THE STYLIST (2020)
Claire (Najarra Townsend) is a lonely and emotionally troubled hairstylist who likes to live vicariously through the lives of her clients. She also murders those clients and scalps them, to wear later on when she is home pretending to be them. Maniac much, Claire? Her latest target of obsession is client Olivia (Brea Grant), who is about to be married and wants Claire to do her hair for the wedding. Will Olivia live happily ever after, or get the worst hairstyle ever on her big day?
Film is directed by Jill Gevargizian from her script along with Eric Stolze and Eric Havens. It’s a perfect example of a familiar story made fresh with an innovative and creative touch by a talented filmmaker. At it’s core, it’s a routine story about an emotionally troubled, demented and lonely individual, who forms an unhealthy and dangerous obsession/attachment to others. Sure, we’ve seen it before, but not quite like this. Gevargizian not only bathes the film in a lush visual style, with some very impressive shot composition, but gives it’s characters some nice depth, making Claire in particular sympathetic in her loneliness. Sure Claire is a demented young woman who murders those she obsesses with and keeps/wears their scalps, but we do feel sorry for her and she is almost likable, despite her homicidal activities. She is not a monster, but an incredibly damaged and sad human being. Olivia isn’t perfect either, despite being in the role of obsession/potential next victim, she can be a little selfish and self absorbed. When Olivia, at one point, rejects Claire, we do feel bad for her, even if we expect she’ll resort to violence and she does. The director and writers avoid the stereotypical character portrayals usually present in these types of tales. Gevargizian also climaxes her gory and tragic story with a gut punch ending. Even if it’s not beyond expectations, it still hits hard and shocks. It resonates as the credits role. The cast is very good, with a wonderfully demented and sad performance by Najarra Townsend (Contracted). It’s her show and she carries it beautifully. Great work from the actress in making Claire human and keeping her from simply being a monster. The cinematography by Robert Patrick Stern is absolutely amazing and there is a really great score by Nicholas Elert. Definitely worth watching.
Flick is currently showing exclusively for subscribers on ARROW–Player.com, but should be available for VOD streaming elsewhere in June.
Writer May (an excellent Brea Grant) believes a man is stalking her. Each night he appears and breaks into her house and she has to fight him off. Her husband Ted (Dhruv Uday Singh) seems to be very glib when discussing it, to the point where he leaves May and goes to stay with his parents, when she confronts him about his cavalier attitude. Even the police don’t seem to be taking her very seriously. Feeling abandoned and alone, May decides to deal with it in her own way, as each day the mysterious stalker (Hunter C. Smith) returns. Is this all in May’s head?…or is someone really out to hurt her?
Film is directed by Natasha Kermani, who gave us the interesting Imitation Girl, from a script by star Brea Grant. The film is partially commentary on how female victims of sexual assault, or harassment, become the ones under scrutiny and who have to prove themselves amid disbelief. May constantly fights to be believed and finds herself having to defend herself to everyone around her. Lucky is also about living in constant fear after such a trauma and learning to confront those fears. With each encounter, May becomes stronger and more resilient, as the mysterious attacker gets bolder and more violent. The people around her also become more and more dismissive and are of no help, so she is on her own. If it seems like something is a bit off here, with so many people not believing and even patronizing May, you would be right. It’s a slasher film as a metaphor for trauma and it’s effects. If there is anything predictable about the unconventional Lucky, is that this obviously isn’t going to end like a typical slasher movie and everything is not what it outwardly seems. We also know from early on there is more beneath the surface than Kermani and Grant are telling us, or plan to tell us. There is no spoon feeding here, or revelatory reveal. It’s up to the viewer to fill in the blanks and the pieces are there if you want to put them together. The film may ultimately be unsatisfyingly ambiguous to some, but as someone who grew up in a household with an abusive parent, the film’s messages about alienation, trauma and living in fear are well received, as are those of learning to face those fears and fight back. Another bold and innovative film from Kermani and a strong, clever script by Brea Grant. Lucky is streaming on Shudder.
Indie horror finds a rural family, under emotional duress, falling apart and being stalked by a demon who seeks to claim them.
Jordan Graham was a one man film production company on this, his first indie feature. Writing, directing, editing, producing, along with composing the score and doing the cinematography, it’s hard not to give him credit as this film was truly a six year labor of love. As a movie, though, it’s extremely moody and somber and is very slow moving, even for an 85 minute film. It does pick up in the last act, where there are some moments of shocking violence, when the demonic entity’s influence finally takes hold of one of the already troubled family members. With all the years of work Graham put into this flick, one wants to like it a lot more, but despite the atmosphere and spooky cinematography, it’s a bit of a chore to sit through till the last 15 minutes or so. The untraditional narrative structure may also not be for everyone, either. Small cast includes Michael Daniel, Rachel Johnson, Aurora Lowe, Gabriel Nicholson, June Peterson and Wendy Taylor, who all perform well. Worth watching just to appreciate the effort and hard work Jordan Graham put into this to get his movie made.
KING COHEN (2018)
Documentary traces the life and career of maverick filmmaker Larry Cohen from his beginnings in TV to some of his film classics and cult classics.
Fun and informative documentary is written and directed by Steve Mitchell and tells Cohen’s story with the words of the man himself and many who worked with him. It covers his start writing for television shows like The Fugitive and The Defenders, to the creation of his first TV show Branded and his now classic sci-fi TV show The Invaders. Larry and guests then relate his decision to make his own movies and the start of a legendary B-movie, film career, from his first feature Bone, to his Blaxploitation hits Black Caesar and Hell Up In Harlem, to his classic horrors It’s Alive, Q:The Winged Serpent and The Stuff. Along the way we get some great stories and anecdotes on Larry’s guerrilla style of filmmaking from Cohen and the many talents who worked in front of and behind the camera with him. Filming in famous places without permits, making actors do their own stunts, having New York’s S.W.A.T. team converge on one of his sets and turning gang members and everyday folk into actors, is all told to us, the eager audience. It’s a lot of fun and weaves a story of a man determined to do things his way…and he did! Larry sadly left us in 2019, but his film legacy lives on and this documentary is a nice companion piece to his many classic films. Flick is currently streaming free on Tubi.
Offbeat and darkly comic flick finds students at a small town high school spontaneously exploding for an undetermined reason. In the middle of all the bloody chaos, rebellious movie nerd Mara (Katherine Langford) finds love with fellow student Dylan (Charlie Plummer), despite the looming danger that either could be next.
Spontaneous is written and directed by Brian Duffield (who wrote Underwater and Love And Monsters) from a novel of the same name by Aaron Starmer. It can be very clever at times, heartfelt at others and darkly funny, without loosing sight of the very sweet love story at the core of it’s blood-spattered tale. These kids are dealing with mortality, loss and death for the first time and each of the characters reacts to the situation in their own interesting ways. Mara and Dylan press on with their relationship despite all that is happening around them. Life goes on, even when surrounded by death. It may sound very COVID centric, but the book was written in 2016, as were the initial plans to make a movie out of it. Many of the themes fit, though, as the kids are isolated, quarantined and medicated with the looming threat constantly present. They also have to deal with the sudden loss of some of those they love. The cast is really good with Katherine Langford giving Mara a buoyant personality with a nice sarcastic sense of humor. She carries the movie with a strong performance, as it is predominately Mara’s story. Charlie Plummer is sweet and a bit nerdy as the charmingly eccentric Dylan and Hayley Law does good work as Mara’s best friend Tess. The young cast have nice chemistry together. An interestingly contemporary movie that proves love can blossom in the most dire of situations and…to steal a quote from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan…”how we face death is at least as important as how we face life!” A really good little movie with some surprising depth and emotional resonance.
John (John C. Reilly) has been divorced for seven years and finally meets a beautiful, single woman named Molly (Marisa Tomei). The only thing standing in the way of true romance, though, is Molly’s uncomfortably close relationship with her clingy and extremely jealous son Cyrus (Jonah Hill).
Cyrus is written and directed by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass and is a very enjoyable indie comedy/drama for a number of reasons. It’s original, it’s funny and it also borders on brilliant in portraying those uncomfortable situations that occur when things aren’t quite right and we don’t know how to deal with them. Most of all, it’s the performances that make this so worth watching. Marisa Tomei once again proves she is a remarkable actress who deserves her every award and nomination she’s achieved. It is, though, John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill who really surprise us with strong performances as two very dysfunctional people. Reilly and Hill show they can really act when given strong material and aren’t reduced to comic sidekicks and supporting characters like they usually are. Both handle their roles with layered performances and their scenes together bristle with emotion and energy, as the two characters fight for dominance in what turns into a sort of twisted love triangle. If you like offbeat indie films this is a real treat.
Shudder original finds internet beauty and make-up personality Mia (Daisye Tutor) dog sitting for her sister Nicole (Emily Goss). While at Nicole’s house, Mia comes under attack from a mysterious individual who taunts her and makes her play sadistic games with her friends’ lives in the balance.
Newest addition to the internet/cellphone stalker sub-genre is written and directed by Jennifer Harrington from a story by Alesia Glidewell. It’s fairly routine story-wise, as this recent trend of horror flicks go. Jennifer Harrington does direct effectively and there are some chilling moments. It doesn’t really get interesting till the last act reveal of who is stalking Mia and why. It is a nasty revelation and a bit unexpected, but works well in being fairly disturbing, as it makes things unsettlingly even more personal. Mia’s selfish behavior may have come back to haunt her. The commentary on our online social lives, especially in these COVID isolation times, is becoming commonplace in these flicks as of late, but when Shook does it’s own thing with it’s familiar tale, is when Harrington most shows she has some potential. The cast is also solid with Tutor doing good work as our initially shallow heroine and at under 90 minutes, it is also short and to the point. Far from perfect, but still worth a look if you are into the recent spate of social media based thrillers. Available to stream on Shudder.
MONSTER HUNTER (2020)
Video game based flick tells of parallel worlds, our own and one ruled by monsters. U.S. Army Captain Natalie Artemis (Milla Jovovich) and her squad of soldiers are on maneuvers in the desert, when a mysterious storm throws them into that other world. There, her team is quickly decimated by the monstrous inhabitants and she is left wounded and alone. To survive, Natalie must form a reluctant partnership with a local warrior (Tony Jaa) while trying to find out how to get home alive.
Adaptation is written and directed by Paul W. S. Anderson in his usual competent but by-the-numbers style. There really isn’t much of a story here, but when you go to see a movie called Monster Hunter, you don’t go looking for Shakespeare. There are plenty of interestingly designed monsters, their havoc and carnage is abundant and there are enough battles to keep one entertained during the 103 minute run time. The SPFX are well done, especially the CGI critters and Jovovich makes for a satisfactory heroine, as she learns to fight the local wild life. When all is said and done, not much is accomplished and the film has an annoyingly open ending, but there are enough fun monster skirmishes to pass the time and a nice variety of beasties to gawk at. The film is also visually engaging, with an effective production design and there is a cool score by Paul Haslinger. Fun, but forgettable. Also stars Ron Perlman in a small role as a warrior chieftain of this lost world.
WILLY’S WONDERLAND (2021)
When a tough loner (Nicolas Cage) gets his tires suspiciously blown out in the rural town of Hayesville, he’s coerced into paying off the repairs by spending the night cleaning up WIlly’s Wonderland, a shut down family restaurant looking to reopen. Once inside, the animatronic characters become lethally animated and “The Janitor” must fight for his life. He’s joined by a group of tough teens, led by the strong-willed Liv (Emily Tosta), who are looking to destroy the place once and for all. They inform him he has been tricked into being a human sacrifice to this now evil establishment founded by a Satan worshipping serial killer (Grant Cramer). Will any of them get out alive?
Flick is directed by Kevin Lewis from a script by G. O. Parsons and both script and director play this amusing premise straight and let the material provide the fun. It is a good time to see Cage as the silent loner…literally, he has no dialogue…who seems to be quite a match for the demonic animatronics. Our teens arrive to up the body count, though Liv is there to give exposition on how this place came to be a sacrificial killing ground and the town’s dark little secret. Emily Tosta actually makes a solid heroine as Liv and she keeps up with Cage quite nicely. It’s too bad she gets left out of the action in the last act, but it is Cage’s show. As for the veteran actor, he never goes too far over the top and the ambiguousness of his character works in the film’s favor. The flick makes no apologies, or excuses, for what it is…Nicolas Cage and a young hottie battling serial killer possessed animatronic puppets. It moves quickly at only 90 minutes and its fun and delightfully gory. It could have been a little more energetic, but is far better than the disappointing Banana Splits movie which was similar in story and tone. Also stars Beth Grant as the town’s sheriff and Ric Reitz as Willy’s current owner, Tex.
WRONG TURN (2021)
Flick is less a remake, reboot or re-imagining than basically just a woods set movie using a familiar title. The story opens with a concerned father (Matthew Modine) entering a small, rural, mountain town to find his daughter Jen (Charlotte Vega), who has gone missing. We then travel back six weeks to find Jen and her five friends (Adain Bradley, Emma Dumont, Dylan McTee, Adrian Favela and Vardaan Arora) in that same town and having a bit of a problem with some locals in a bar. While camping the next day, the group fatally encounter traps in the woods and soon a group of animal pelt and skull wearing people. In a mistake of intent, they kill one and now they are taken prisoner by “The Foundation” a society of pagan-like mountain folk who don’t tolerate intruders and want to put them on trial for their crime…and then it gets weird.
New franchise flick is directed by Mike P. Nelson (The Domestics) from a script by original Wrong Turn writer Alan B. McElroy. To sum it up, it’s as if M Night Shyamalan directed a backwoods set The Hills Have Eyes only with weird Nordic Pagans instead of redneck cannibals. Those expecting our obnoxious city folk to become happy meals, will themselves be a bit unhappy. There is still some very gruesome violence, as some of the group pay dearly for their transgressions on Foundation land. This is also where it takes a Shyamalan twist…and looses it’s grip…as the survivors are forced to make a choice of a horrible fate called “darkness” or join The Foundation. We then travel forward six weeks with Jen’s dad (Modine) going after The Foundation to rescue his daughter. It gets even weirder here, but also falls apart, as it’s just too ridiculous for it’s own good. There is a lot of bloodshed and it comes to a screwed up ending, that extends into the end credits. After what we’ve sat through, though, why not? Overall, there is an appreciation for trying something new and there are some effective moments and some disturbing ones. The cast perform well and Vega makes a solid heroine, but maybe it’s a bit too M. Night (circa The Village) when it could should have stayed more Tobe Hooper (circa Chainsaw).