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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BARE BONES: MALEVOLENT (2018)

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MALEVOLENT (2018)

Netflix original takes place in 1986 Scotland where American siblings Angela (Florence Pugh) and Jackson (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) are running a paranormal investigation scam to earn money. They are called to investigate a former foster home where some of the girls were murdered and the owner Mrs. Green (Celia Imrie) believes they now haunt the house. What starts out as another con becomes far too real for the phony investigators and their very lives may now be in danger as there is something malevolent in that house.

Despite there being a lot of familiar elements here, the film is well directed by Olaf De Fleur from a script by Ben Ketai (The Forest) and Eva Konstantopoulos. It’s atmospheric and has a Gothic visual style. De Fleur uses it’s spooky location well and there is some effectively bloody violence in the last act. Florence Pugh is very good as Angela, a young woman whose mother was thought insane, but apparently had legitimate psychic abilities that her daughter may now share. Ben Lloyd-Hughes is also a perfect douche as her con artist brother, who has no problem bilking grieving innocents out of their cash and doesn’t realize his sister may be the real thing. The rest of the cast are effective as well, even if we see certain character revelations coming. Nothing new, but effective enough to entertain and Pugh is an actress worth keeping an eye on as she gives Angela some integrity and depth.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: HOUSEWIFE (2017)

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HOUSEWIFE (2017)

Second film from Baskin writer/director Can Evrenol tells the story of Holly (Clémentine Poidatz), who as a child, witnessed the brutal murder of her sister and father by her mentally disturbed mother (Defne Halman). Now an adult, Holly is married to an author/artist (Ali Aksöz), though is still so haunted by visions of that night, that she can’t use a toilet, which is where she saw her sister drowned. When Holly is introduced to the charismatic leader (David Sakurai) of an apocalyptic cult, the lines between nightmare and reality really start to blur.

As co-written, with Cem Özüduru and directed by Everol, Housewife can be summed up as Lords of Salem meets Hereditary, even though initially released in Turkish cinemas eight months before the latter. The flick shares some of Baskin’s flaws, in that the characters aren’t all that endearing, not even Holly, and there really isn’t much of a narrative story to follow once we get the gruesome set-up. There are some disturbing images and some brutal violence, but it’s not enough to at least keep our attention as did his continually disturbing previous film. In fact it’s kind of dull at times and really doesn’t reach Baskin levels of freakishness until it’s final ten minutes and at that point, it’s too little and too late to save it. Everol can certainly create some unnerving imagery and give one the creeps, but if he ever learns to add some dramatic intensity and emotional involvement to one of his films, he’d really have something. Watchable as a curiosity, but somewhat tedious despite being a scant 82 minutes. Even when it does finally crank things up, it reminds you of other, better movies.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: HELL HOUSE LLC 2 (2018)

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HELL HOUSE LLC 2 (2018)

Sequel to the spooky surprise Hell House LLC takes place eight years later with internet journalist Jessica Fox (Jillian Geurts) planning to find out actually what happened in the Abaddon Hotel turned Halloween Haunt, on that fateful night, documented in the first film. She convinces surviving documentarian Mitchell Cavanaugh (Vasile Flutur) to join her crew (Dustin Austen and Joy Shatz) and a pompous TV psychic (Kyle Ingleman) to go inside the allegedly haunted building. Obviously, breaking into the sinister Abaddon will turn out to be a very bad idea.

Film is once again written and directed by Stephen Cognetti and is a little disappointing, especially since the first film was such a creepy surprise. Flick starts off on shaky ground with a set-up from a TV show called Morning Mysteries. These opening segments are a bit hokey and the flick only starts to get spooky once Jessica and company sneak into the Abaddon and become trapped. Once inside, Cognetti proves he can still muster up some very creepy moments and scares. Unfortunately the film doesn’t maintain it’s atmosphere as we keep cutting back to the Morning Mysteries segment that occurred before they enter the sinister hotel and then to a police interrogation with a bloodied Jessica that takes place a few days later. Going back and forth breaks up some of the tension Cognetti started to build. The last act also looses some sinister steam as we finally meet the source of the hotel’s evil and they turn out to be a cliché pontificating villain. The momentum stops dead as they chatter away about their evil plot.

The sequel’s worth a look if you enjoyed the first flick and has some very spooky moments of it’s own, but it’s not as consistently unsettling like the first film and the climax is rather anti-climactic…not to mention predictable. Flick hints at yet another installment, but maybe it’s time Cognetti moved on from the Abaddon and gave us something new. You can find Hell House LLC 2 exclusively on Shudder.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: PREDATORS (2010)

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PREDATORS (2010)

Second direct Predator sequel finds an assorted group of mercenaries, gangsters and killers (Adrian Brody, Danny Trejo and Alice Braga to name a few) kidnapped from Earth and dropped on a remote planet. There the group are hunted for sport by a group of familiar looking alien creatures.

Directed by Nimród Antal from a script by Alex Litvak and Michael Finch, flick gets a lot right, far more then those AVP movies, but also falters in a few places that keep it from being the great movie Predator fans were hoping for. Returning to the jungle is fine, as is sending in another collection of badasses to challenge the hunting skills of the title creatures. The first half of the film is good, as is the cast and characters. It’s the middle of the film where the trouble begins when the film slows down for the scenes with Laurence Fishburn. These sequences serve only for exposition and really aren’t needed. It stops the film dead. The flick starts to pick up speed again, but only to deliver a climax far too derivative of the original and far too open ended to really satisfy. It works fine enough to an extent, but we’ve seen it all before. So far, Predators is the best of the sequels up to this point and a step in the right direction for those who haven’t tired of this series. There is a lot of action and an interesting plot element that there is more than one type of Predator and they don’t all get along. Entertaining if you don’t expect something that measures up too close to the Arnie original.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: MANDY (2018)

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MANDY (2018)

Mandy is a surreal and over-the-top revenge story from director Panos Cosmatos and starring Nicolas Cage, who is no stranger to over-the-top. The story is set in 1983 and finds logger Red (Cage) living in peaceful harmony with his artist/lover Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), in a secluded cabin in the woods. One night they are besieged by a group of apocalyptic bikers, who brutalize Red and abduct Mandy by order of Children of the New Dawn cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache). When Mandy rejects the deranged Jeremiah, he and his people burn her alive right before Red’s eyes. Red frees himself, forges a weapon of vengeance that would make a Klingon cry tears of joy and tracks down biker and cultist alike for bloody revenge.

Cosmatos directs this wild film, from a script by he and Aaron Stewart-Ahn, with such a surreal touch that it almost feels like it’s set on another world…and maybe it is. It’s like Last House on the Left meets Phanstasm, with a lot of other movies mixed in, as Red uses bow, arrow, chainsaw and his axe of vengeance to slice and dice his way to Jeremiah. It’s not an easy path to revenge and Red earns his scars, but he gives as good as he gets and better. It’s weirdly atmospheric, delightfully unhinged, giddily gory and we get the Nicholas Cage we came for. It’s also has some stunning cinematography by Benjamin Loeb and an amazing 80s-esque score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, who passed away earlier this year. If there is one gripe, it’s that at 121 minutes, it is a bit too long for it’s own good and a few scenes…especially Jeremiah’s delirious pontificating…wear out their welcome before they are over. Otherwise this is an original and enjoyably out-there tale of bloody revenge with some vicious and brutal action scenes.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: BLOOD FEST (2018)

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BLOOD FEST (2018)

Horror fan Dax (Robbie Kay) is excited to go the the ultimate horror movie festival, “Blood Fest” with his friends Krill (Jacob Batalon) and Sam (Seychelle Gabriel). However, his psychologist father (Tate Donovan) protests all things horror due to the murder of Dax’s mother by one of his patients years ago. His father forbids him to go, but Dax goes anyway only to find the horrors of Blood Fest are very real.

Horror/comedy is written and directed by Owen Egerton (Follow) and has a severe case of The Cabin In The Woods envy. Much like that film, the horror homages fly fast and furious while a bunch of nerds watch and manipulate from behind computer consoles. It still has it’s heart in the right place, even if Egerton hasn’t come up with the most original idea, unlike his twisted and disturbing Follow. The cast are very charming, especially Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Batalon and feisty Seychelle Gabriel, who steals the flick from leading man Kay. There is some nice gore and some cool fiends…mainly zombies, vampires and clowns…to harass our characters and it’s amusing enough even if it’s big reveal is no surprise and the film is quite derivative of things seen before. Also stars Barbara Dunkelman as a wannabe actress trapped inside with our heroes and a cameo by Zachary Levi.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: MARA (2018)

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MARA (2018)

Police psychologist Kate (Olga Kurylenko) is trying to determine if a woman named Helena (Rosie Fellner) brutally murdered her husband in their own bed. Helena claims her husband was being stalked by a demonic entity, but police detective McCarthy (Lance E. Nichols) thinks she should be locked up one way of the other. Kate’s investigation starts to reveal a series of similar deaths that may be linked to a sleep demon called Mara (Javier Botet) and worse yet…Kate might be next.

Very similar to the 2016 Dead Awake with Jocelin Donahue, which also involved sleep paralysis and a dream stalker, but this flick does right a lot of what that movie did wrong. Mara is a good example of how a skilled director, in this case Clive Tonge, can take very familiar story elements and make an entertaining and effective movie out of them. Jonathan Frank’s script offers nothing we haven’t seen before in films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Mama (ironically also played by Javier Botet), but the film is atmospheric and gives us some nice chills thanks to Tonge’s good use of these familiar dream demon tropes. Olga Kurylenko portrays a strong and likeable heroine to emotionally invest us and there is also a sympathetic turn by Doomsday’s Craig Conway as a war vet who’s crossed paths with Mara and is desperately wanting to be believed. Mara herself is a bit of a routine boogie man (boogie woman?), but she is utilized well enough. There is nothing new or inventive here, but there is some effective direction and good performances to turn the familiar into spooky entertainment.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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