BARE BONES: PLEDGE (2019)

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PLEDGE (2019)

Nerds David (Zack Weiner), Justin (Zachery Byrd) and Ethan (Phillip Andre Botello) are looking to pledge a fraternity and not having any luck. Respect from their campus peers is something they are lacking. They’re invited to a party at a remote social club by pretty Rachel (Erica Boozer) and are offered a chance to join. To be accepted they must go through 48 hours of hazing, which at the deranged hands of those running the club, turns into two days of abusive and increasing violent treatment. Can the trio make it through this brutal initiation alive?

Tale of the horrors of hazing gone extreme is written by star Zack Weiner and directed by Daniel Robbins. As the subject of harsh college initiation practices has made the news more than once in the last few years, Weiner and Robbins have decide to take it to new heights…or should we say, new lows. The film is disturbing as we watch the three tormented continuously with a couple of other young men. After a party of booze, drugs and beautiful girls they are lured into pledging, which turns out to be a blood-soaked mistake. The film gets progressively darker as the ordeals become more sadistic and cruel and just as it starts to hit that torture porn level, it turns into a deadly fight to survive, as our three pledges have had enough. There are some twists and reveals along the way and the cast all do well as villain and victim alike. While we’ve seen stuff like this before, it is done effectively and well here. Pledge can be an unpleasant sit at times, but it shows filmmakers with promise. Overall, a deft mix of social commentary and straight up horror with a chilling finale. Also stars Aaron Dalla Villa, Cameron Cowperthwaite and Jesse Pimentel as the tormenters in question.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: ASSASSINATION NATION (2018)

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ASSASSINATION NATION (2018)

High schooler Lily Colson (Odessa Young) lives in the small town of Salem in a modern age where everyone’s deepest and darkest secrets are stored digitally. When someone hacks into the town’s phones and computers and releases those secrets across the internet, the whole of Salem becomes unglued. Worse still, Lily, who is having an affair with a married older man (Joel McHale ), is blamed for the hack. The whole town is now out to kill her…literally! Can Lily and gal pals, Sarah (Suki Waterhouse), Em (Abra) and Bex (Hari Nef) keep their heads with a whole town wanting them dead…or has this town picked the wrong girls to take their anger out on?

Written and directed by Sam Levinson, Assassination Nation can be stylish and edgy fun, though it also tries a little too hard to be hip. It’s the type of film which has become all too common in the wake of Quentin Tarantino, mixing sarcastic humor with graphic violence and “going there” whenever possible. The little town of Salem is host for a new kind of witch hunt as everyone’s secrets from pedophilia, homosexuality and all sorts of sexual hi-jinx are bared for all to see and a young woman is wrongfully blamed for the purge. While it does overdo it a bit with trying to be hyper-stylized and cutting edge, it is also an amusing portrayal of the dangers of today’s society having to document everything they do, especially the naughty stuff. Sometimes secrets should be kept…well, secret. Definitely worth a look, especially for the second half when all hell breaks loose.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: GOOSEBUMPS 2-HAUNTED HALLOWEEN (2018)

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GOOSEBUMPS 2: HAUNTED HALLOWEEN (2018)

Sequel has two boys, Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam (Caleel Harris) finding an unfinished book by R.L. Stine (Jack Black) in an abandoned house. Upon opening it, they accidentally unleash the evil ventriloquist dummy Slappy (voiced by Mick Wingert). Slappy now plots to bring Halloween to life and starts bringing monsters into the sleepy town of Wardenclyffe, New York. Can Sonny, Sam and Sonny’s sister Sarah (Madison Iseman) stop Slappy’s evil plot!?

Film is lackadaisically directed by Ari Sandel (The Duff) from a story and script by Rob Lieber and Darren Lemke. It’s a weak script that replays a lot of the same schtick from the first flick, yet not as energetic or fun. Black’s appearance as Stine is basically an extended cameo and the movie as a whole seems a very uninspired effort. It has the definite feel of a paycheck job for those behind the camera. There is some very cool Halloween imagery, some amusing bits and Madison Iseman (Tales Of Halloween, Jumanji) does make for a feisty and resilient heroine. The rest of the cast seem to be having a fun time, but the film itself isn’t as buoyant as it’s predecessor. A mediocre follow-up to a surprisingly fun first flick. Also stars Wendi McLendon-Covey as Sonny and Sarah’s single mom.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: PEPPERMINT (2018)

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PEPPERMINT (2018)

Loving wife and mother RIley North (Jennifer Garner) watches in horror when she sees her husband (Jeff Hephner) and daughter (Cailey Fleming) gunned down by members of a drug cartel on her daughter’s birthday. After a failed attempt to bring the thugs to justice, Riley disappears. Five years later, members of the cartel start dying and it seems Riley North has transformed into an avenging angel and revenge is exactly what she is back for!

Film is directed very by-the-numbers by Pierre Morel from an extremely lazy script by Chad St. John. Lazy because the most important aspects of the story, such as Riley’s transformation from mom to vigilante and even the killing of the three men actually responsible for her husband and daughter’s deaths, occur off-screen. We jump five years after the ineffective trial to RIley’s war on the cartel in midstream. All we get is some FBI babble about her spending time in Europe and Asia and being a cage fighter to a gun store theft with Riley taking some very specific weaponry. Riley is now wiping out cartel members like a widowed Rambo and becoming a folk hero on the mean streets in the process. Where did she acquire her arms training? Her knowledge of guns and ammo? She’s outmaneuvering and mowing down men who have spent their entire lives with guns and in gangs. When we last saw Riley she was a banker. What really happened to her in those five years aside from what little we are told? That’s what’s important to give the story some needed substance, but St. John’s script gives us scraps and more clichés than Riley delivers bullets. Even an 80s style training montage would have supplied more information. At least Garner is very effective as Riley and it’s too bad her soulful anti-heroine isn’t in a much better movie that the actress’ work deserves.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN IT’S WALLS (2018)

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THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN IT’S WALLS (2018)

Movie is based on the book by John Bellairs and tells of young Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro), whose parents have recently been killed in a car accident. He’s sent to live with his eccentric uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) in a creepy old house and soon finds out Jonathan is a warlock. Lewis also discovers that there is a clock in the walls of the house and one that may have a sinister purpose. Can Lewis, his uncle and their witch of a neighbor Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) find out the clock’s true purpose and stop it from whatever evil it’s intended for?

Film is directed with surprising restraint by Eli Roth (Hostel, The Green Inferno), who is most known for his over-the-top gore flicks, though it could have used a bit of those flicks’ bombasity. The script is by Eric Kripke based on Bellairs’ book and while the cast give it their all, there is just something lacking from the proceedings. The film is slower paced than Roth’s usual fare and never really ignites the spark needed to make the film more fun. There is plenty of magic and the supernatural on hand and some very spooky imagery, but the film lacks a strong sense of charm or wonder. It’s a decent enough watch and you can tell Black and Blanchett especially are having a good time with the material, but the movie itself never really takes off running as the popcorn entertainment it’s intended to be. Even the last act confrontation with Kyle MacLachlan’s re-animated warlock villain never reaches the excitement, or suspense, level it needs. Overall, Eli Roth shows he can direct with some restraint, but maybe it’s not that good an idea here, as the film is a bit too laid back to entertain more than just moderately.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: VENOM (2018)

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VENOM (2018)

Comic book based flick finds intrepid reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) investigating the Life Foundation and it’s CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), who unbeknownst to Eddie has just retrieved some symbiotic organisms from space. Eddie gets infected by one of those organisms when sneaking into the foundation headquarters and now he and the alien creature become one as the anti-hero Venom! Can they stop Drake, who has acquired his own sinister symbiote and plans to help them invade the Earth?

Film is directed well enough by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland), but from a mess of a script by Jeff Pinker, Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel. What story there is, is all over the place and the tone of the film goes back and forth from serious Sci-fi thriller to absurd comedy, sometimes in the same scene. Hardy can be a hoot at times, though, with an eccentric performance and the relationship between he and Venom can be amusing. There are a few decent action sequences, but the human villains are boring and Venom and his adversary Riot are obvious cheesy CGI creations and have no real weight or presence. Overall it’s a silly film, with sub-standard SPFX and is possibly the worst Marvel flick since the equally messy and tonally challenged Iron Man 3. You’d think with the success of the R-rated Deadpool, they’d have gone for something a lot edgier considering the subject matter.
A schizophrenic and forgettable first solo venture for the Spider-Man villain turned anti-hero, though box office returns will probably earn it the sequel the mid-credits scene sets up. Also stars Michelle Williams as Brock’s long suffering girlfriend Anne and a cameo from Woody Harrelson as a familiar face from the Venom comics.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER (2018)

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THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER (2018)

Film takes place ten years after a small Kentucky town was plagued by a series of murders by a serial killer known as The Clovehitch Killer. The killings mysteriously stopped with the killer never found. When young Tyler (Charlie Plummer) finds a disturbing photo in his father’s truck, he starts to question things about his churching-going, Boy Scout master father (Dylan McDermott). The more Tyler seeks answers, the more he starts to suspect his father and The Clovehitch Killer might be one and the same.

Written by Christopher Ford and directed by Duncan Skiles, this is a methodically paced thriller that evokes similar films like the recent Summer of 84 and the classic Frailty. Whether his father is really a killer or not, isn’t the true mystery here, but what a boy will do when he finds out disturbing things about his own flesh and blood. The film is well done and the performances are excellent and it has a nice replay of events from another POV that works well in the last act. What holds this thriller back is that it lacks a real punch. It’s a bit too understated for it’s own good and since we all know where it is heading, it needed more punctuation at the time of it’s reveals. It’s a well-made thriller about what darkness can lurk beneath the All-American veneer, but one that needed a bit more of a “wow” factor to really be something worth talking more about. As it is, it is still an unsettling thriller about what one might be faced with when learning dark things about someone they love. Also stars Samantha Mathis as Tyler’s mother and Madisen Beaty, who impresses, as a girl who befriends Tyler and with a personal interest in Clovehitch’s identity.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: WELCOME TO MERCY (2018)

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WELCOME TO MERCY (2018)

Unconventional possession flick finds Madaline (Kristen Ruhlin) and her young daughter Willow (Sophia Massa) returning to the rural home of her estranged parents. Once there, she starts to experience stigmata and priest Father Joseph (Juris Strenga) sends her to a convent to find out what is happening to her. Thus Madaline embarks on a journey of demonic entities and secrets that have been kept for decades.

Film is atmospherically directed by Tommy Bertelsen, but it is the script by star Kristen Ruhlin that sets this apart from traditional possession flicks, or other religious themed horror. It takes a while to realize what is actually going on at the convent and that’s on purpose, as this flick is equal parts mystery as it is supernatural thriller. It’s no secret that there is a demon fighting for Madaline’s soul, but why it has targeted her, or how events of her past are responsible are what we find out during the course of this spooky and sometimes clever flick. There are some nice red herrings along the way and we may not be watching what we think we are. The performances are also solid, characters well-written and director Bertelsen creates some good tension while making effective use of the Gothic Latvian locations. Worth a look for something that isn’t as conventional as it first appears.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: TERRIFIED aka ATERRADOS (2017)

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TERRIFIED aka ATERRADOS (2017)

Argentinian supernatural horror finds a police detective (Maxi Ghione) teaming up with three paranormal investigators (Norberto Gonzalo, Elvira Onetto and George Lewis) when a neighborhood starts to suffer horrific…and fatal… supernatural occurrences.

Written and directed by Demián Rugna, Aterrados can be one disturbing and scary flick at times. It has some very creepy sequences, some shocking and brutal violence and a very steady atmosphere of dread and mystery. The ghost FX are all executed in camera with actors in very effective make-up and the gore is very well done and quite gruesome. Rugna creates some very scary moments and it helps that even his valiant leads, despite their expertise in their fields, are all quite afraid too…and they should be. What really holds the film back is that none of it is ever given any explanation, or are we given any reason why these spirits decide to suddenly attack this one block and start quite brutally killing residents. Who are they even? Ambiguity can be useful in stories like this, but getting no hints or exposition at all, as for what is happening and why, leaves us very unsatisfied by it’s conclusion. We get a lot of good scares and graphic deaths, but it all leads nowhere and we are given no clues as to why it suddenly starts happening. Still worth a look, but you won’t know any more at the beginning than you do at it’s end. Terrified, or Aterrados in Spanishis a Shudder exclusive only on their streaming horror network.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: UNFRIENDED-DARK WEB (2018)

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UNFRIENDED-DARK WEB (2018)

When Matias (Colin Woodell) takes a laptop from a coffee shop lost and found, it opens he and his friends up to be cyber stalked by a mysterious group on the dark web. They are drawn into a deadly online game and soon one by one start to fall prey to this sadistic organization.

As written and directed by Stephen Susco this is an amusing but unrelated sequel to Unfriended. We’ve seen folks victimized by unknown adversaries on the web before and seen people drawn into deadly games too, but it works. The victims are a likable bunch and even if it starts to get a little out of hand in the last act, it’s directed well enough to keep one entertained, as the cyber chatters fall to the manipulations of this mysterious and malevolent dark web group. Sure the reveals are no big surprise, but it had some effective moments and Susco keeps your attention. Not bad for a night on the couch.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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