“The Covenant” – (Movie Review)

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

The Covenant (2017), an eighty-seven-minute full-length film from co-writer and director Robert Conway (2016’s Krampus Unleashed), is a moody and effective take on the frequently utilized demonic possession tale. It establishes its captivating grip on its audience as well as its impeccably honed atmosphere of ever accruing dread instantaneously. This is with a handsomely fashioned and somber opening bit. Such is as devastatingly emotive and haunting as it is surprising and well-made. From herein, Conway and fellow scripters Owen Conway and Christopher L. Smith relentlessly build on this palpable sense of mounting dread spectacularly. This is with a deft balance of the familial slant between our two leads. As is expected with narratives such as these, it is also demonstrated with an ongoing theme of personal religious faith. All of which propel and richly convey an incredible impression of meditation and genuine concern for our central figures. This is while, as is most obviously illustrated in the last thirty-five-minutes, fascinatingly enlightening us about informatory details of prior cases of diabolical control. These formerly stated attributes endure stalwartly in the duration of the fiction. This is without ever ignoring the imaginatively issued and taunt string of supernatural events that unravel throughout the exertion. This makes for a fun, petrifying and incredibly well-rounded genre composition. The FunHouse Features production and Uncork’d Entertainment distribution proudly towers over most entries of its ilk. This is through its victorious poise of account driven elements alone.

Yet, this is far from the sole selling point of the endeavor. The screenplay is intelligent, luminously erected and confidently paced. Correspondingly, it is filled with credible dialogue that is just as believably delivered. Moreover, the material often breaks out of the general arc of related horror items. Such transpires with groundbreaking results. This factor presents to bystanders a work of celluloid that proves to go into courageous, yet genuinely chilling and disturbing, avenues on its own accord. A wonderfully unexpected and terrifyingly conceived twist early in the second half, which drastically changes the stakes and potential outcome of the chronicle, more than prove the victoriously operative nature of this distinguishing factor. Such leads to a nail-biting, potent resolution. The final twenty-minutes, though generally rooted in the situations we have come to expect from such an affair, are more than satisfying. This is from a character-oriented perspective. It is also true of its victorious execution of the various happenstances of unholy phenomena that are brought to life herein. The last sequence is especially unnerving and brilliant. Such is most evident when considering how it turns what would be an otherwise wholesome situation quietly into a shudder-inducing nightmare.

The plot is equally intriguing. Conway focuses on our lead, Sarah Doyle (in a terrific, harrowing enactment by Monica Engesser). Suffering and vulnerable from the drowning death of her Leukemia afflicted daughter, Elizabeth (in a turn by Amelia Habberman that showcases a range far beyond her young years), as well as her husband, Adam (in a riveting interpretation by Chris Mascarelli), Sarah moves into the home of her youth. Accompanying her is Sarah’s brother, Richard (in an absorbing and marvelously wrought depiction from Owen Conway). Almost immediately upon her arrival, she begins to hear voices. Most menacing of all, she repeatedly sees her deceased child swinging and singing the traditional kid’s tune “London Bridge is Falling Down” before her incredulous gaze. A segment in the first act, where Sarah looks out her window onto such an ethereal view, is gorgeously crafted. It makes unsettling use of such a happenstance. As the runtime endures, odd acting townspeople seem drawn to Sarah. They also feel the need to warn her brother of impending danger. These proceedings become increasingly more bizarre and violent. This is as the “hellish creature”, as it is described late in the photoplay, takes hold. Upon doing so, it incites within Sarah an outlandish fixation with her own death. It is a dark obsession that could well give way to the demise of those around her.

The Globe, Arizona recorded venture also boasts exceptional representations from the entire cast. Clint James is stellar as Father Francis Campbell. His persona often calls to mind Jason Miller’s iconic treatment of Father Karras in William Friedkin’s immortal adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s best-seller, The Exorcist (1973). Likewise, Sanford Gibbons is just as sensational in his unflinching illustration of Father James Burk. Maria Olsen as Holly Manning, Shawn Saavedra as Gerry and Richard Lippert as Man in Black are equally enthralling. The same can be said for Greg Lutz’s embodiment of Detective. Sedona Feretto as Lilith and Josh Schultz as Nurse are memorably transformative in their brief secondary roles.

The technical details are just as masterful. Gian Marco Castro’s music is perfect for the material. Travis Amery’s cinematography is illustrious and foreboding. It reiterates the often hopeless tone of the labor splendidly. Justin L. Anderson and Robert and Owen Conway issue editing that is sharp and proficient. The make-up department, formed by Cat Bernier and Cory VanDenBos, is exceptional. This trait is most obvious in the conclusion. In this stage, our heroine is at her most overtaken by the savage monstrosity inside her. Jessica MBah enhances the potency at hand during these sections as well. This is with visual effects that are seamless and spellbinding. Furthermore, Benson Farris and Kenny Mitchell deliver an amazing issuance of sound. The costume and wardrobe design from Lore Haberman augments the everyday authenticity we encounter spectacularly.

More than anything, the effort is reimbursed in quality by the noteworthy chemistry between those who portray Sarah and Richard. Consequently, there is not a second we are not engrossed. There is a conviction that pulsates through the arrangement. It stems from the magnitude of concern we invest in this aforesaid duo. It is just as unmistakable in Conway’s remarkable and stylish, without ever being distractingly so, guidance of the project. The plentiful set-pieces of trepidation are also cleverly administered. Best of all, Conway keeps them coming within the first few minutes. From this point on, he sustains such a dispersal of ghoulish measures at a fervent clip. Yet, it never feels as if he is sacrificing storytelling for such plentiful pulse-pounding manifestations. Instead they are organically taken from the circumstances Conway conceives in the yarn itself. Even the more tried and true scares, such as an instance within the first half hour where a door moves by itself, come off as vigorous and fresh. This is without the undertaking ever resorting to cheap jolts or unnecessary red herrings to heighten the impact of the presentation. Such is a true testament to Conway’s storytelling skills. It is also an unspoken testimony to the high-value of this alluringly built exercise in apprehension. The Covenant is an instant classic. You can experience the terror for yourself when the movie hits video on demand on February 7th, 2017.

“Do You Dream in Color?” – (Movie Review)

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

Directors Abigail Fuller and Sarah Ivy have crafted a genuinely uplifting and moving masterpiece with their seventy-six-minute documentary, Do You Dream in Color? (2015). The Final Cut production and Uncork’d Entertainment distribution release is a brilliantly and briskly paced, always engaging and meditative manufacture. Concerning the lengths four blind teens will go about to achieve their ambitions, Fuller and Ivy have presented audiences with an immediately intriguing and gripping focus. It is one which is made more so as we follow the varied, likable and charismatic lead personalities on-screen. This is as they endure the alternately inspiring and heart-wrenching circumstances they encounter. Such transpires as they attempt to bring their hopes to fruition.

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In the demonstration, Sarah Wright imagines traveling the world. Her initial step on this venture is the reverie of going to Portugal, Spain during her senior year in high school. Carina Orozco wants to achieve the honor of being the first individual in her family to graduate from the previously stated institution. Connor Head yearns to be a skateboarder. His plight is finding a sponsor for his desired activity. Nick Helms, who has his own alternative band, wants to make it as rock n’ roll musician. With the interconnecting of these accounts, Fuller and Ivy invoke a colorful, lively and compassionate group; a celluloid palette conceived of charismatic souls. They are easily relatable. Such makes it effortless for patrons to become swept up in their happenstances. This is true from the opening frame to the last. The result is an endeavor that is as emotional and harrowing as it is consistently entertaining and enlightening.

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What is just as fascinating and powerful is the denouncement of the public education system found herein. This is a massive obstacle for several of our protagonists. Some of the most riveting and poignant instances in the affair are derived from the fight several of these youth wage. This is to get more relevant resources for the unsighted into their own personal learning assembly. The labor than becomes as much about their ability to shatter the faux notion of limitation. They all yearn, regardless of their drive, to be perceived as every bit as capable of understanding and obtaining knowledge as their collective peers. This is the cause of the most captivating illustrations in the second half of the arrangement. In this section, those inflicted with this predicament try to do the best they can with the limited resources their scholarly place administers. Yet, Fuller and Ivy are not set to outright vilify. This specific area is presented with the same respect and dignity that the rest of the non-fiction projects onto all its various subjects. It yearns to make a change. This it succeeds monumentally at doing. All the while, it exudes the same reverence and bravery our central figures confidently carry. This is also a testament to Fuller and Ivy’s mature, appropriate, proficient and intelligent handling of the material. With this a quietly compelling tone is concocted. It illuminates all we come across. In turn, the spectators become an unbroken link to the singular viewpoints of those who deftly articulate their tales and experience in this sharply honed effort.

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Much in the manner of similar exertions, the chronicle is complete with its sporadic implementation of pictures of Sarah, Carina, Nick and Connor in their prior days. It also contains other related documents of our chief characters. There are also narrative voice-overs from our heroes and heroines themselves. Such heightens the intimacy stemming unbridled from the attempt itself. We are given stories about our main characters from the relatives who witnessed such occurrences firsthand. This effectively ties in to the plethora of perspectives and vibrant voices which flesh out Fuller and Ivy’s well-rounded, gripping tour de force. Many of these expository instances, especially those that dominate the first half hour, are undeniably touching. The various recounts of the birth, and the instant the kin who is articulating the anecdote found out their son or daughter could not see, are especially stalwart. But, there are quieter bits sprinkled about that are just as stirring. For instance, there is a segment that fits in this early framework. It showcases Sarah and her brother, Sam, going through a well-kept album of photographs. He describes who and what he is seeing to Sarah. Her smiling face often showcases the delight we all feel when pondering beloved memories of the past. Near the hour mark, there is a scene involving Carina searching for a dress with the assistance of those around her. These episodes are reminders of the brute influence of simplicity. It also exposes the beauty such a component derives when untouched. Such a quality resonates fiercely throughout the exhibition. Additionally, a near climactic portion displays Nick writing his own lyrics and explaining their therapeutic value and importance. This is in preparation for a show inside a Hot Topic location where he will debut the track. These are equally mesmerizing. This is for much the same modest reason as that stated above. Such also makes the movie about another permanently vital issue. This is the supreme healing nature of art.

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The Dallas International Film Festival and Big Sky Documentary Film Festival award-winner is as much a technical triumph as it is a transcendent, victorious summoning of the human spirit. Robert Lam delivers cinematography that is crisp and eye-popping. Simultaneously, this visual angle compliments the authentic veneer Fuller and Ivy provide spectacularly well within the recording. Sarah Devorkin and Mary Manhardt’s editing is phenomenally and seamlessly orchestrated. Arthur Baum, Michael Carmona, Gabe Salo and Wilson Stiner form a tremendous sound department. Their contribution consistently shines throughout the construction. Alice Gu, J. Christopher Miller, Christian Moldes and Arthur Yee incorporate hypnotic and proficient camera and electrical work. Furthermore, the music from Andrew Barkan is mesmerizing. It is the perfect soundtrack for the fearless folks at the heart of this breathtaking, real life opus.

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Though the year has just begun, I have no problem stating that Do You Dream in Color? is one of the best features of 2017. This is because I can’t imagine a movie accomplishing as much as Fuller and Ivy have here. Such a proclamation is especially accurate given the brief runtime of the endeavor. The depiction, which arrives on video on demand February 10th and hits select theaters afterwards, compels addressees to examine themselves and their own ambitions. More than that, it urges them to peer past any obstacles placed in their path that they deem “too daunting”. In so doing, it encourages them to move forward with their goals. It is a rarity nowadays that an arrangement of cinema contains such motivational control. Such is especially true when considering the overwhelming positivity this affair leaves audiences feeling. This is long after its terrifically satisfying, yet suitably open-ended, conclusion. Yet, the photoplay is expertly designed and thoughtful at every stage. There is genuine substance to the proceedings and the general impression it conveys. Fuller and Ivy want to alter, not only the broken system of edification and how those with disabilities are perceived, but how we look at ourselves. Because of this, Fuller and Ivy have created a must-see; a benchmark for honesty in cinema. This is the brand of drama that watchers of all ages and in all phases of life can benefit from witnessing for themselves. With all the negativity brimming in the world today, we desperately need more optimistic, rousing, message-minded and all-inclusive films like this one.

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