“The Domicile” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

The Domicile (2017), from writer-director Jared Cohn, is a terrific paranormal suspense yarn. Produced through Traplight Pictures, the lean and efficient eighty-two-minute affair is situated around fictional playwright Russell Brody (in a mesmerizing and emotionally layered portrayal from Steve Richard Harris). After the sudden demise of his pregnant wife, Estella (in a stellar turn from Katherine Flannery), in the deftly executed and atmospheric opening of the feature, Cohn’s tale moves forward one year. Dealing with the troubled Samantha (in a phenomenal enactment from Amanda Ruth Ritchie), who spends the bulk of her time on-screen confined to her upstairs bedroom in Brody’s home, our central figure focuses his grief and devastation towards trying to replicate the success of his last play. Frustrated and desperate to escape via his literary pursuits, he uncovers alcohol helps fuel the quality of his storytelling. In a twist that heightens the wonderful alignment to both Stephen King’s brilliant 1977 novel, The Shining, and Stanley Kubrick’s same said film from 1980, this action aids in Brody’s distorted grasp on reality. Seeking advice from his collaborator on the project, David Stanley (in a riveting portrayal from Demetrius Stear), Brody attempts to rekindle his relationship with Lucy (in a magnificent representation from Sara Malukal Lane). She is a romantic entanglement from Brody’s past. It is than that the spectral form of Estella decides to make itself known through provocation and violence.

Cohn has crafted a wonderfully intriguing plot. It is one erected in the classic, slow-burn design of such genre efforts as Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963) and Peter Medak’s The Changeling (1980). There are even touches of William Friedkin’s groundbreaking adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s 1971 best-seller, The Exorcist (1973). This is most noticeable in the harrowing moments involving Samantha which are spied primarily in the first act. Yet, the material doesn’t go the conventionally accepted route and use these aforesaid comparisons for fan service. It is engraved as an unspoken statement of the impeccably fashioned nature of Cohn’s meticulously paced script. This is also true of his mesmerizing guidance of the venture. These elements can also be witnessed in the deftly executed atmosphere of dread Cohn conjures throughout the entirety of this enigmatic exercise. The masterful manner with which Cohn toys with the idea of Brody’s obsessions pushing him towards madness give the undergoing a stirring, mind-bending component. Though a familiar trope in photoplays of this ilk, it victoriously transports viewers inside the increasingly unsure psyche of Cohn’s lead. The tried and true scares utilized within the exertion also endure as effective because of these previously addressed reasons. Recorded in Pasadena, California, the gorgeously honed essence of Cohn’s cinematic construction is complete with a satisfying, smirk-inducing finale. There is also an equally dazzling concluding credits bit.

From a technical standpoint, the movie also delivers. For example, Josh Maas’ dark and brooding cinematography is as impressive as it was in Cohn’s recent Locked Up (2017). The theme music by Ryan D. Wood and supplementary sonic compositions from Chase Kuker enhance the spellbinding, mood-draped pulse of the narrative immensely. Likewise, Chris Kaiser’s editing is sharp and seamless. The make-up, camera, lighting and sound squad contributions are spectacular. Simultaneously, the small roles are just as proficient as the stars of the endeavor. The potent depictions from Angela Nicolas as Bonnie, Cara Mitsuko as Grace and Todd Carroll as Julian augment this factor luminously. David Palmieri as Officer Thompson and Julian Bane as Officer White are just as good.

As is true of many other accounts of this genus, Cohn’s ethereal thriller is, at its heart, a character study. Luckily, this is also one of the strongest attributes of the chronicle. Brody’s transformation in personality throughout the presentation is gradual and believable. Simultaneously, Cohn is unafraid to paint him as a flawed individual. Such gives Brody added dimension and depth. It also makes him evermore relatable. When combined with the sly, quiet commentary on the struggles of being creative Cohn administers into the labor, which will assuredly appeal to artistic-minded spectators everywhere, Cohn’s latest works just as well as a psychological drama as it does an outing in fear. The result of these high-caliber qualities is an exceptional example of modern day horror. This cerebral, subtle and ambitious tour de force is among the best excursions of its type I have glimpsed all year.

The Domicile will be released on DVD August 22nd, 2017 through MTI Home Video. It will be available at Redbox and Family Video.

“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.

A Word of Dreams Recommends: “Buddy Hutchins”

By Andrew Buckner

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

A Word of Dreams’ latest independent motion picture recommendation is writer-director Jared Cohn’s brilliant Buddy Hutchins (2015). In this wildly entertaining and uniquely thought-provoking production, Jamie Kennedy gives the best performance of his career. This is as the gradually unhinged, recovering alcoholic title character. He is a man who is driven to violence from all the pressures and problems piling up in his personal life. This meltdown is prompted by the closing of his failed business and his discovery that his wife, Evelyn (in a quietly resonant performance from Sara Malukal Lane), is being unfaithful.

All of these previously stated plot traits are given ample concentration and build-up. What also further strengthens the affair is that Cohn’s direction and screenplay are both top-notch. They are both carefully constructed and paced. This is with a perfect balance of emotionally searing sequences of character development, effective dark comedy, many masterful mid-life crisis moments and tensely erected thriller elements. Likewise, the last act, especially its climactic scenes, ties these qualities together in a harrowing, beautifully balanced and satisfactory fashion. Augmenting the overall strength of the effort is a great soundtrack. There is even a cameo in one of the concluding bits from Los Angeles and Detroit based rapper Jonezen (Chris Jones).

Moreover, the 96-minute movie, distributed through Uncork’d Entertainment, is consistently compelling and well-done. Additionally, we have no problem relating to and understanding Hutchins’ pain and anger at any time in the feature. The result is consistently compelling and memorable. In turn, Cohn has given us Falling Down (1993) for the 21st century. This is a riveting endeavor. It is one that is just as intimate and powerful as Joel Schumacher’s afore-mentioned political masterpiece. The end credit montage is especially amusing.

See it now on Amazon Prime and other video on demand platforms. It is also available on DVD and Blu-ray.

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

“Devil’s Domain” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

New York born Writer-director Jared Cohn delivers a beautifully made, splendidly acted and engrossing take on an oft utilized concept in Devil’s Domain (2016). Cohn’s invention concerns a cyber-bullied teenager, Lisa (in a compelling performance from Madi Vodane that immediately and continuously draws sympathy from audience patrons). Frustrated by the torment that she undergoes daily, and a video of our central figure that only makes our central figure more of a target for harassment, Lisa meets an appealing stranger online. She initially states that her name is Destiny (in a hypnotic and superb enactment from Linda Bella). Almost immediately Destiny reveals herself to be The Devil. Drawn into the powerful and seductive promise of having her desires fulfilled, Lisa makes a deal with Destiny. The promise soon turns to tragedy. This is as Lisa’s peers find themselves the unwilling victim of this unholy pact.

Despite the familiarity inherent in the general plot, Cohn’s feature never feels predictable or overdone. Such is a courtesy of Cohn’s competent pace. It is also the consequence of his terrific balance of characterization and story. The horror sequences, especially a third act arrangement involving Lisa watching someone who recently confessed her feelings to our protagonist being hit by a car, are all effectively staged and tremendously executed. Cohn also implements a finale that shares the generally tried and true sensation of the tale itself. Yet, still it arises as a potent punctuation point to this memorable thrill ride. It also serves as a necessary extension of where the narrative appears to be naturally headed.

Such an ability to turn tropes into triumphs is the result of Cohn’s masterful, ever-taunt guidance of the project. His script, which is immersed in realistic dialogue and motivations, provides a consistently solid backbone to this celluloid exhibition. The photoplay is also made increasingly stalwart by Josh Maas’ atmospheric and striking cinematography. Additionally, Rob Pallatina’s editing is seamless and sharp. Correspondingly, the special effects are so credible that they greatly enhance the believability of what we are watching on-screen. Furthermore, unlike many similar genre efforts of the day, there isn’t an overreliance on these filmmaking illusions to mount intensity or culminate dread. This is another indicator of the sheer craftsmanship at hand.

Also, assisting matters are the top-notch depictions. Michael Madsen is especially good as Lisa’s compassionate and understanding stepfather, Bill. The music from Iggy & The Stooges, DMX and Onyx, reiterates both the tone and the overall beats of the affair uniquely and spectacularly. Likewise, the piece casually ebbs and flows eye-catching style. This is evident instantly in an opening credits sequence that is filled with comic book-like renderings of the leads. This is paired with Satanic symbols and images. The section is capped off by excellent animation work from Devin J. Dilmore. In turn, this bit calls to mind the bravura cinematic flash of a Gallo feature from legendary Italian moviemaker Dario Argento. This visceral flare, and alignment to the aforesaid maestro, is recaptured in the variety of imaginative and grisly kill scenes found throughout the labor. The outcome of these elements is a gripping and ever-immersive example of all-around talent; a brilliant tour de force. See Devil’s Domain when it is released in limited theaters and on video on demand on May 30th, 2017.

Runtime: 92 minutes and 48 seconds.

Distribution Company: The Orchard.

Production Company: Cleopatra Films, Cleopatra Records.