“Anti Matter”- (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Writer-director Keir Burrows’ Anti Matter (2016) is smart, credible and entertaining science based fiction. It is the type of tale those of us with a lifelong admiration for such literary masters as Ray Bradbury, Michael Chrichton and Jules Verne always find an absolute joy to sit through. This is because Burrows’ meticulously paced and structured, 106-minute project feels as if it could’ve been the brainchild of any one of these prior stated legends. This is true of both its bold, theoretical themes and its captivating execution. Such a comparison also derives from Burrows’ existence-mirroring and suitably developed characterizations. There is also a related respect Burrows has for the intelligence of his audience. This is a courtesy of Burrows’ intriguing plot. Continued thanks in this arena is also due to his sharp, layered screenplay. It is full of insightful dialogue. Praise is also mandated to his hypnotic guidance of the exercise.

Burrows’ presentation concerns Ana Carter (in a gripping portrayal by Yaiza Figueroa). She is a PhD student at Oxford University. As the saga unfolds, she finds memories impossible to erect. This is after a procedure to build and go through a wormhole. After a well-done setup, the last two acts of this Uncork’d Entertainment distribution release showcase Ana’s frantic cracks at understanding what transpired while conducting the experiment. Adding to the sudden stress is a lingering impression that something terrible is slowly surrounding her. Such attributes institute a ticking clock motif to the endeavor. This makes the underlying suspense evermore palpable.

Previously titled Worm, Burrows’ production is initially a bit conventional. This is in its incorporation of Ana’s inexplicable amnesia. Though Burrows works other traditional elements into the narrative afterwards, this criticism quickly diminishes. This is as Burrows goes beyond the standard employment of this oft-exploited trope. In so doing, Burrows immerses bystanders in Ana’s newfound fascination with dreams. This interest also extends to making sense of the noticeably off world around her. Best of all, Burrows provides a rousing finale. It is one that deserts the multi-million-dollar mayhem so commonly equated with far too many climaxes in this chronicle-oriented genus. This is to bring us a culmination that is harrowing, not because of explosions or endless gunfire, but because of the ideas it offers. Not to mention, the resolution beautifully ties up the details of Ana’s circumstance. The cause of which is as riveting as it is illuminating.

From a cast and crew standpoint, the feature is just as triumphant. Edwin Sykes’ regularly low-key music is terrific. The cinematography from Gerry Vasbenter is gritty and proficient. Such is perfectly fitting to Burrows’ brilliantly executed, same said tone. The editing by Rhys Barter is seamless. Correspondingly, the make-up, sound and costume design are top-notch. The formerly undeclared representations are also strong. For example, Phillipa Carson is excellent as Liv. Tom-Barber Duffy as Nate and Noah Maxwell Clarke as Stovington are just as successful.

Though not as deceptively intricate or emotionally resonant as Denis Villeneuve’s recent film, Arrival (2016), Burrows has crafted a movie that is just as unforgettable. The subject matter alone draws alignments to Bradbury’s short story, “A Sound of Thunder” (1952), and Chrichton’s novel, Timeline (1999). This primarily stems from its application of connections in space-time. Likewise, the ability to get through them into other regions. Yet, Burrows’ exertion abandons the exploration of what may hypothetically be on the other side of such a construction. This is to focus in on how such travel may immediately affect the universe we call our own. It is an engaging notion; one that is marvelously put together. Simultaneously, the manner that the opening and conclusion play off one another is just as smirk-inducing. There are also some felicitous topics, such as vivisection, Burrows instills into the episode. This comes in the form of the peer protests that surround Ana. These tidbits also lend perpetual authenticity to her landscape. Such relatively quiet touches also further the depth of the venture immeasurably. The result of these qualities is the best film of its ilk I’ve seen this year.

(Unrated). Contains adult content and profanity.

Anti Matter will be available in select theaters and on Video on Demand September 8th.

 

“The Ice Cream Truck” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Marvelously fashioned and engrossing, writer-director Megan Freels Johnston’s sophomore feature, The Ice Cream Truck (2017), succeeds as both a character study and as a slasher saga. The eighty-seven-minute venture, produced by Look at Me Films, utilizes its title vehicle driving antagonist, The Ice Cream Man (in a devilishly divine turn from Emil Johnsen), just as triumphantly. This is as an extension of the underlying apprehension of moving and being accepted into a new neighborhood. Such is an affliction Freels Johnston’s likable and credibly-etched heroine, Mary (in a spectacular, layered portrayal from Deanna Russo), endures throughout the project. Yet, some of the best segments are the variety of quietly erected, darkly humorous touches. These play phenomenally well into Freels Johnston’s nightmare in suburbia scenario.

Besides being stated outright on the eye-popping cover art for the affair, this notion is glimpsed in the anything but normal way Mary’s neighbors listen in on her conversations. This is as they obsessively tend to their yards. Moreover, it is illustrated in the fanatical manner that they always seem to be ever-inquisitive, intrusive even, about Mary’s personal life. What is just as absorbing is how the unfamiliar males Freels Johnston’s central figure encounters early on are menacingly presented. For instance, there is a first act arrangement involving a delivery man (in a solid representation from Jeff Daniel Phillips). In this configuration, Freels Johnston frames him in an unsettling veneer. This viewpoint is comparable to that which she later employs on The Ice Cream Man. Mary’s visible abhorrence reflects the aforesaid theme to mesmerizing consequence. It also serves as a splendid confirmation of the psychologically deft details of the demonstration. This is also a testament to Freels Johnston’s skill at generating suspense from otherwise mundane events. Such a high-caliber quality, a courtesy of Freels Johnston’s prowess as a literary and cinematic storyteller, resonates incredibly throughout the exertion.

The Uncork’d Entertainment distribution release is certainly effective. It blends these above-mentioned items into an authentic atmosphere of dismay. The tone is equal doses John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and co-creators Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (1990-1991, 2017-). There is even much of the internal mystery of Frost and Lynch’s program present in Freels Johnston’s outing. These related traits are treated and blended seamlessly. They are applied with prowess to tremendous import. The alignment to Carpenter is most evident in the engaging opening acknowledgments sequence. This is noteworthy when considering the general orchestration of the chronicle. Such is a facet that is rousingly carried throughout the depiction. This is also heard in Michael Boateng’s chill-inducing music.

Freels Johnston’s composition concerns Mary, a struggling writer. She is settling into the previously addressed community. This is after her husband, Steve (Brett Johnston), is relocated. Such a sudden shuffle is due to the demands of his job. Arriving days before the rest of her family, who are back at her prior home concluding what business they need done before their departure, Mary tries to fit in with those that she now lives alongside. Yet, there is fear lurking in the shadows of these initially idealistic surroundings. It comes in the supposedly innocent form of The Ice Cream Man. Soon a trail of bodies become left in the wake of this murderous fiend. When Mary becomes his target, she must fight for survival.

This is an intriguing concept for a labor of this ilk. Yet, what is just as interesting is the sub-plot of Mary’s attempts to recall her youth. These bits are focused on throughout the picture. These scenes work as engaging development. They add continued dimension to the lead. Such makes Mary and her plight relatable. Simultaneously, these ingredients also help Freels Johnston’s low-budget gem, whose brilliant script was a semi-finalist in the Circus Road Screenplay Competition, from becoming another assembly of tropes. For example, there are hardly any of the illogical actions or garden-variety stalk and chase moments routinely melded into these types of terror ventures.

Still, the episodes of trepidation Freels Johnston evokes in the effort are appropriately tense and memorable. They are striking for their captivating build-up, execution and ultimate restraint. The satisfyingly lean climax is proof of the efficiency of the exploitation of this on-screen component. Such intricate structure is further elevated by Freels Johnston’s ear for realistic dialogue. It is also augmented by her ability to pull dread from a commonplace setting.

Also assisting matters is Stephen Tringali’s remarkable cinematography. Likewise, Krista Speicher’s costume design is superb. Tony Urgo’s visual effects are masterful. Eric Potter’s editing is astonishing. The make-up, lighting, sound and visual effects are just as admirable. Correspondingly, John Redlinger is magnificent as Mary’s college age acquaintance, Max. Sam Schweikert as Nick, Hilary Barraford as Jessica and Bailey Anne Borders as Tracy are especially good. The same can be said of Dan Sutter’s turn as Frank and Dana Gaier’s performance of Brie.

Freels Johnston, the granddaughter of popular crime novelist Elmore Leonard, has crafted an all-around superb undertaking. The pace is smart and pitch perfect. Similarly, it shares the reality-mirroring jolts that made Freels Johnston’s debut, Rebound (2014), terrific. The Ice Cream Truck also handles the subject of horror honed from social interaction. Such a topic was the concentration of Freels Johnston’s prior opus. The personalities that contact the protagonist of Freels Johnston’s latest may come across as archetypical. But, it is all part of the sharp sense of Mary’s perspective which gloriously courses through the piece.

In turn, Freels Johnston has constructed a truly unique vision. Such is made increasingly envy-deriving when considering that it is orchestrated around everyday people and situations. Freels Johnston’s tale is intimate, immersive, dramatic and nail-biting. Her artistry is impeccable. Best of all, the movie never resorts to cheap shock tactics, such as an overreliance on jump scares or excessive gore, to glean intensity. The result is a photoplay that is consistently successful at evoking empathy and alarming audiences. This is a must-see.

The Ice Cream Truck will be released in select theaters and on Video on Demand August 18th, 2017.

“The Confessions” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Co-writer and director Roberto Ando’s The Confessions (2016), originally titled Le confessioni, is as riveting in its philosophical discourse as it is in its unique whodunit. Throughout the development of the masterfully paced one-hundred and three-minute runtime of the film, Ando weaves a naturally gripping tale. It concerns an enigmatic Italian monk, Roberto Salus (in a spellbinding depiction from Toni Servillo that dazzles in its underlying power and restraint), who accepts an invitation by the director of The International Monetary Fund, Daniel Roche (in a phenomenal turn from Daniel Auteuil). Such a summons leads Salus to a meeting conducted by The Group of Eight (G8), a civic-minded committee made up of governmental contacts from around the globe, at a luxury hotel on the German coast. That night, Roche asks Salus if he could discreetly engage in the title action. The next morning, Roche is discovered lifeless.

Ando brilliantly keeps an ever-accruing sense of mystery and maturity pulsating throughout the proceedings. Such is made evermore alluring when mixed with the complex political, detective and metaphysical components of the production. This is as much a courtesy of Ando’s smart, Hitchcockian direction as it is the same said screenplay he co-authored with Angelo Pasquini. Though much of the plot unfolds via character interaction, primarily intimate speeches among one another, the cerebral suspense rarely wavers. This is because Ando gives us just enough subtly placed notions, questions of personal motivations and uncertainties to keep audiences stirred for the duration of the fiction. Though the answer to whom is responsible for Roche’s demise is obvious, the various paradoxical layers Ando issues on the trail to this conclusion more than make up for this shortcoming. Ando’s ability to avoid genre trappings in so doing is also refreshing.

Alongside lavish cinematography from Maurizio Calvesi and mesmerizing music from Nicola Piovani, this Uncork’d Entertainment distribution release is among the year’s best cinematic undertakings. The performances are rich and proficient all-around. For example, Connie Nielsen is terrific as Claire Seth. Moritz Bleibtreu is exemplary as Mark Klein. Likewise, Clelio Benevento’s editing is seamless. Maria Rita Barbera’s costume design is magnificent.

With these high-caliber attributes in mind, Ando’s effort astounds from all angles. This is even if the picture is unsure as to what it wants to be on occasion. Correspondingly, it is also hindered by being a bit one-dimensional in painting Salus as saintly. Still, the exertion is graced by an untainted atmosphere of maturity and elegance. In turn, this multi-lingual follow-up to Ando’s witty satire, Long Live Freedom (2013), remains superbly crafted and nonetheless breathtaking.

(Unrated).

Now showing in select theaters.

“Alien: Reign of Man” – (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

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

Much in line with Ridley Scott’s vastly underappreciated Prometheus (2012) and Alien: Covenant (2017), writer-director Justin Price’s Alien: Reign of Man (2017) is cerebral, ambitious science-fiction. Though bound by the iconic series Scott started with Alien (1979) in name only, there is a sharp focus on characterization, origin and exposition prevalent in Price and Scott’s aforesaid efforts. Such sharpens the many quiet moments of awe, planetary exploration and seamlessly woven elements of fear utilized in these endeavors. There is also a gradual and fluent pace to these presentations. Such makes each respective venture much more than a collection of routine space scares. A remarkable eye for masterfully designed shuttle interiors as well as a beautifully constructed atmosphere of impending dread also uplifts these exertions.

Yet, Price’s feature is distinctly its own endeavor. Chronicling a group of interstellar travelers who are tasked with triggering a mechanism which will bring Earth back to a time before its decline, the account is naturally intriguing. The marvelous, claustrophobic direction and pleasantly inquisitive scripting from Price make this low-budget narrative evermore engaging. This stellar handling of the material extends to the backstory of our lead, Zan (in a solid turn from co-producer Khu). Such bits are potently glimpsed in dream-like flashbacks throughout the endeavor. The inclusion of this element augments the sense of urgency and intimacy coursing through the proceedings. It also makes the wonderfully understated finale dramatically tense and satisfying. Correspondingly, this is a terrific bookend to a picture that grips audiences with its personal touch, elegiac essence, scope and inventiveness immediately. The commencing credits sequence is where this latter-addressed quality is especially evident.

This lean, effective and efficient eighty-five-minute affair, distributed through Uncork’d Entertainment, has a heavy reliance on effects. Luckily, they are largely impressive. Still, the animation of the multi-eyed entities spied in the creative cover art is questionable. Given that the viewing of these creatures is primarily reserved for a few quick moments during the opening and concluding acts, this isn’t as much of a problem as it could be.

Though the delivery of the otherwise fascinating dialogue is underwhelming at times, Price’s labor still sports solid performances all-around. Torrei Hart as Viceroy, Deanna Grace Congo as Constance and Cameron White as Reed provide solid proof of such a statement with their robust enactments. This is even if Price doesn’t focus on what drives them from a human level as much as he does with Zan. Further helping matters is the rousing, highly cinematic music from Julian Beeston.

In turn, Price has assembled a superior B-movie. Some of the motions of the film’s arc of events are routine in hindsight. Regardless, the photoplay is so well-made, thoughtful and broodingly tense that such criticisms barely register. It is also a lot of fun. Because of this. Price’s latest triumphs from both a technical and chronicle-oriented standpoint. Price’s work may not be as groundbreaking as Scott’s similar in moniker franchise. Regardless, it is a small wonder unto itself; a successful on-screen persona-minded action-thriller that pulsates with real heart.

Alien: Reign of Man will be available on Video on Demand on August 1st, 2017. It will be released on DVD November 14th, 2017.

“Don’t Be Bad” – (Movie Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncork’d Entertainment Premieres “Circus Kane” Trailer

By Andrew Buckner

Director Christopher Douglas-Olen Ray (2015’s 3-Headed Shark Attack and Mega Shark Vs. Kolossus) has teamed up with the screenwriters of Bethany (2017), James Cullen Bressack and Zack Ward, for another journey into terror: Circus Kane (2017). Based upon a story by Sean Sellars and starring Jonathan Lipnicki as Scott and featuring Bill Voorhees in a role entitled Evil Clown, the tale follows an isolated master of the ring top. This is as he offers $250,000 a piece to a gathering of social media celebrities. The catch is that these stars must stay in the eerie, foreboding house of haunts owned by their moderator. This is without allowing accruing fear to make them depart. Yet, there is a secret these stars will soon learn. It is that those who agree to the propositions of the host are playing a ghoulish game. Such is one that may force the competitors to pay with their lives.

The distributor of the picture, Uncork’d Entertainment, has recently unleashed the gleefully gory teaser trailer to this Gerald Webb co-produced project. It can be found above. Clocking in at forty-one seconds, the piece promises a feature which will be inventive, stylish, tense and terrifying. There even appears to be an influence from James Wan’s modern classic Saw (2004) to the proceedings.

The photoplay, which Bressack called “one wild and fun film” in a Twitter post from February 18th, 2017, will have its premiere at The Cannes Film Festival in May. All that is known at this time concerning a theatrical run or on demand release is that it will be later in the year. More information will be provided as it becomes available. Either way, Circus Kane is primed to delight fellow genre fanatics.

“Bethany” – (Movie Review)

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

Bethany (2017), a full-length feature from the prolific twenty-four-year old writer-director James Cullen Bressack, is a surreal nightmare; an unnervingly successful contortionist’s act that ranges between past and present traumas. At a brisk ninety-minutes in length, Bressack luminously crosses these stages in time. Such accrues with a seamless mixture of classic gothic horror and modern shock. What is just as striking is how stalwartly Bressack’s latest endeavor aligns itself to the supernatural subtleties of author Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959). Such transpires in its earlier stretches. There are even bits which splendidly capture what can be deemed a modern sense of Jackson’s storytelling refinement. Once the presentation nears the second act, the photoplay becomes a nail-biting chain of ghastly, genre-related set-pieces. Each one is more creative and aggressive than the one prior.

Such commences with a distressing, aptly composed sequence at twenty-two minutes in. This segment oversees our troubled heroine, Claire (in a wrenching and ever-believable embodiment by Stefanie Estes) grimacing. This is as she unveils an unexpected crunch in her cereal. As she looks down, she sees roaches climbing out of the bowl. These events only spiral more wildly out of control. Such erupts as Claire’s grip on reality becomes more questionable. Until the comparatively tepid final fifteen minutes, Bressack brings forth a vivid extravaganza of these ethereal proceedings. The majority are made increasingly more delightful. This is in the method in which they constantly called to mind the fictions of Clive Barker. There are also many incidents which made me reflect upon the imaginative celluloid of Wes Craven. Primarily, Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and New Nightmare (1994). Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece, Poltergeist (1982), was also a frequent echo found within the effort. Moreover, there is a memorable and jarring episode near the half hour mark. It involves Claire pulling on her cheeks. Such made me think a section in Brian Gibson’s Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986). This is where the braces of Robbie Freeling (Oliver Robins) took on a life of their own. This only augmented the sheer joy the cinephile in me uncovered in the project.

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Bressack is clearly inspired. Still, every shot and every scare emerges in a manner that makes it increasingly easier to gaze through Claire’s eyes. When the deftly executed plot begins to unfold, Claire finds herself moving back to her youthful abode. This is with her husband, Aaron (co-scripter Zack Ward in a layered and commanding depiction), in tow. Almost immediately, Claire hears the title personality, an entity that was once thought to be “an invisible friend”, calling her. Making matters worse are the visions of her mother, Susan (in a masterful depiction from Shannen Doherty), which gradually plague the woman. Haunted by flashbacks, which also operate as a gripping form of delivering exposition, the circumstances around Claire become ever more violent and bizarre. With Aaron and Claire’s psychologist, Dr. Brown (in a riveting enactment from comedian Tom Green), desperately seeking to disclose what is ailing Claire, she simultaneously questions her sanity and reality. This is as once buried affairs make their way back into her existence.

Despite this firm, but familiar, foundation, the characters and their motivations are stock. On a similar note, most of the dialogue which dominate Bressack and Ward’s otherwise astounding screenplay are archetypical. Yet, the narrative moves at such a breakneck pace that such demerits seem petty in comparison. Best of all, Bressack and Ward never once lose their fixation on the richly developed personas. The same can be said for the psychologically torturous atmosphere of terror the offering evokes. Such is induced in its opening: A quietly chilling two-minute long arrangement. This portion involves Young Claire (in a turn by Anna Harr that is dazzling), a stuffed bear and an unseen presence by the name of Bethany(which Harr portrays just as unflinchingly as the previously addressed portrayal). After this attention-garnering jolt, Bressack’s endeavor only gains a riveting, imagery-laden momentum. This is as it pushes forward. In so doing, Bressack and Ward offer an all-inclusive catalogue of tropes and uniquely apprehensive notions. Such is increasingly entertaining. This is without ever feeling excessive. A variety of the twists, such as one unveiled circa the halfway point, fall into the category of the tried and true. Still, it does little to damage the evocative, technically impressive nature of this Uncork’d Entertainment distribution. Bressack’s bravura guidance of the tale, as well as the concluding credits, carry this feeling to the last frame of the picture.

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Continuing to help matters is the claustrophobic and skin-crawlingly resonant music, a medley of pianos and violins, from Alex Csillag. Likewise, John DeFazio orchestrates cinematography that is brooding gorgeous, suitable and consistently terrific. The editing from Bobby K. Richardson is sharp and seamless. Tiffany K. Wong’s production design, Ryan Henneman’s art direction and Alycia Belle’s costume creation is similarly exceptional. Furthermore, the make-up, sound and camera and electrical squad are captivating. Another marvel is the certainly eye-popping and credible work of the visual and special effects crew. Correspondingly, Leon Russom as Doctor Merman, Kevin Porter as Nurse Foster and Keith Jardine as Harrison reiterate the overall strength of the chronicle. This is with their high-quality performances. Felissa Rose as Janice the Realtor, Kristy Hill as Maternity Nurse and John Murray as Mr. Hodges are also phenomenal. Tiana Whitley as Young Susan, Ellen Gerstell as Marcy and Timmy Pistol as Carl only expand the transcendent edge of the cast.

The result of these herculean components is a configuration that redefines the term “white-knuckle”. Bressack’s item is both sophisticated and grueling. This ultimately exhibits the deft balance of the antiquated and the contemporary approaches to trepidation conjured in this undertaking. But, what is most remarkable is that Bressack, who also plays a hospital visitor, makes us care for Claire. This is also true of those close to her. Such is of the utmost necessity. This is for bystanders to be as absorbed and enthralled as possible as Claire undergoes hell itself. Consequently, the flick rises as resoundingly as a drama as it does a venture into the brooding heart of apprehension. Because of this, Bressack has crafted an exuberant display of talent; a surefire winner. Fellow aficionados of fright will want to check this highly-recommended tour de force out for themselves. You can do so when Bethany, a Brilliant Screen Studios and Grit Film Works fabrication, arrives in theaters April 7th, 2017.

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“Peelers” – (Movie Review)

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

Two of the most celebrated ingredients in cinematic horror are flesh and blood. Peelers (2016), a wildly entertaining ninety-five-minute feature from director Seve Schelenz and writer Lisa DeVita (who also did the casting), submits this in gleeful excess. Such is most notable in the all-embracing structure. Schelenz and DeVita set the affair up in a semi-traditional manner. This transpires within the initial forty-minutes. These flashes operate as a collage of sumptuously staged and captivatingly shot strip show sequences. This is mixed in with an equal dose of slyly delivered character and story development.

Utilizing nearly the initial half of the film to revel in the formerly stated attribute could’ve easily become monotonous. It could’ve also slowed down the fluent, meticulous pace of the effort immeasurably. But, there is a range of certainly unique themes that accompanies these segments. Never once are any of these notions repeated. Such a decision helps save the undertaking from such a fate. These sections fuse with the aforesaid exposition seamlessly.

The consequence of such an action paints a more thorough portrait of the occupational lives of our leads. For many related entries in the field, this would be enough to sell the flick. Yet, Schelenz’s project has a consistently successful wit. There is also an abundance of creative ideas coursing throughout the exertion. Not to mention, the progressive build-up of terror events unveiled in this section are just as effectively and organically administered as those stated above. For example, there is a memorable third act happenstance which incorporates these components. It involves our central figure, Blue Jean Douglas (in a charismatic and ever-watchable performance from Wren Walker), taking out an infected antagonist with a baseball. The brilliance of this bit, besides being a nod to her former profession, is that it is modeled after the conventional slow-motion sports-associated pitch commonly elucidated in movies. Much of the last fifty-five-minutes function just as well in this fashion. This is as the proceedings are crafted into an all-out parade of gore, grandiose fright and brilliantly honed humor. This is even if the configuration proves somewhat more engaging early on. Such is because of the method in with relationships bud and circumstances unveil in predictable fashion in the latter portion. Yet, the work never fails to be anything less than raunchy, low-budget fun. Best of all, it rarely resorts to artificial jump scares to punctuate its various episodes of intensity.

The narrative commences with an ominous and certainly attention-garnering scene. It transpires in a hospital. Over the course of its two-and-a-half minutes, the macabre allure of this piece establishes a jolting, though quietly eerie and foreboding, tone. Such becomes an early highlight of the venture. This is as it suggests the variety of great things to come. Simultaneously, it immediately begins to form questions in our mind as to what exactly we are seeing and why. It is a masterful foundation. Schelenz follows this up with a visually stunning arrangement that mechanizes just as triumphantly. There is a smooth marriage of music and sensual imagery augmented in this composition. Such particulars make the configuration play like a bravura inaugural extract of cast and crew recognition from an X-rated installment in the James Bond franchise. Moreover, LaLaa Love’s body language expressive presentation as the dancer viewed in this unit compliments the sheer artistry at hand. Such creates the ingenious rhythm of alternating fear and sensuality upon which the design stands.

As the tale unfolds, we find manager Blue Jean quietly pining. It is her last day as owner of The Happy Hour. Such is the erotically charged club where the narrative solely takes place. A nefarious businessman known as Chromagnum (in an exhibition from Al Dales that spectacularly personifies the efficiently sinister rich man archetype), has bought her out. He intends on using the building to his own whims officially at the stroke of midnight. When a group of miners arrive at the area, it is soon noted that these individuals seem to be covered in a strange ooze. Striking up conversation with one of the laborers, it is discovered that this group believes to have struck oil. They also state that they are planning to go back tomorrow. This is to see if they can uncover more of the presumed liquid. Such explains their festival-like spirit. It is also cause for their reasoning for stopping at Blue Jean’s venue. Yet, this scheme is abruptly halted. This is as the substance morphs these toilers, and everyone else in the building, into infected, zombie-like monsters who hurl black and green fluids. Such erupts moments prior to transformation.

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Such is a simple, but surely intriguing, impetus for a chronicle such as the one Schelenz conveys. It is a fiction that garners supplementary points by drawing a definitive parallel to John Gulager’s stupendous Feast (2005). This is in its general setting and zany, go-for-the-jugular demeanor. Furthermore, our protagonists are all likable and diverse in personality. Best of all, they are undeniably outstandingly etched. The antagonists are also exceptional. This is especially true when considering them as a masterful illustration of the collaborative contribution of the thirty-eight people who make up the effects team. Though the look of the undead is a bit conventional, a mixture of the dark eyes uncovered so habitually in modern cinema and the writhing ick of a similar opus from the 1980’s, they are still an enjoyable departure. This is from the stiff and unimaginative veneer of so many mutants perceived in today’s full-length provisions. Correspondingly, the method devised to slaughter these entities is both convenient and clever. But, what shines the most is the endlessly confident and stylish direction from Schelenz. DeVita’s screenplay continues to assist and augment the quality of the attempt. This is primarily with credible, yet often hilarious dialogue. There is also a smart balance of the serious and the comic, the bold and the interesting inherent in the penned material. Such makes the predictably wicked intentions Chromagnum has with Blu Jean’s edifice, which are exposed in the final twenty-minutes, quickly forgivable.

The doggedly skillful on-screen portrayals only boost these sensibilities. Kirsty Peters as Licorice/ Carla, Nikki Wallin as Baby/ Elaine and Victoria Gomez as Tina are excellent in their principal roles. Caz Odin Darko as Remy, Madison J. Loos as Logan, Cameron Dent as Tony and Momona Komagota are also fantastic. Rafael Mateo as Pablo, David Torres as Mario, Edwin Perez as Jesus and Andrea Rosolia as Panuche are just as phenomenal in their respective enactments. The same can be said for Manny Jacinto as Travis, Emma Docker as Aja, Rob Scattergood as Officer Karl Robinson and Katherine Blaylock as Officer Simone Lacey. Lauren Martin as Nurse and Megan Duquette as Nasty Nanda are also impressive in their brief turns. The secondary cast of bar patrons, cooks (Jason Mullen, Chadderton W. Thornton and Mike Hurley in slight, but transcendent, parts), a deejay (voiced by Tim Chisholm) and a waitress (in a magnificent demonstration from Tatyanna Prior) enrich this already layered endeavor. Additionally, Schelenz is scene-stealing in his representation of Officer Carter.

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Schelenz also provides sharp and remarkable editing. The cinematography from Lindsay George is gorgeous and ever-immersive. Nikki Blais’ costume as well as Todd Giroux and Schelenz’s production design is authentic and inventive. The seven-person make-up squad offers terrific input. Vincent Mai’s music, though evidently modeled after the conventional mechanisms of the genre score, is moody and unnerving. The art, electrical and camera, animation and sound department all afford an influence that is startlingly good.

Recorded in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, this Uncork’d Entertainment distribution and Pound (LBS) Pictures co-fabrication, is interminably delightful, amusing and relentless. It is everything audiences seek when searching for escape via celluloid. There are instances of intentional camp. But, it is not so much that it weighs down the wallop Schelenz packs when he yearns to subject bystanders to genuine shocks. This poise makes the sum increasingly well-rounded and easy to admire. The open to interpretation shot which arises before the concluding acknowledgments only adds to this category. Such is only a warm-up round for the astonishing mid-credits passage that is glimpsed later. When these become mutual with the last second jolt which finishes the photoplay, we smirk all the wider. This is as Schelenz appears to culminate the climax of his brainchild with another wholly new one. Such a radically over the top decision suits the overall attitude of the depiction beautifully. The title, an analogy that applies to the heroines as well as the overtaken, is just as perfect. When integrated, the outcome is an assuredly crowd-pleasing tour de force; a blood-soaked and ceaselessly engrossing reminder of why I originally fell in love with the genus of tongue-in-cheek revulsion. For those with similar affinities, this will prove to be one of the best movies of the year. I highly recommend seeking this out. You can do so when Peelers arrives on Video on Demand March 28th, 2017.

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“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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“Hunting Grounds” – (Movie Review)

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

Hunting Grounds (2015), the ninety-one-minute full-length debut feature from writer-director John Portanova, proves that there is still much cinematic life to be derived from the ever-audience alluring legend of Bigfoot. Originally titled Valley of the Sasquatch, Portanova has implemented a rugged, character-oriented thriller. It is one that seamlessly blends both modern and old-fashioned narrative ingredients. Such is crafted into a purely entertaining and largely credible blend. Best of all, it looks to its enigmatic antagonist with equal doses of awe and fear. The tribe of Northwest America based organisms at the core of Portanova’s labor do not merely function as the primal animals in which they are far too often portrayed. Instead they are demonstrated as noticably human. This is visible in both their general gestures and attitude. Such benefits the configuration spectacularly. To its continued credit, Portanova’s classically designed and meticulously paced screenplay is well-researched. It incorporates an obvious knowledge and affinity for its potentially truth based villain. This is slyly sprinkled into the dialogue. All of which is as cut from the everyday, unforced and operative as its rounded and smartly developed central figures.

Such distinctly separates Portanova’s installment from the hefty volume of thematically related tales. More specifically, the low-budget photoplays that have been curiously spiking in cinema over the last decade. Outside of the beasts which torment our protagonists, Portanova yearns to showcase the violent monster in mankind. This he brilliantly ties around the argumentative and money woe infused relationship between widower Roger Crew (in a highly effective performance from Jason Vail) and his introverted son, Michael (in a quietly poignant enactment from Miles Joris-Peyrafitte). Such adds an increasingly taunt level of emotional intensity to the enduring suspense already at hand. Moreover, the discussions of the relationship between Roger and his deceased wife that transpire early in the work form a wrenchingly sentimental angle. This splendidly showcases Portanova’s penchant for solidly delivered, engaging exposition. Simultaneously, it illuminates the damaged, father and child rapport between Roger and Michael.

Authentically administered arrangements such as these keep the heart of the undertaking much in check. Such makes the sum of the endeavor more well-rounded and harrowing. This is as it gets us to root for and understand our everyday heroes, which is pivotal. Especially before the tense life or death scenarios, which Portanova orchestrates just as masterfully as these establishing episodes, that befall them in the second and third acts. The best evidence of this rests in the last twenty-minutes. This section is especially well-made and unnerving. It oversees both the affectionate and more generally electrifying rudiments of the account simultaneously reaching a zenith. Such is made increasingly imposing as several truly unexpected twists take flight.

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Among such evidently wise decisions, is that the beasts herein are only partially glimpsed or, as is frequently the case, left in the shadows for nearly an hour into the runtime. Such calls to mind the tactic brought forth in films such as Ridley Scott’s groundbreaker Alien (1979) and Steven Spielberg’s same said Jaws (1975). Despite how often a device such as this has been issued, its effectiveness is again confirmed by Portanova as timeless. A slow reveal such as we see here, as well as the earlier stated masterpieces, is a proven path to success. It also makes the initial sight of the fiend in full even more astounding. Such is also established as triumphant in Portanova’s motion picture. For when it inevitably occurs, in a section which sees Mike waking up to a Sasquatch that is practically face to face with him, bystanders are given one of the most unforgettable and pulse-pounding segments in the movie.

Portanova sets these events up just as smartly. Such is incorporated with a five-minute opening sequence that is as ominous as it is perfectly mood-setting. After this memorably striking instant, Portanova sets up an engaging, if familiarly rooted, plot. In the fiction, Roger and Mike go to a secluded, family owned cabin in the woods. This is after their prior home was tragically destroyed. Two pals, Sergio Guerrero (in a stalwart depiction from David Saucedo) and Will Marx (in a riveting and sincere portrayal by D’Angelo Midili), soon arrive. They carry on alongside the duo. Shooting local game is the shared focus. This is until the group inexplicably arouses the sights of a community of ape-like brutes. All of which eerily resemble the indigenous Yeti. Soon those who went into the woods expecting to showcase their proposed dominance over nature find themselves symbolically on the other side of the rifle. This is as the gathering of simian-like brutes demonstrate that they will gladly kill to protect their homeland.

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Recorded in Snoqualmie Pass and Roslyn, Washington, this Uncork’d Entertainment distribution release boasts seamless and remarkable visual effects from David Phillips. This October People and Votiv Films production also benefits from John Bash’s haunting music. Furthermore, Jeremy Berg’s cinematography is as organic and darkly beautiful as the material demands. Phillips’ editing is skillful and deft. The make-up team, concocted of Doug Hudson and Sarah Prevo, offer terrific input. Correspondingly, the sound from Jens Larsen and the costumes and wardrobes from Audrey Frances Abeyta are sharp and impressive. The seven- person camera and electrical crew, as well as Jerry L. Buxbaum and Vail’s incredible stunts, enhance Portanova’s confident guidance of the project splendidly. Tim Keaty, Regan MacStravic, Madeline Sadowski and Montana Tippett form a powerhouse art department.

The secondary cast is just as strong. Connor Conrad exhibits that he is an undoubtedly imposing force. This is unveiled in his ruthless depiction of The Beast. Additionally, Jordan Neslund is phenomenal in her brief turn as Town Girl. Bill Oberst Jr. augments the plausible edge of all we encounter with his ever-watchable representation of Bauman.

The consequence of these wondrous technical aspects and smart storytelling moves is certainly deserving of acclaim. Having won the Best Feature Film Award at Boise’s 2015 Idaho Horror Film Festival, the narrative, which was also graced with myriad nominations in similar commemorations, is guaranteed to also be a knockout with general spectators. This is because Portanova is unafraid to present flawed, yet richly settled, on-screen personas. All of them will prove, in one way or another, to be relatable to onlookers. Even when triumphantly issued action bits are the focus of the piece, as is largely the case with the second half of the exertion, the effort never forgets the motivations and plight of the protagonists. Such makes for a bit of celluloid that soars as stalwartly as a drama as it does a survival yarn. Portanova has evoked a genre entry that is unflinching and gripping; a must-see. You can do so yourself when Hunting Grounds becomes available via video on demand February 7th, 2017.

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