BARE BONES: CANDY LAND (2022)

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CANDY LAND (2022)

Slasher flick centers on a group of sex workers at a remote truck stop. Their days and nights are filled with slobs, drug addicts, religious fanatics and a pervert of a local sheriff (William Baldwin). None of those are their biggest problem, though, as they are now being stalked by a vicious killer brutally offing them one by one.

Horror is written and directed by John Swab who creates a very unsettling slasher. This grindhouse style flick is filled with a bunch of eccentric and oddball characters, some likable and some not. There are some vicious kills, and some disturbing sexual situations, as the line of work these folks are in is rarely pleasant. Swab surprisingly lets us know who our killer is very early on, and it works, as now we know to be afraid for characters when they are in the killer’s presence. We know who they are, but the inhabitants of this den of iniquity do not…and we have come to like or feel sorry for most of them. The bloody violence has impact, is well rendered and Swab gets pretty good work out of most of the cast. Not a classic but a solid slasher and worth a watch, especially if you like grindhouse era stuff. Also stars Olivia (It Follows) Luccardi and Owen (X) Campbell.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE CHILDREN (2023)

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THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE CHILDREN (2023)

Couple Margaret (Alisha Wainwright) and Ben (Zach Gilford) go on a camping trip with their friends Ellie (Amanda Crew) and Thomas (Carlos Santos) who bring their children Lucy (Briella Guiza) and Spencer (David Mattle). While hiking, the couples and kids discover some ruins. Within the ruins is a deep pit, one that seems to immediately get the kid’s attention. Soon the children begin to behave strangely and more aggressively and Ben, who is on medication, claims he saw the two of them fall into the pit and are now not who they appear to be. Tensions rise between the couples as the children manipulate them and pit them against each other. Is Ben right and are the children something other than they appear?

Bad kids horror is well directed by Roxanne Benjamin from a script by T. J. Cimfel and David White. She gives the familiar story a very strong atmosphere of dread and foreboding, as well as some nice tension and suspense. The story of kids turned evil and of folks being replaced as sinister doppelgangers has been done many times, but Benjamin makes it entertaining even if we already know that There’s Something Wrong with The Children long before the adults do. Once all is revealed…or heavily implied…it’s a bloody cat and mouse game with creepy kids vs the remaining adults. The cast all do good work, including young Briella Guiza and David Mattle…and the film does an efficient job of setting up potential conflicts between the adults that the kids later exploit. There is some bloody violence and not everything is spelled out so there is some spooky ambiguity to the proceedings. Like M3gan it is another example of a director and writers making good use of a familiar concept. The cool and atmospheric score by The Gifted is also worth mentioning.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: M3GAN (2023)

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M3GAN (2023)

Young Cady (Violet McGraw) has lost both her parents in a tragic car accident. Her Aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) gets custody and is overwhelmed by the prospect of being a parent to the emotionally wounded little girl. Gemma works for the Funki toy company that makes high tech toys. She is currently working on the Model 3 Generative Android…or M3gan for short…and thinks the artificial intelligence equipped doll would be the perfect companion for Cady. At first, she is, but soon M3gan (played by Amie Donald; voiced by Jenna Davis) starts to take her programming to protect Cady a bit too seriously and people start dying. Now Gemma needs to find a way to stop her, but the android’s ability to learn and adapt may have created a very intelligent and quite devious opponent.

Robot run amok flick is well directed by Gerard Johnstone from a script and story by Akela Cooper and James Wan. There is nothing original here. We have seen the killer toy or domestic robot gone awry many times before. M3gan, however, is not trying to reinvent the wheel, just have a little fun with it, and fun it is. The film takes itself seriously, but with tongue planted firmly in cheek, as the overprotective and self-aware android turns to deadly methods to protect Cady and then herself, when Gemma’s Dr. Frankenstein realizes she has created a monster. There are some violent scenes, and the last act in particular really delivers as Me3an goes all Terminator after they try to pull the plug on her. The cast here are good, especially young Violet McGraw whose onscreen bond with the android comes across as sincere. Sure, it’s predictable, but it’s an entertaining enough flick and utilizes the clichés and tropes quite well. A good example of a filmmaker using an oft told tale and all its familiar accoutrements and using them to good effect. A fun and sometimes twistedly entertaining flick.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: SICK (2023)

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SICK (2022)

COVID era slasher finds selfish party girl Parker Mason (Gideon Adlon) taking her friend Miri (Bethlehem Million) to a lake house to quarantine in the middle of the COVID pandemic. Her quasi-boyfriend DJ (Dylan Sprayberry) follows them up there to confront Parker about a social media broadcasted dalliance with another guy. That is the least of their worries as Parker is getting cryptic texts and calls, and soon it is obvious the trio is not alone. 

Slasher is well directed by John Hyams (the son of director Peter Hyams) from a script by Scream scribe Kevin Williamson and Katelyn Crabb. It is a routine slasher, but gets the job done well enough. It is basically Scream meets any recent quarantine film, and as such it can get a bit preachy at times when touching on the subject of those who carelessly spread the virus due to negligence or selfishness. There are some vicious kills, though the body count is small and there are also some brutal fight sequences. The reveal in the last act is borderline silly, but it does lead to a welcome shift from slasher to survival thriller and it is a vicious and bloody one, with Parker and Miri proving themselves tough and resilient against their opponents. The cast are good, and overall, it is an effective horror despite being somewhat derivative. Sick is currently streaming on Peacock and is worth a watch if you like a solid slasher that doesn’t overstay its welcome at under 90 minutes.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: SKINAMARINK (2022)

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SKINAMARINK (2022)

Horror film from IFC Midnight and Shudder takes place in 1995 and has four-year-old Kevin (Lucas Paul) and his sister Kaylee (Dali Rose Tetreault) finding their parents (Ross Paul and Jaime Hill) suddenly gone in the middle of the night and strange things starting to occur. Soon it is quite obvious that the two are not alone and who or whatever is in the house with them is otherworldly and malevolent.
 
Experimental horror flick is written and directed by Kyle Edward Ball and is based on a nightmare he had as a child. It’s hard to be overly critical of a film that is made structurally like an actual nightmare, complete with a sometimes-incoherent narrative, surreal camera work and visuals, and an extremely methodical pace. One can appreciate the effort to make something different, but Skinamarink is simply both too much and too little for a 100-minute-long film. It’s excruciatingly boring and it’s almost until the end of the film that we start to piece things together, and then it simply ends without a traditional or at least satisfying resolution, or one of any kind for that matter. Yes, dreams rarely have a coherent plot or a beginning, middle and end, but movies do, and this was a little too fractured and slow-paced, not to mention over-long to keep one’s interest. There is literally no story or character development at all. With a constant barrage of camera angles from the POV of the carpet and corners of the ceiling and pieces of furniture, instead of the characters, it was hard to even tell who was talking, much less get to know or care about Kevin or Kaylee. It’s literally about 95 percent shots of parts of the house. There were a few disturbing images in the last ten minutes or so, but it was too little and too late. What was most likely a well-intended attempt to recreate a real nightmare, just comes across as a pretentious, sometimes confusing and extremely dull night at the movies.
 
-MonsterZero NJ
 

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BARE BONES: THE MENU (2022)

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THE MENU (2022)

Dark humored flick has passionate foodie Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) taking date Margo (Anya Taylor-Joy) to an exclusive, private island located restaurant run by world famous master chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). Margo is unimpressed with all the pretention and performance, but that is the least of her worries. Chef Slowik has brought all his guests there with a specific purpose in mind and feeding them is only part of his plan. Margo and the rest of the guests soon realize that not everyone…or possibly anyone…is going to leave this elite dining experience alive.

Thriller with a grim but amusing sense of humor is very well directed by Mark Mylod from a taut script and story by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy. It is an extremely satirical film that skewers celebrity chefs, their pretentious dishes and the elitists who pay ridiculous prices to consume them, among other things. It also has some violent, disturbing and bloody moments, though one does find oneself snickering as these snobby aristocrats and arrogant wannabes get what’s coming to them. The film also has some poignant moments, too as Slowik’s eventually revealed motivations are actually somewhat sympathetic. He has a point about his pompous clientele. It’s a smart script with a top-notch cast that all give solid performances. Standing out are the impeccable Fiennes as the secretly demented Slowik and star on the rise Taylor-Joy as Margo, a woman with secrets of her own. It’s a deliciously slow cooked dark satire that is all the more savory as it takes it’s time to tell its sinisterly garnished story well and expertly builds to its intense finale…while providing a few appetizing chuckles along the way. A very well written, acted and directed black comedy/thriller. Highly recommended.

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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BARE BONES: SIGNIFICANT OTHER (2022)

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SIGNIFICANT OTHER (2022)

Couple Ruth (Maika Monroe) and Harry (Jake Lacy) are taking a camping trip deep in the Pacific Northwest woods, something the anxiety prone Ruth is very nervous about. Jake uses the trip as a staging for a marriage proposal which is something Ruth is even more nervous about. Camping and engagement issues are the least of Ruth and Harry’s problems, though, as something landed in the nearby woods just the night before and it is something unearthly and with a sinister purpose.
 
Flick is written and directed by the duo of Dan Berk and Robert Olsen who made the darkly comic Villains also starring Monroe. The filmmakers nail the first two thirds of this flick by giving us an ominous opening as a mysterious object lands in the middle of the woods and a deer soon becomes victim to something otherworldly. We then meet Ruth and Harry who are having their own personal issues, as the anxiety filled Ruth is dreading their little deep woods excursion. This not only adds tension between the couple, but also with the audience who already know something malicious is waiting for the two in the woods that Ruth would rather not enter. The flick is loaded with atmosphere and is legitimately spooky, as it soon begins to appear that one of the two is no longer who they seem. So far, so good. It’s in the last act when the film loses its grip somewhat. While it remains atmospheric, we find out maybe a little too much about what is going on, and the delivery of this exposition on the extraterrestrial invader and its purpose is delivered in a borderline silly manner. The film does present an original and interesting caveat to the Body Snatchers/The Thing alien duplication scenario by presenting the other side of the coin. What effect on an alien doppelganger does the residual emotions of its human template have? This is an interesting angle to be sure, but one feels it could have been presented in a more intriguing and less matter-of-fact way. A cool concept sadly mishandled, and it causes all the tension built up in the first hour to dissipate. Maybe things should have been left a bit more ambiguous and the actor’s delivery less cavalier. It brings down a film that had impact in its first two-thirds. The movie simply reveals too much and in a very glib manner. Significant Other is still worth a look and very effective in many respects, but it just doesn’t handle its most interesting idea in the most effective way. Also stars Matthew Yang King and Dana Green as Ray and Vivian, another couple Ruth and Harry encounter.
 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: LULLABY (2022)

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LULLABY (2022)

Silly and cliché-ridden horror has a couple with a newborn, Rachel (Oona Chaplin) and John (Ramón Rodríguez), moving into an apartment with a dark history including the death of a baby. That’s believable! Some of the deceased infant’s things are still there, including a creepy, looking old book. So of course, Rachel opens it up and picks an old Hebrew lullaby out of it to read to their baby, who is keeping Rachel awake and stressed out. Obviously, as in all the other times we’ve seen this scenario, the lullaby actually summons the demon Lilith (Kira Guloien), who is the malevolent, baby-stealing first wife of Adam. Now the couple must find a way to fend off this ancient demonic entity and save their child.
 
Flick is directed by John R. Leonetti (Annabelle, Wish Upon) from a routine and derivative script by Alex Greenfield and Ben Powell. It is as cookie cutter as a horror flick can be with yet another scenario having a new mom and her baby being stalked by a malicious entity. Adding Hebrew culture and folklore to the proceedings does little to make it fresh, and in itself has been done frequently lately with better horrors like The Vigil, The Golem (2018) and even The Possession. Lilith is presented as a generic old scary hag and her baby-like minions are obvious CGI boogie babies. There are simply no scares or suspense, and the film ends exactly as we expect, being that we have seen this flick so many times before. Leonetti seems like a competent director but keeps getting attached to generic and routine nonsense like this. Production-wise the film looks good, and the cast do well enough with what they are given to work with, but there is little to recommend with so much familiarity and so little suspense, surprises or scares. Oy Vey!
 
 
-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: UNKNOWN DIMENSION: THE STORY OF PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2021)

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UNKNOWN DIMENSION: THE STORY OF PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2021)

Documentary written and directed by Joe Bandelli starts us off with a brief history of found footage horrors from Cannibal Holocaust to The Mcpherson Tape, to The Blair Witch Project. We then meet Oren Peli who details how he got the idea for the first film, in this now classic franchise, from his own experiences hearing strange noises in his new home. He details the casting of Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, who then join the documentary to give anecdotes of their own, on filming the first Paranormal Activity on a shoestring budget and with what barely could be called a script. The film then takes us on the long road to its eventual theatrical release, with interviews from various producers and horror journalists, as the film becomes a box office smash, and a franchise is born. Bandelli then brings in a host of actors and filmmakers as he takes us on the journey of the making of the film’s sequels, leading up to the recent seventh film that was still filming when this documentary was completed.

Bandelli crafts a fun and informative look at the history of one of modern horror’s most famous and successful movie franchises from the perspective of those involved. The writer/director brings in a host of talent from behind and in front of the cameras, to give a detailed and entertaining look at how what was basically little more than a home movie, turned into a near billion-dollar movie franchise. If you are a fan of this series, it is fun to see the stars from the original film, and all the sequels, return these many years later to describe their time working on the flicks, and even some honest commentary from the people involved on what led the series into its decline in the later installments. If you are a fan of the Paranormal Activity films and are curious about how it all came together, this is definitely a recommended watch on Paramount+.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: BED REST (2022)

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BED REST (2022)

Julie Rivers (Melissa Barrera) is expecting her second child along with her husband Daniel (Guy Burnet). Julie is nervous as she lost her first child and the couple have moved into a big old house to start their family. An accidental fall places Julie on strict bed rest and while she convalesces, she begins to see and hear strange things. One of those things is the spirit of a little boy she believes is her dead son Andrew come to warn her about impending malevolent intent towards her unborn daughter. Is she going stir crazy or are there actually supernatural forces conspiring against her baby?

Haunting horror is written and directed by Lori Evans Taylor. While basically a very routine and cliché haunting flick, it has some effectively spooky moments, and the material is elevated by strong work by Scream‘s Melissa Barrera as Julie. Presenting the material seriously also helps it dramatically. As in many movies like this, no one believes Julie is seeing ghosts and it makes her isolated and alone. She is also forced to investigate the house’s past and that of its former occupants, leading to a disturbing but expected reveal. Barrera has us liking Julie and believing she is not bonkers…or is she? The conclusion is a bit over-the-top after what is a mostly subtle build-up and Taylor does provide some solid chills and uses the old house setting very effectively. The movie also covers some serious themes such as loss, mourning and letting go, as Julie’s predicament brings back painful memories of losing her son at childbirth. Currently streaming on Tubi despite what the movie poster says!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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