strodes is a wonderful example. Similarly, Doug Jones (2017’s stunning The Shape of Water) is terrific as Father Damien. Dale Midkiff (1989’s Pet Sematary) is engaging as Rosemary Carrie. Continually, Lynn Lowry is a delight to watch as The Medium. Courtney Gains is exceptional as Mordicia. A late sequence that kids the original adaptation of King’s Children of the Corn (1984), which Gains appeared in as the antagonistic Malachi, is another memorable highlight of the exercise.

Based on both the web series and the comic book of the same name, the production is inspired by Tana’s own personal experiences with his cat, Angel. Such is a moniker shared by the feline cited in the title of Tana’s tale. In the affair, Nick (in a lively and charismatic depiction from Tana), is a Hollywood screenwriter. He is one whose attempts at romantic entanglements are constantly cut short. This is by Angel’s violent outbursts when women are around him. As these murderous eruptions increase in number, Nick believes his cat has been possessed by a demon. Seeking help from a variety of individuals, Nick attempts to stop the body count by getting his beloved companion exorcised.

Such is a fun and inventive concept. It also works tremendously well. This is especially evident when combined with the proudly tongue-in-cheek execution of the exertion. Tana’s witty, heartfelt and skillfully paced script makes the most of this idea. The arrangement is complete with felicitous humor and dialogue. Correspondingly, the characters are just as smartly crafted and relatable. Furthermore, the sharp storytelling abilities in Tana’s screenplay are made increasingly alluring. This is via Tana’s charming and stylish guidance of the project.

Assisting matters is the visually impressive opening and closing credits. Richard Albert’s music, with supplementary material from Wolfgang Lackner, is certainly tone-fitting. The most memorable and side-splitting of these selections is a number that sounds like a moggy-driven rendition of Jerry Goldsmith’s “Ave Satani” (1976). The playful effects, striking cinematography, excellent sound and proficient editing enhance the immersive pleasure derived from the undertaking.

Produced by Denise Acosta, Hell’s Kitty is grand, 1980’s influenced entertainment. The intermittent sequences of gore are effectively constructed. Still, the labor is never overly reliant on these instances. This can also be said of the spirited scares Tana compiles throughout the endeavor. In so doing, Tana erects an impeccable atmosphere that mixes laughter with the paranormal. It is one that never wavers from commencement to conclusion. Highly reminiscent of Tim Burton’s timeless Beetlejuice (1988) and Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners (1996) in both quality and sheer rewatchability, Tana’s configuration is destined to be a cult classic! I recommend checking it out when it arrives on video on demand on March 13th, 2018.

(Unrated).

“The Lure” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

The Lure (2015), a horror/ musical based on Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid” (1837), is one of the most unique, imaginative, surreal and visually spectacular films I have seen in years. Jakob Kijowski’s cinematography is gorgeous, the writing and direction (from Robert Bolesto and Agnieska Smoczynska respectively) are beautifully done and Marcin Charlicki’s effects are credible and superb. Congruently, the acting is stellar. Michalina Olszanska and Marta Mazurek as our heroines, Zlota and Srebrna, are especially good. Moreover, the nearly wall to wall songs, and dance numbers that accompany them, are lively and emotive. Likewise, the moments of terror are memorable and effective. The non-linear storytelling, as well as its constant contrasts in cheery and ominous mood, only helps add a deeper sense of unpredictability, drama, poetry and art house allure to the proceedings. Additionally, the touches of love narrative and same treated, often darkly comedic elements are handled in a proficient and spectacularly blended fashion. It is in a manner that never takes away from the true focal point of the fiction: the bond of Zlota and Srebrna. Correspondingly, these cinematic components are anything but formulaic. Such only makes this production, originally titled Corki dancingu (Daughters of the Dance Club), increasingly layered.

The result is an awe-inspiring, ardent and breezily paced ninety-two- minute stroke of excellence. This is a consistently hypnotic endeavor. It is one that seems to take as many cues from Jim Sharman’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) as it does any number of grindhouse flicks from that era. Smockzynska’s feature length debut masterpiece, which concerns a pair of sea nymphs who find themselves working in an adult night club in Poland in the 1980’s, is as toe-tapping and, at times, head-banging as it is brilliant. From beginning to grisly and smirk-inducing end, this is one continually soaring, high-note of cinematic exhilaration. For those who claim there is little originality left in the genre, I strongly urge you to seek this one out.

Available now on demand and on DVD and Blu-ray.

Distributed in the USA by Janus Films.

(Unrated). Contains nudity, some graphic violence, sexuality and adult themes.

“Ghosts of Darkness” – (Movie Review)

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

Ghosts of Darkness (2017), the third full-length feature from writer-director David Ryan Keith, assembles many familiar ingredients into a remarkably enjoyable package. For example, the splendidly and authentically developed characterizations. They oversee the oft-utilized incorporation of a skeptic of the supernatural. We find him in the slightly cynical Jack Donovan (in a terrific performance from Michael Koltes). He is being paired with a psychic and fervent believer in such phenomena, Jonathan Blazer (in a deliberately old-fashioned, entertaining depiction from Paul Flannery which draws an unmistakable resemblance to the many roles of Hollywood actor Johnny Depp). Even the plot follows this tried and true suit. It details Donovan and Blazer being paid $50,000 each. Such is a reward to be issued once they have successfully spent three nights in a home with a history of violence. More particularly, an abode plagued by a one-hundred-year old puzzle. Such an enigma has frequently fired off reported incidents of the paranormal. Donovan and Blazer are being asked to do this in an admitted “publicity stunt”. It is being implemented to make the locals believe there is nothing to these ghoulish rumors. In turn, the hope is to dispel the spectral stigma which hangs over the residence. Soon one of the two unveils his own intentions with his time in the estate. The impression caused by such a revelation is also much in this time-tested vain.

Moreover, the piece, which never overstays its welcome at a brisk eighty-two minutes in length, is structured and paced via Keith’s otherwise solid screenplay in a manner we have come to expect. This is with the gradual development of its on-screen personas and their motivations. Such is combined with a slow build-up of unsettling events in the first half. These unnatural circumstances grow at a rapid clip through the midway point. This predictably accrues until the rousing, twenty-minute long climax. All the while the emotional and professional stakes rise for our heroes. This is particularly accurate for Donovan. Such arises as he becomes plagued by nightmarish visions of his wife, Rebecca (in a representation by Lisa Livingstone that is powerful and immediately commanding), slitting her wrists. Such results in several well-staged sequences of fright. All of which revolve around these circumstances. These episodes commence at thirty-one minutes into the arrangement. This is as the ethereal menace surrounding the two reaches a zenith.

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Despite the over acquaintance of these items, as well as the myriad yarns of cinematic ghost hunters that have been hitting screens with increasing intensity over the years, this still endures as a purely fun ghost story. It is also confident, beautifully fashioned and disarmingly side-splitting at times. Many of these witty flashes of laughter arrive early on through the credibly penned dialogue Keith has given Blazer. Yet, every issuance of these elements never feels forced. Instead these items convey the traits of Flannery’s embodiment of Blazer spectacularly. In turn, such enriches both the individual and the scene such a winning factor is presented within. Further helping matters is the integration of other conversant manifestations. Evidence of this rests in a quick sight glimpsed at the thirty-seven-minute mark. In this instance a swarm of flies buzz in a large cluster before a window. This is in a way that instantly calls to mind Stuart Rosenberg’s classic adaptation of Jay Anson’s best-seller The Amityville Horror (1979).

The first act is the most promising and captivating section in the photoplay. Still, it is noteworthy that Keith doesn’t overindulge in the largely convincing special effects of the labor, courtesy of Martin Fernandez Motion Design & VFX, in its further along portions. This is as so many pictures of this ilk are apt to do. When Keith does so, he bestows such acquainted turns as the door which gradually and inexplicably unveils by itself. Such ensues at twenty-two minutes into the exercise. Yet, when implemented through Keith’s sophisticated, elegant and claustrophobic direction the incident comes off as astonishingly fresh and new. This is true even if the film never tops the gothic atmosphere, imagination and successful execution of terror found in its commencing five and a half minutes. Regardless, Keith sustains an unblemished tone of the ominous throughout the exertion.

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Such is a grand courtesy of Niall Mathewson’s alluring, pulse-pounding and appropriately chill-inducing music. Additionally, Keith’s cinematography is sumptuous and assuredly pleasing to the eye. This attribute aligns itself to old-fashioned fright flicks superbly. Keith’s editing is similarly sharp and seamless. Ali Campbell, Matthew Cooper and Liam Matheson construct a proficient sound department. Adam Falconer, Michael Martin, Sean Smillie and Matheson offer terrific grip work. They create a camera and electrical team that is remarkable. As well, Leigh Butler’s special makeup effects are phenomenal. Together these cinematic donations augment the vast quality of the project immensely.

Additionally, the previously unmentioned cast contributes just as stalwartly. Steve Weston is memorable, enigmatic and instantly likable in his role as Donovan and Blazer’s cryptic boss, Mysterious Man. The early sequence he is in with our leads is among the most gripping and quietly entertaining in the entire venture. In this segment, Mysterious Man discusses the general details of his deal with Donovan and Blazer. This is while simultaneously introducing them to the eerie abode the duo will make a temporary habitat. Matheson’s portrayal of Big Beard, Morgan Faith Keith as Sarah Johnson and Cameron Mowat as Mike Johnson are also terrific in their brief turns. Lindsay Cromar as a shotgun victim and Lisa Cameron as Laura Johnson are also excellent. The result is an all-around triumph.

This Uncork’d Entertainment distribution and Clear Focus Movies co-production, aspires to be among the likes of Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners (1996) and Ivan Reitman’s seminal Ghostbusters (1984). Though it doesn’t have the high level of inventiveness visible in these aforesaid configurations, Keith has provided spectators with a wonderful example of how well horror can blend with slyly dispensed doses of slight humor. Correspondingly, the residence where Keith has set his fiction is superb. It reinforces the classically creepy veneer overseen in its gothic terror tone masterfully. Even if the endeavor is never overly terrifying, the scares are credibly erected. They are also largely organic to the turns of the narrative. In so doing, these events are uncommonly placed into the film simply as a quick jolt to temporarily service bystanders. Such is certainly admirable. It is also much the rare find nowadays. The outcome of these admirable details is a genre entry I highly recommend seeking out. You can do so when Ghosts of Darkness hits video on demand on March 7th, 2017.

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“The Neon Dead”- (Movie Review)

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

Writer-director Torey Haas vividly captures the campy, often excessive, spirit of playful exuberance that fueled the 1980’s with his full-length feature debut, The Neon Dead (2015). Distributed through Wild Eye Releasing and produced through MonsterBuster Entertainment, Haas has crafted a briskly paced, 80 minute delight. This is an unassuming and consistently engaging gem. It is one which incorporates many of the most memorable cinematic attributes of the previously stated bygone decade. The most notable of this is the often impressive, frequently cartoonish, but always enjoyable effects. They run the gambit of different brands of graphic illusions. This is with a range echoing from more practical designs to computer generated imagery. This comes courtesy of Tricia Gaulesky, Lane Force, Fred Grant and the long proven maestro of such visual components himself, Haas.

What is just as triumphant: there is a wonderful balance continuously drawn throughout the exertion. It alternates between deliberately tongue in cheek, and mostly inoffensive, humor and largely same said horror. Such an ambiance impeccably parallels VHS classics like Sam Raimi’s masterpiece, The Evil Dead 2 (1987). John Carpenter’s alien invasion opus, They Live (1988), Dan O’ Bannon’s schlock tour de force, Return of the Living Dead (1985), Stephen Chiodo’s laughter fueled cult model, Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988), and Stuart Gordon’s magnificent H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, The Re-Animator (1985), also come to mind. There are also touches heavily reminiscent of bigger budgeted pictures. For instance, mirrors to Ivan Reitman’s ground-breaking Ghostbusters (1984) and Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982) are reflected throughout the fiction. Nick Lauinger emphasizes Haas’ obvious inspiration. This is with cinematography that is every bit as flashy, colorful and bright as the popular accessories, clothing, music videos and cinema that were so prevalent in the last five years of the 80’s. Similarly, Hsiang-Mieng Wen utilizes heavily rock influenced music. These arrangements fit each segment fabulously. Eric Davis, Katelyn Brammer, Nick Amideo and Haas provide editing that is proficient. Much in the manner of most of the aforementioned accomplishments, these elements are all a brilliant match for the mood of the piece.

The charming characterizations, though intentional stereotypes, can also be taken from various genre appropriate entries from thirty years ago. They are just as suitably cut for any number of John Hughes’ teen angst comedies. Adding to this antiquated appeal is that there is even an amusing battle at about an hour in. It plays like a pleasantly constructed, micro-budget rendition of the light saber battle between Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Darth Vader (David Prowse). This transpired near the iconic finale of The Empire Strikes Back (1980). If you are like me, and have a soft spot in your heart for any or all of these endearing gems, you will absolutely adore The Neon Dead.

Haas tells the tale of a Fairview State University graduate by the name of Allison Hillstead (in an ever-likable performance by Marie Barker). She is searching for a job. After being invited to an interview at noon that day for an assistant manager position at Saucy Jack’s, for which she boldly promises to be there a half hour prior, her immediate future seems certainly promising. That is until an undead woman is spied brushing her blood red hair, much of which comes off with her scalp, in the bathroom of Allison’s household. Fear soon gets the best of her. Trepidation turns to impatience. Such occurs as this otherwise horrifying moment is interrupted by a young Wilderness Scout of America, Ashley Amberson (in a wonderful turn from Josie Levy). Insisting on staying until she can receive a donation from Allison, Ashley unveils Allison’s worried plight. This is when she is informed of, and eventually contacts, a pair of paranormal investigators. These are Desmond (in a winning portrayal by Greg Garrison), a slacker/boy next door type, and the bookish Jake (in a depiction by Dylan Schettina that matches Garrison’s representation in quality and amiability). They are employed at a video rental department inside a local Save More grocery store. After this, Allison and Ashley head back upstairs to see what the so called “zombie” is up to. That is when Desmond and Jake, who quickly abandon their behind the register positions, arrive at Allison’s residence. From herein, the situation turns to an otherworldly battle. This is among the leader of the takeover, Guysmiley, the demonic “sons of Z’athax” and our iodized salt armed band of intrepid human heroes.

The result is an absolute joy for B-movie fans. This is an endlessly, uproariously fun, and never overly graphic (though you may think you have seen more gore than you actually have), experience. Though it is structured conventionally, the economically priced epic can easily be dubbed: “a non-stop the rollercoaster ride”. This certainly mechanizes spectacularly to the favor of the film. This is also thanks to ardent, commanding direction from Haas. The screenplay he erected for this $17,000 budgeted affair avoids the pretention, self-awareness, tired gimmicks and dead seriousness common in modern fare. In turn, we are awarded a plethora of successfully clever jokes. There is also plenty of equally victorious flashes of spirited dread. A concluding scene, which revolves around the “life goes on” ideology, is especially humorous. The dialogue, though familiar, is smartly written and delivered. There is also just enough exposition to be satisfactory. This is without weighing down the general story arc and movement of events. Likewise, such an aspect keeps our leads relatable to a large net of onlookers. Though the undertaking never aims to be outright terrifying, many of the early shots of the creatures veiled in the shadows, their eyes glowing voraciously in the background, are genuinely effective.

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But, what is best of all is that Haas doesn’t rely solely on the herculean sense of past longings ever-present within the framework of his narrative. He has a wild array of ideas in store. This he executes with feverish gusto and glee. Furthermore, Haas bucks the long-exhausted traditions and standard expectations of the returning corpse genus at every turn. A running gag concerning who the unholy entities really are can be seen as another sly wink at Haas’ audience in that respect. Comparatively, there is also an extended incidence involving a talking, decapitated head. This portion further proves the fusion of smiles and inventiveness at hand. It all enhances the nostalgia. This is as it evokes fond recollections of a similar manifestation unveiled in the final half of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979).

Though Haas keeps his antagonists limited in number, there are a multitude of smaller roles which make a comparably abundant impression. John Reed as Big Z, Andrew Puckett as Drake Hillstead and Candace Mabry as Belle are all terrific. The other technical angles are just as accomplished. Breanna Thompson’s set decoration and Sean Michael Patton’s costume design beautifully retain the everyday details and cheery aesthetic of the piece. The make-up department, composed of Gaulesky, Jeremy Ledbetter, Christine Nguyen and Kate Northcutt, is both natural and radiant. Haas’ animation and Quyen Tran’s sound are just as awe-inspiring. Brian Hardison and John Holbrook issue masterful art division work. Hardison completes the illusion of stepping into the 80’s with a poster that is as ingenious, fluorescent and eye-catching as the fiendish specters who inhabit the movie itself.

This is pure escapist entertainment. It endures as one of the best “throwback” love letters in recent recollection. Haas showcases a wide knowledge of the era he is sending up. This is from the deceptively low-key opening. Such a sensation endures throughout the presentation. Moreover, the climax is solid. It is also, refreshingly, anything but overblown. Haas even gives us a pleasant bit of information in a post-credits scene that is sure to make your expectations for what is on the horizon blossom. It is also guaranteed to make your overall admiration for the endeavor all the grander.

The brief duration also helps. We leave the photoplay wanting more. This is while admiring the noticeable lack of fat on the celluloid bones of the flick. These are all wise decisions. They all come together to celebrate Haas’ talent, the great new feature he has woven and a period often described as “the neon decade” with precision and heart. Haas has also unquestionably proven that there is still plenty of life left in the often autonomous subject of the recently resurrected. This is the type of offering those of us who often haunted local video stores as often as possible and spent untold hours studying scarce titles often dream about making a comeback. The Neon Dead is reminiscence inducing, independent art. It is the type of moving fabrication you will gladly feel compelled to return to again and again. This is as the years move on and a longing for old-fashioned comforts begins to settle once more into your bones.  Such is the definition of an instant classic!

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“Lights Out” – (Movie Review)

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

Lights Out (2016), based on the near three minute 2013 short film of the same name from director David F. Sandberg, is a cheap, cloying horror gimmick posing as a full length feature. The Atomic Monster, New Line Cinema and Grey Matter Productions release possesses a single item, a laughably redundant jump scare, in its fright arsenal. This is via a dark, ethereal figure dubbed Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey in a limited and ineffectual enactment). She all too gradually appears closer to her next victim every time the lights go out and disappears as soon as they come back on. Such is a fairly interesting notion for the Sandberg penned medium Diana first appeared in. Yet, as for an obviously pushed beyond its boundaries eighty-one minute motion picture, with a reported budget of $4.9 million, much more needs to be offered to satisfy the increasingly ravenous pallets of the average genre fanatic. This is true even with the less cinematically experienced, teenage audiences this dull, pedestrian, PG-13 rated affair is obviously catering to.

It also becomes all the more ridiculous in moments like the eye-rolling preface of this all too safe exertion. In this extended bit, Esther (in a fair turn from Lotta Losten; the star of the short this is based on) is about to leave her job at a factory late at night. Unsure if she is seeing something from the door a mere room away, she hits the light switch repeatedly. This is while the above-articulated fear tactic, wrong-headedly exposed in the movie’s trailer, flashes again and again before our eyes. In one of the first of many erroneous moves, we are not revolted by the ominous sight of Diana as Sandberg and company have obviously intended. Instead, we laugh at the absurd amount of times it takes Losten to discern if what she is seeing is real or not. Such is especially guffaw-inducing when we recognize that most people would’ve turned the lights back on once and fled immediately to safety the first time around.

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Perhaps this aforementioned criticism wouldn’t be so painfully noticeable if Sandberg and writer Eric Heisserer were able to give us more of an original fiction. At the least, the team could’ve indulged in more innovative plot elements along with a meatier account. Instead, Diana and those she haunts are given garden variety backstory and motivations. The personalities we encounter are all cardboard archetypes. Luckily, they are somewhat elevated by solid performances. This is especially true of Teresa Palmer’s portrayal of Rebecca. She is a stepsister to the mentally ill Sophie (in a presentation by Maria Bello that is undoubtedly skillful and gripping) and Sophie’s son, Martin (a well-done representation by Gabriel Bateman that is constrained by the commonality of Heisserer’s dim depictions). Palmer and Bateman share a palpable chemistry. It is one which makes it all too easy to see them as a pair of semi-distant relatives who are forced to rely on another unexpectedly for survival. These two are the anchor that helps keep the movie afloat. This is even as its first two acts pile on scene after scene of exposition and tired, predictable character development.

In this portion, we learn that Martin is finding himself in the tormented footsteps Rebecca endured years prior. This is with Martin falling asleep at school arriving as a telltale sign of the youth’s restless nights avoiding the nightmarish whims of Diana. After a call from a school nurse who could not reach Sophie (who is not taking her medication and becoming increasingly obsessed with Diana), Rebecca reluctantly takes Martin to her home to catch some much needed sleep. It is at this point Diana makes her presence increasingly known in Martin and Rebecca’s life. From herein, the strange noises and unnerving scratching Martin has been hearing suddenly becomes much more. It’s a simple, accustomed, but not entirely unattractive, premise. Yet, it misses nearly every opportunity it has to be anything more than a one-dimensional, strictly on the surface thriller. It doesn’t even operate satisfyingly enough as pure, mindless entertainment.

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What is worse is that all of these aforesaid instances come off more as filler than an honest attempt to get its spectators to care for our young hero and elder heroine. During this time, the terror elements are, sadly, sparse. Yet, the talk is long and uninteresting. Likewise, the cringe-worthy dialogue is that of a Lifetime Movie of the Week brought to the big screen. In much the same vein, the visual effects, credited to seven individuals, are your usual sub-par, computer generated shtick. Alongside these detracting details, we realize more than ever before, how little narrative Heisserer’s dismal script actually delivers. Simultaneously, such tedium and pointless circle running creates a punishingly slow pace. It is one that only really seems to find its footing and come to life in the surprisingly energetic and tense final twenty-five minutes.

Amid this concluding stretch, Sandberg abandons the standard, point and shoot directorial style which dominated the rest of the opus. For once he seems to finally be allowing himself to have some fun with the material. Relatedly, a late sequence in a basement excellently and claustrophobically toys with the concept of finding a light source amid increasing blackness. It is an idea that is not given half as much creativity beforehand. Despite this, we are still amended many of the categorical tropes which weighed down most of the first hour. For instance, a fiendish hand reaching out from under the bed. But, it is done in a way that is still entertaining despite its familiarity. If only this sensibility was utilized earlier, Lights Out wouldn’t be such an underwhelming chore to sit through. Just as mournfully, it goes back to these disappointing origins for an end segment that is as imitative and stale as the first fifty-six minutes.

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You know you are in trouble when the various rock and roll posters sprawled out on the walls of Rebecca’s home are more visceral, terrifying and immediately stimulating than any of the actual attempts at trepidation Sandberg invokes. Lights Out suffers from this affliction and much more. It is complimented by atmospheric, but unmemorable, music from Benjamin Wallfisch. Marc Spicer’s cinematography works best, like the rest of the endeavor, in the later and more moody sections. Still, it is pleasant enough. Michael Aller and Kirk M. Morri offer sharp editing. The sound and make-up department are fair. Yet, they suffer much the same results as the songs which accompany the fabrication. The same can be said for Shannon Kemp’s art direction, Lisa Son’s set decoration and Kristin M. Burke’s costume design. Alexander DiPersia as Bret, Billy Burke as Martin’s father and owner of the plant spied in the hackneyed opening arrangement, Paul, and the rest of the cast are adequate.

But, none of these comparatively brighter flashes can make up for the fact that most of the movie is a lumbering, overblown and underdeveloped mess. Why the usually reliable modern day master James Wan, who is producer of this vehicle and recently gave us the most accomplished offering of the summer with The Conjuring 2 (2016), would want to sully his good standing with having this title on his resume is beyond me. Sandberg’s effort is a forgettable, uninspired trek through the motions. All of which we have seen done much better, often by Wan himself, umpteen times before. Do yourself a favor and be sure to put the lights out on any further thoughts of seeing this for yourself. I guarantee that you will be better off that way.

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“Delusion” – (Movie Review)

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

Director Christopher Di Nunzio’s neo-noir horror opus, Delusion (2016), is a masterful stylistic showcase. Released through Creepy Kid Productions, this is an old-fashioned psychological portrait with touches of the occult. Likewise, it is a lesson in the power and potency of subtly and restraint. Di Nunzio’s upcoming undertaking comes together so ingeniously because it draws us in with its mystery. This is expertly teased with the on-going question of what exactly is going on with the lead, Frank (in an enactment by David Graziano which is remarkable, credible and continually watchable). We find ourselves peering through the tiniest of details trying, must as our protagonist himself must be doing, to sort out what is physical and what is nightmare. This, enthrallingly, takes up most of the feature. Yet, it plays with the imagination incredibly well throughout. Di Nunzio leaves so much to the seat of our thoughts that one cannot help but stand in admiration of how skillfully fashioned the entire endeavor remains.

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These sentiments are eluded to, after an ominous and brief credit sequence, with a commencing shot of a woman’s eye. This calls to mind the climactic moments of the legendary shower murder sequence of Lila Crane (Janet Leigh) in Alfred Hitchcock’s quintessential tale of murder and madness, Psycho (1960). For the rest of the meticulously paced, mesmerizing and impeccably structured eighty-five minute length of the affair, Di Nunzio’s bravura behind the lens vividly recalls the aforementioned cinematic maestro. This is incorporated with a dash of early David Cronenberg (1975’s Shivers, 1977’s Rabid) and Brian De Palma (1973’s Sisters, 1978’s The Fury). The previously stated comparison is most striking in the tensely orchestrated concluding fifteen minutes. This inspiration is mixed in to make this unique blend of fear all the more savory.

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With some of Di Nunzio’s earlier works paralleling other silver screen savants, such as he did with Ingmar Bergman and Martin Scorsese in A Life Not to Follow (2015), such a resemblance only heightens how impressive Di Nunzio’s talent and multi-faceted handling of his various genre turns remains. Still, his style is distinctly his own. Di Nunzio is undoubtedly an independent moviemaker to be watched. He is a name that all fellow admirers of cinema will be well-acquainted with in the immediate future. This is, of course, if they are not already aware of this great name looming on the horizon.

All of this is also visible in the manner Di Nunzio composes a shot. This adds to the proficiency at hand. It also gives the arrangement even more of a visual allure. A design like this makes this ever-intriguing puzzle box of a flick all the more enchantingly cryptic. These physiognomies are also observable in Di Nunzio’s awe-inspiring framing. It all comes together to create a pulse-pounding example of showmanship. We also witness these components in the anything but straight-forward manner in which Di Nunzio’s equally intelligent and striking screenplay is constructed. Ultimately, Delusion is as much thriller as it is art.

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Di Nunzio chronicles Frank Parrillo. In the exertion’s first ten minutes he receives a letter from his wife, Isabella (in a marvelous performance by Carlyne Fournier). What is odd about this, and also instantly attention-garnering on the spectator’s side, is that she died three years prior. While recovering from this event with the support of his nephew, Tommy (in a depiction by Justin Thibault that is beautifully rendered and multi-layered), Frank tries to figure out what the written piece signifies. In the process he meets the enigmatic Mary (an incredible turn by Jami Tennille). Their mutual scars initially appear to be a point of healing between the two. All of this shapes a confrontation of Frank’s own personal doubts and fears. Yet, he is haunted by a male figure whose existence is questionable. Simultaneously, he is further plagued by a psychic, Lavinia (in a representation by Irina Peligrad that is certainly compelling). Her own premonitions tell Frank to stay away from the new love in his life. Amid these incidents, Frank must discern what is fact and what is fiction. This is before his time and chances to do so have vanquished.

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The story is riveting. It is also, much like some of the undertones presented herein, spellbindingly surreal unto itself. Such is indefinitely punctuated and made all the more captivating in the incredible, haunting manner in which it is told. Frederic Maurerhofer’s music is also eloquent and unsettling. This suits the atmosphere of the piece tremendously well. The same can be said for Nolan Yee’s eye-catching, gorgeously honed cinematography. Di Nunzio’s editing is skillful. This item assists greatly in giving the configuration its classic build. Arsen Bortnik’s special effects mirror the legitimacy Di Nunzio strives for spectacularly. They are a welcome distraction from the cartoonish computer generated imagery which, sadly, dominates so many motion pictures of our day. Additionally, Jessica-Lee Van Winkle’s make-up in this particular department is wonderful.

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Those responsible for the sound heard here offer us a demonstration of brilliance. Consisting of Carlo J. Barbieri III, Laura Grose and Christopher Lee, their collective contribution is crisp and ear-catching. Di Nunzio also supplies, along with the other pleasing apparatuses mentioned early, dialogue that cracks with believability. The situations that are bestowed upon us throughout align themselves to this facet with astonishing precision.

Moreover, the rest of cast fares just as well as those mentioned above. Kris Salvi is magnificent as Grayson. Renee Lawrie is exceptional as Rose. Jessy Rowe as Wendy, Christine Perla as Catarina and Ronnie Oberg as Ronnie all provide grand interpretations of their respective personas as well.

Set to be released on October 31st, Di Nunzio has crafted an exceptional example of the strength of the understated. It’s deeply impressed, poetic imagery is beautifully, terrifying issued. This is without a single exhibition of the various clichés and cold- shoulder to characterization which often takes over the category of fright. Di Nunzio keeps Frank’s plight and inner-wars at the forefront of the project. This adds heart to the proceedings. It also demonstrates a dramatic intensity that blends with the more outright suspenseful elements sweepingly. This makes the attempt resonate immensely. It is as if we are quietly walking alongside Frank throughout the entirety of the venture. This is as the wrenching chain of otherworldly events, which gradually encompass the plot, sweep over us. Consequently, we find ourselves absolutely amazed and intrigued throughout the course of this mesmerizing opus. Such is all the more reason that Di Nunzio’s latest, which was shot entirely in the state of Massachusetts, is a rich filmic experience. It is one which will prove worthy of many future viewings and potentially buried insights. This is as we return to the material in fascination of the craftsmanship at all technical levels as well in admiration of the quiet intensity and intricacy of the narrative. Di Nunzio has erected a tour de force. For fellow cinephiles: this is essential viewing. Delusion is a magnum opus of the highest order.

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The official Facebook page for Delusion can be found here.

“The Other Side of the Door” – (Movie Review)

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

Sarah Wayne Callies is exceptional as the heroine, Maria, in the May 4th of 2016 released horror outing The Other Side of the Door. She provides an unusually strong backbone for a ninety-six minute film that often seems to echo a piece by Italian genre maestro Lucio Fulci. This is in its steady, but confident pace, and gothic tone. It also pulsates in its overall demeanor. Yet, for every instance which holds a mirror to Fulci there is a hokey sight. For example, the flick’s penchant for showcasing a child’s eyes turning black. There are just as many cheaply executed jump scares. Little of this holds any real baring on the actual narrative. The Johannes Roberts (2012’s Storage 24) and Ernest Riera (2011’s Forest of the Damned 2) penned screenplay also suffers from another near-fatal, tired trope of similar cinematic entries: myriad dream sequences. Most of these, exhaustedly, cut off a potential scream with Maria jumping up, as if from a nightmare, in her bed.

Perhaps, director Roberts was attempting to inject a surreal feeling into the proceedings. It would certainly fit the atmosphere. In fact, it doesn’t entirely take away from it. But, it seems to be one of the many attributes confining an otherwise skillfully done, if conventional in theme and overall narrative, opus. Regardless, Callies keeps the work watchable throughout.

This is true even when the fiction wavers away from Maria’s suffering. She has recently lost her son, Oliver (in a serviceable portrayal by Logan Creran). Such is the pushing, powerhouse force of the first act. When Maria becomes the central pawn the auteurs construct the segments of terror around in the remaining bulk of the picture: this suffering is still present in Callies’ mannerisms. Callies continues to bring depth to Maria. This is even when Roberts and Riera seem to have nearly forgotten the importance of her plight. Such transpires all the more readably as the composition progresses.

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Roberts and Riera tell the tale of Maria uncovering a ritual which will bring her deceased youngster back to her. The only catch comes once the ceremony, which involves a transcendent Hindu temple, is accomplished. This is that when Oliver, who passed away in a car crash which is harrowingly exhibited at about ten minutes in, is resurrected that she cannot disturb the balance between life and death. To do so, she would have to open the title entryway for Oliver and allow him into Maria’s world. Predictably, Callies ignores this warning. She keeps the knowledge of Oliver’s return between her daughter, Lucy (in a cloying, one-dimensional enactment by Sofia Rosinsky) and herself. Her husband, Michael (a routine performance by Jeremy Sisto) goes about his business. This is without the slightest notion of what is occurring. Gradually, Maria begins to realize she has welcomed an evil into the home.

The theme of resurrection, even in the manner it is presented here, is well-worn ground for a terror feature. Much of the proceedings call to mind a human reversal of Pet Semetary (1983) by Stephen King. Even a late segment seems to be drawing an unmistakable parallel to the re-animated Gage Creed. We are also provided similarities to Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988). It is this familiarity which holds back the various competently done attempts at generating suspense herein. This also produces a restriction on our ability to fully become engulfed in the occurrences on-screen.

What also sinks the exertion is the rote, stereotypical handling of Lucy and Michael. They are a hollow presence. Their particular personas are practically indecipherable from comparable roles in endeavors of this variety. Lucy is where this is most noticable. The writers see her merely as an instrument for faux screams and not as a singular entity. Throughout the effort, Roberts and Riera never once care enough to develop Lucy and Michael as a presence we care about. In turn, they are amended one clichéd bit of dialogue after another. They exist to stumble about while Maria solely keeps the momentum of the account pummeling forward.

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Distributed by 20th Century Fox, the R- rated product sports mesmerizingly bleak cinematography by Maxime Alexandre. The editing by Baxter is tremendous and only heightens the comparisons to Fulci. Joseph Bishara’s music is haunting and appropriate. Roberts’ direction is impressive. The sound department offers a terrific contribution. But, the special and visual effects are another deductive component. They are wrought of the visibly, and all too common, computer generated type. Scenes meant to evoke fear, exemplified by the final shot, only summon a raise of the eyebrow or a chuckle.

Robert’s theatrical creation benefits greatly from its distinctive South India setting. The landscapes are illustrious. Additionally, its conclusion, outside of the aforementioned wrong step, is satisfactory. There is even a bit of poetry, albeit stating nothing new, summoned from it. Yet, it is still, much like the general structure of the tale itself: all too formulaic. We can see it coming once the set-up is introduced early on. On a likewise note: there are no surprises or genuinely frightful manifestations whatsoever in store.

The result is a fair, but ordinary, undertaking. It is a cut above comparable configurations in veneer and in style. For most of the production, the arrangement utilizes subtly instead of excessive gore. This, again, proves the far more successful manner of constructing revulsion. But, the characters, like the jolts, could’ve been taken from any other labor of this ilk.

Roberts’ opus may vaguely bring forth memories of Poltergeist (1982) at periodic intervals. Yet, The Other Side of the Door is missing the urgency, the sense of awe and the charismatic, cut from the everyday, personalities which made Poltergeist one of the best haunted house movies of all time. Instead, we find ourselves admiring the craftsmanship. But, we there is a distance to our admiration. The cause of this is the tedious exercise in trepidation this proficiency is built around. Such makes for a hit and miss affair. The potential is abounding. Yet, the storytelling confidence is not. Of all the things that evidently restrain this photoplay: this is the most critical.

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“Don’t Look in the Basement II” – (Movie Review)

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

Director S.F. Brownrigg’s Don’t Look in the Basement, or The Forgotten as it was formerly titled, was an unusually effective thriller. Released in 1973, the Bill Pope penned and Bill McGee starring vehicle turned its $100,000 dollar budget into gold. The grainy, washed out quality of Robert B. Alcott’s cinematography, alongside a winning combination of 70’s horror exploitation charm, made the feature a minor cult classic. Brownrigg milked the asylum setting, which was still rather common back then, and made it feel fresh. Fast forward forty-two years later to the release of the long-awaited sequel. It is predictably titled Don’t Look in the Basement II. Now, such an institution is incessantly manipulated. This is to the point that even the concept of it being used again in another fearful undertaking is more terrifying than anything those behind said production can put on screen. What’s just as threadbare is the concept of the aforementioned location being overrun by sinister forces. Despite the fatigue of these components, they are no match for the various wrong-headed moves Anthony Brownrigg, the director of the past affair’s son, makes in the follow-up.

Brownrigg, who co-wrote the hackneyed and strictly serviceable screenplay with Megan Emerick, tells the aftermath of the slaughter at Stephens Sanitarium viewed in the first go-round. The lone survivor of the atrocity, quiet and introverted, arrives at a shelter. It eerily resembles that in the preceding outing. As if greeting the man’s presence, the patients and employees of the area beginning to act strange. They hear and see things. Such incidents slowly unnerve them and make them question their own sanity. It isn’t long until these events become worse. From herein, the specters attached to the place reach out. This is when the slaughter commences again.

The often too gradual pace Brownrigg and Emerick, who also winningly plays Jennifer, mirrors the erstwhile Don’t Look in the Basement well. There’s a slow build until the last half hour that is welcome and refreshing. It largely radiates an air of competence to 2/3 of this silver screen travesty. This makes the stock characterizations and routine arc bearable. Yet, it has difficulty with engagingly delivering exposition. Instead of the ghosts applied for genuine scares, they often provide lengthy dialogues about their own backstory. This could be interesting. That is if it weren’t distributed in such an accessible fashion.

What is just as trite is the emphasis Brownrigg has on reusing footage from the last installment. He turns these segments into gritty, briefly glimpsed black and white bits. Likewise, they are used to fill in the countless flashback sequences herein. It is a jab at David Lynch style avant-garde artistry. Such is interposed far too frequently into the attempt. This is attention-getting when it is displayed as the earliest sight of the composition. But, when the notion is repeated invariably throughout the effort, it becomes increasingly dull. In the end, it is simply a worn trick meant to be eerie. It doesn’t succeed. Such makes the exertion feel much more protracted than its otherwise short eighty-two minute runtime suggests. It also makes the genuine lack of meat on the narrative’s bones all the more obvious.

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There’s a noticeably low body count. Regardless, some of the deaths are well-staged. A possessed woman who slits her own throat is where this is mainly evident. Such depictions build suspense temporarily and satisfactorily. Yet, it only serves to remind us what could’ve been. Moreover, it allows us to realize how little intensity Brownrigg and Emerick’s other cracks at trepidation generated. Actually, one of the supremely haunting images is one of the tried and true. This is when a window is spied slowly shutting and locking itself in the second act. It also gets credit for the way it hides an otherwise obvious ‘secret’ about the location of the tale itself. This successfully distracts its spectators from such a reality until just the right moment. Furthermore, it interplays a major twist from the primary item well into the action.

Additionally, the performances are solid. Arianne Margot as Dr. Lucy Mills, Andrew Sensenig as Dr. William Matthews and Frank Mosley as Dr. Lance White round out a watchable and talented cast. Screenwriter and actress Camilla Carr, who played Harriett initially, enacts a character named Emily terrifically. The cinematography by Chuck Hatcher and music by Gordy Haab and Kyle Newmaster is proficient and impressive. Yet, it is indistinct. They fit the modern approach Brownrigg is striving for well. Despite this, it is never memorably so. The same can be said for Daniel Redd, David Rennke and Brownrigg’s editing. The art direction by Bryan Wailor and set decoration by Alec Gates and Lance Martin are beautifully issued. The special effects from Matthew Ash, Marcus Koch, Brownrigg and Rennke are credibly etched. We are also given an outstanding contribution from the make-up and sound department.

But, these technical aspect can’t overcome the uncertainty in Brownrigg’s direction. This is especially noteworthy in how many occasions he tries to align this second dose to the 1973 endeavor. Worst of all is its whimper of a finale. It is one which incorporates more head-scratching than anything resembling a chill.

That is one of the largest problems with Don’t Look in the Basement II. The Legless Corpse Films and RDM Productions release from 2015 simply isn’t scary. This is despite the tone being consistently serious. Such is much in line with its contemporary bravura. It also isn’t B-movie fun like the freshman entry in this series. Instead, Brownrigg’s recent offering is a misfire. It is a bland exercise sprinkled with several visually intriguing incidents. There’s potential here. It is just weighed down by its insistence on reams of re-iterated details from the previous picture. Though this isn’t as heavily utilized as it was in the unbearable Silent Night, Deadly Night II from 1987, it seriously injures the proceedings. Also, it’s window dressing. This is meant to allow the audience to think there is more depth and plot bulk than what Brownrigg actually provides.

If you do insist on going back in the basement again, you are better off re-watching the original. Afterwards, come to your own conclusions what might happen in another installment. I assure you it will be far more satisfying than what we find in Brownrigg’s hollow account. As it is, the novelty of finally getting this opus after four plus decades, and seeing some familiar faces and sights, wears off quickly. What we are left with is a few well-done instances breaking up another underwhelming, routine genre piece. There’s little here to set it apart from its similarly themed peers. Ultimately, Brownrigg’s continuation is forgettable. Considering how well the drive-in feature that came before it is preserved in the memory of fellow cinephiles, this could be the most disappointing element of all.

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“Howl” – (Movie Review)

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

Howl (2015), from director Paul Hyett (2005’s The Descent, 2008’s Doomsday), is at its best in the first half. This section promises a moody, circa 1930’s- 1960’s Hammer Films Productions style opus. Hyett successfully utilizes this early portion to soak his frames in atmosphere to nerve-tingling effect. Likewise, sequences such as the opening shot of the full-moon hovering in the night sky, a trademark in depictions of this ilk, is striking and beautifully composed. Adam Biddle’s dark, brooding and hauntingly illustrious cinematography is perfectly suited for the undertaking. It complements the allure of such instances splendidly. These elements, especially the gradual pace of its set-up, suggest a sophisticated, subtle genre offering. Such is disregarded when this silver screen misfire descends into stock terror conventions midway into its second act. This is carried out until the concluding credits begin their wearied scroll. What is worse is that this occurs without a bit of the careful touch that came before it.

The narrative of this unrated, Starchild Pictures released horror offering concerns a ticket-collecting young man named Joe (Ed Speelers in a well-honed performance). Going about his job on the last train to London, worry sets in as the vehicle stops unexpectedly. The driver (Sean Pertwee in a solid representation) comes out to investigate. He is never seen again. Soon the answer to what may have come of him arrives in the form of a pack of ravenous lycanthropes. They are ready to tear the passengers apart. The picture than becomes a predictable battle for survival, complete with the usual components of a raging storm and all communications cut-off, between the humans and the bloodthirsty entities that slowly encompass them.

Such a plot, in itself, all too familiar. Still, there was potential to go somewhere new and have fun with the material. Alas, this only surfaces intermittently. This can be mainly attributed to the straightforward, and serviceably written, Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler penned screenplay. It turns its emphasis on modern tropes after establishing itself in the classic model. This is another glaring problem of the last forty-five minutes. Instead of dread constructed through pieces the imagination puts together, we are amended excessive gore and other variations of cheap shock. Moreover, increasingly unlikable, and routinely issued, characterizations replace this stalwart attribute. Not only does the story itself suffer, but so does the dialogue.

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Huckerby and Ostler resort to the usual hurried shtick in this category. The on-screen personages spout exposition to strangers in a completely faux and rushed manner. What is even more ridiculous is that this is instituted while chaos reigns around them. Such makes the product all the more underwhelming. It seems like a cop-out. This is especially true after the visually stunning splendor of what came before it.

Hyett goes out of his way to promise us something much grander than we actually receive. Though it maintains moments of ebbing interest throughout, the quality is noticeably diminished. The commonplace motions of the chronicle’s arc, evident throughout, becomes all the more visible as well. It all leads to a serviceably rendered, and sadly predictable, finale.

The claustrophobia of its interior setting is also wisely used to build maximum suspenseful impact. Yet, one of the wisest moves Hyett incorporates here is the antiquated trick of leaving the savage protagonists out of the frame for most of the runtime. Instead, we smartly view small glimpses of them, much as director Ridley Scott did in Alien (1979), as they lurk in the shadows and pick off one person after the next. The creatures aren’t shown in full until fifty-six minutes into its eighty-nine minute duration. Here, Hyett also proves the old adage that a monster is usually more effective when left in the shadows. When one of these brutes are shown completely the result is vastly more disappointing than terrifying. It is another of the many signs in the later phases that the exertion is quickly derailing to a more mediocre destination.

Despite this, the performances are sturdy all around. Elliott Cowen as Adrian, Holly Weston as Ellen and Shauna MacDonald as Kate are especially terrific. Paul E. Francis’ music is well-suited and tense. Agnieska Ligget’s editing is sharp. Raquel Azevedo adds elegance to the composition with her costume design. The make-up, art and sound department deliver incredible work. But, the special and visual effects, a contribution from twenty-six people collectively, are lacking. It’s another reason why the movie should’ve stayed on its original course.

Still, Howl is fair entertainment. It’s certainly not the re-invention of its sub-genre. As a matter of fact, there is nothing to these proceedings we haven’t seen before. The sum of the labor cowers beneath the likes of features like John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (1981), Joe Dante’s The Howling (1981) and the greatest entry in this field: George Waggner’s The Wolf Man (1941). Yet, the way it stages itself and recalls its timeless counterparts is certainly admirable. But, the individuals we follow, the heart of any account, are forgotten along the way. There is nothing distinguishing about anyone we meet on screen. This is with the exception of Joe. Thus, when the fiends start attacking we have no one to root for. Because of this any potential intensity is deflated. Instead, we watch the effort from a place of indifference and distance. Of all the crimes this ultimately average affair incorporates this is the most unforgiveable.

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“Darling”- (Movie Review)

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By Andrew Buckner

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

Darling, the fourth motion picture from writer and director Mickey Keating, draws heavy inspiration from Roman Polanski’s 1965 masterpiece Repulsion. It also aligns itself with David Lynch’s truly unnerving Erasherhead from 1977, Jack Clayton’s The Innocents from 1961 and a number of pictures by Alfred Hitchcock. The most noticeable of these is Hitchcock’s timeless adaptation of Robert Bloch’s novel from 1960, Psycho. This is especially true in the last half hour of the project, when a certain household item involved in the previously stated magnum opus’ most popular sequence is involved and returned to constantly. The symmetry is also amplified given the context in which it is cleverly used. Keating’s labor of fear conjuring also calls to mind Edmund E. Mirhige’s audacious and disturbing 1990 effort, Begotten. Such is evident in its meticulous, slowly grinding pace. Such is also noteworthy in its ability to unnerve through its coldly projected sights. This is as well as its emphasis on merciless atmosphere over gore. A warning within the first minute of the attempt about the “strobe lights and hallucinatory images”, which are excessively and exhaustingly utilized in the concluding act, is reminiscent of an attention-garnering trick from the maestro of the low-budget gimmick, William Castle. This all adds to the claustrophobic fun on display, for cinephiles particularly, immeasurably.

The work overall is proof that beautifully executed style, though often interrupted by its obvious imitation, is enough to carry a tale. This is even given one such as this which is as sparse on plot as it is effects, locations and characters. The crisp, striking and gorgeous black and white cinematography by Mac Fisken highlights this parallel all the more. This is obviously an exercise in approach, restraint and minimalism, made apparent in its wisely taut seventy-six minute runtime, as much as it is a love letter to the aforementioned architects of the silver screen. In that sense, Keating’s undertaking mechanizes spectacularly well. Yet, this does little to detract from the reality that this is simply a handsomely established retread of the same essential fiction, and much the comparable chain of events, that we have seen in far too many horror enterprises beforehand. The mileage each viewer will get from this particular offering is determinate on how deeply their admiration for the classic model, and the singular panache associated with it, is above all other items of moviemaking. This is as exact of a patron’s ability to appreciate such attributes with the sacrifice of any genuine bits or originality. Personally, this resulted in a largely solid endeavor. Darling is a good silver screen venture overall. This is even if it just misses the great benchmark it is striving admirably for. The piece left me exhilarated through most of my sit-down with it. Yet, ultimately, it left me feeling hollow and, somehow, not fully satisfied.

Keating’s production concerns the young, lonely title woman (Ashley Lauren Carter in a mesmerizing performance that mirrors Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion eerily well). She is given the task of being left to watch over a home. Much in the tradition of the set-up of uncountable dread inducing exertions from the past, this is without being fully aware of what has occurred within its walls. Slowly, she begins to question herself and her surroundings as unnatural events, that may be a product of her own psyche, begin to taunt her. This is another example of a photoplay asking its spectators the question: Is it the house or the girl herself who is haunted?

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The configuration toys with the answer to these question brilliantly. It does so by giving us long shots of isolated corridors, also in the archetypical custom. This is punctuated with ominous doors, some of which open by themselves as if welcoming her in, that could contain any manner of unspeakable things. There are also further age tested, enduring elements such as the winding staircase, hearing voices unexpectedly and the occasional ringing of a phone, which also maintain a fittingly retro veneer in this composition, to shock Darling and her audience. Yet, none of this is done artificially. This never elucidates a cheap jump, as it would in a lesser picture.

The first fifteen minutes, when the effort plays up these enduring ghost chronicle facets to boundless consequence, are when the flick is at its best. It is also when it is at its most promising. There is also much interest garnered afterward when Darling becomes obsessed with an individual named The Man (an enactment by Bryan Morvant that is as sophisticated and well-done as the article itself). This takes up much of the second act. Though these particular physiognomies are rehashed from about as large a number of sources as the bits of spectral narrative announced previously, it signals a shift in the creative temperament; a curtain being pulled on the destination where we, the onlookers, are being led.

Such a manipulative turn changes the direction of the Glass Eye Pix release several times throughout the picture’s six ‘chapters’. It is riveting; an honest display of storytelling craftsmanship. It is one that makes the familiar sections, so prevalent herein, easier to overlook. Alas, it assures us of much more than the affair actually delivers. The conclusive destination of the piece, though as tremendously put together as the rest of the endeavor, is just as acquainted as many of its ingredients. Such exposes these alterations in the movement of the arc of the yarn as window dressing. That these high-quality details were meant merely as another diversion from how often this account has been told before is disheartening to say the least.

But, what a terrific job it does of distracting us from the obvious. This is courtesy of the proficient technical angles all around. Sean Young’s brief portrayal of Madame is excellent. Al-Nisa Petty is remarkable as Miss Hill. Larry Fessenden, as Officer Maneretti, and John Speradakos, as Officer Maneretti, also do well with their respective depictions. The lighting is terrific. This quality assists in evoking the illusion of being immersed in a new variation of unsettling exertions from the past abundantly. Giona Ostinelli’s music, often reminiscent of a score by Hitchcock’s Psycho composer Bernard Herman, fits the old-school impression of the proceedings impeccably. Valerie Krulfiefer’s editing is just as impressive. Pete Gerner, Flynn Marie Pyykkonen and Brian Spear’s make-up is pleasing. Contributions from the sound department, by Sean Duffy and M. Parker Kozak, give off the sensation that we are watching a classic from the 40’s- early 60’s. This is issued with jaw-dropping accuracy. Spears’ special and Sydney Clara Bafman’s optical effects are ominous and credible. The upshot is certainly the amazing, obsolescent replica Keating was going for.

What is most welcome is the subtlety. In an age where terror seems defined by how much they show, Keating has proven with Darling, as well as his prior effort, Pod (2015), that scares are best delivered when much of what is causing them is left in the shadows. The imagination is the most frightening place of all. Keating knows this. He uses it to tremendous influence. The fact that it is mostly a one-woman show, with a large weight of the quality of the endeavor based on Carter’s ability to transform into our central personality, shows signs of courage and confidence. These two words can be applied to much of Darling. This is so much so that when Keating has shown us all he has for us to see and the drapes are pulled on the well-kept mystery at large, that we believe we should be blown away, frenziedly applauding the film. But, in the end, Keating is a bit too reliant on the proven, and a plot could most politely be described as ‘bare bones’, for it to be the tour de force he obviously yearns for it to become. Instead, we admire the parts more than the sum. Yet, the whole is far superior to the bulk of the dime a dozen genre entries which flood theatres and streaming services nowadays. It is sure to please fans of avant-garde trepidation. Its audience are those who rightly applauded The Witch from earlier this year. If you were among those who were left scratching their heads over the praise for the aforementioned feature, this is not for you. For all others, this comes highly recommended.

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