BARE BONES: TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (2017)

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TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (2017)

Mexican film is both heartbreaking drama and supernatural thriller that takes place in 2006 during the drug wars as thousands are being abducted and killed, thus leaving orphans to live on the cruel streets. Estrella (Paola Lara) is one such girl whose mother disappears while she is at school. She is forced to join a group of four orphaned boys (Juan Ramón López as Shine, Rodrigo Cortes as Pop, Nery Arredondo as little Morro and Hanssel Casillas as Tucsi) who are surviving by theft and sticking together. Not only are they pursued by a ruthless drug lord and his thugs, for a phone they stole, but Estrella is being followed by a supernatural entity whose intent is yet unknown.

Film is very well directed by Issa López from her own script. The movie combines supernatural thriller, harsh street drama and a touch of fantasy, as we are dealing with children after all. The supernatural elements can be spooky, but it is the unflinching look at children surviving under the worst conditions that really tugs the heart. López’s camera doesn’t flinch in it’s portrayal of children in a violent world and how these kids become “tigers” to survive it. The fantasy elements blend in well, as children at this age are still capable of believing in magic and fairy tales to help them cope with adversity…and loss. To say López gets good performances out of her young cast is an understatement. The kids are great. The film can be a bit slow moving at times, even at only 83 minutes, and is very dark, violent and grim, but also comes to a satisfying conclusion where all the elements come together nicely. Not perfect, but it’s an original, spooky and very touching and thought provoking movie from Issa López. Also stars Tenoch Huerta as drug lord El Chino and Ianis Guerrero as one of his thugs whose path the kids unfortunately cross.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: CANDY CORN (2019)

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CANDY CORN (2019)

Boring Halloween set horror has a group of small town thugs following their cruel Halloween tradition of pranking local boy Jacob (Nate Chaney), who now works for a carnival. Their bullying takes an unexpected turn when Jacob finally fights back and they accidentally kill him in retaliation. The carnival’s ring master Dr. Death (Pancho Moler from Rob Zombie’s 31) uses his voodoo powers to resurrect Jacob as a mask wearing monster that avenges himself brutally on his attackers, leaving candy corn stuffed in their dead mouths.

Flick is written and directed very by-the-numbers by Josh Hasty, who has obviously seen a lot of horror films, but doesn’t really understand what makes them work. His script is a dull hodgepodge of flicks we have all seen before, from Carpenter’s classic to Pumpkinhead, yet without any of those films’ chills or thrills. He thinks all that he had to do was hire some familiar faces from horror films past and present, yet gives us no likable or interesting characters for us to identify with or root for. The victims of his dull creature are all cruel local thugs, so they are getting what’s coming to them and we have no sympathy or interest in their deaths whatsoever. Jacob looks like some guy wandering around in a generic Halloween mask and exudes no threat or menace. If you can’t conjure memorable or likable characters, at least have a memorable monster. Epic fail on both counts. Add to that, the cast all recite their dialogue with a deadpan monotone and it makes every scene tedious. There is some routine bloodshed, but absolutely no suspense, atmosphere or tension to give it weight. At 85 minutes it’s a bore to sit through and is as forgettable as it’s vengeful walking corpse. Don’t waste your time unless you have to see every Halloween themed movie out there and even on that level the film has very little Halloween spirit. Also stars Candyman‘s Tony Todd, Halloween’s P.J. Soles and Children of the Corn’s Courtney Gains.

-MonsterZero NJ

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: HAUNT (2019)

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HAUNT (2019)

There have been a lot of horrors set in Halloween haunts as of late, from The Houses October Built to Hell Fest to Extremity, so, this Shudder* produced flick needed to impress coming in with a concept that is already becoming familiar…and not only does it do that, it might be one of the best horrors this year.

Story finds pretty Harper (Katie Stevens) trying to part with abusive boyfriend Sam (Samuel Hunt) and heading out to party on Halloween night with friends Bailey (Lauryn Alisa McClain), Angela (Shazi Raja) and Mallory (Schuyler Helford). At a club, they run into a couple of guys, Nathan (Will Brittain) and Evan (Andrew Caldwell) and decide to leave with them to find a Halloween haunt, dragging a reluctant Harper along. They stumble upon one such haunt, in the middle of nowhere and soon find they may have picked the wrong haunt to haunt.

Flick is directed intensely by the A Quiet Place writing duo of Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who also scripted here. It’s premise may not be novel at this point, but is carried out very effectively. It starts out tense with Harper putting on make-up over a bruise suffered from her alcoholic boyfriend and Bailey trying to convince her to finally break up with him. We find out in flashbacks that Harper’s father was also an abusive alcoholic and all this personal drama gives the character some emotional depth, much like Extremity‘s emotionally wounded Allison. We are thus sympathetic to Harper, and her friends, too, as they are all likable characters, especially when we start to realize those running this backwoods haunt are in it for some deadly thrills of their own. The pranks start out playful and then get mean spirited before becoming lethal. The violence is sparse, so it has impact when it occurs and there is some decent gore once things really start to get vicious…and Harper finally learns to stand up for herself and fight back. Beck and Woods build some good old-fashioned suspense and stage some nicely intense set pieces to put our likable leads through. Obviously, not all of them make it and killing off main characters makes us feel unsure about any of their safety. It adds to the suspense. The film looks cool and the sets are well rendered on what appears to be a modest budget. It has a Halloween feel and an atmosphere of foreboding throughout. The costumes for our haunt folk are creepy and they are equally spooky without their Halloween masks. We don’t get to know them very well, or their motives, but they come across as deranged and dangerous and that helps this work. Add to that a very cool score by tomandandy, and you’ve got a very effective Halloween themed chiller that makes very good use of a now familiar setting. Any issues here are minor, such as the movie evoking some of the other haunt set flicks mentioned earlier and the addition of Harper’s jerk boyfriend Sam to the action in the last act, doesn’t really add anything to the proceedings. Otherwise this is a very solid horror.

The cast of fresh faces really helps this flick click. Katie Stevens is very impressive as Harper. She’s a girl with a painful past, dealing with her own issues and finally learning to fight for herself, when thrown into a nightmarish situation. The actress makes her likable and sympathetic and we’re totally with her when she goes on the offensive. Actress McClain is very likable as best pal Bailey. She’s a caring person and looking out for her friend makes her endearing to us. Will Brittain is a solid male lead and he is charming, handsome and his Nathan seems like the nice guy Harper really needs. This makes us like him and fear for him. Caldwell is fun as the obnoxious and bombastic Evan. This character could have been annoying, but script and actor avoid that by presenting his sarcastic humor in the right degrees. He is also brave when he needs to be. Raja and Helford get the least focus of the group, but the actresses make them extremely likable supporting characters with the scenes they have. The key to a horror flick’s success is feeling empathy for it’s main characters and here we do. It also needs effective villains and our masked haunters, Chaney Morrow as “Ghost”, Justin Marxen as “Clown”, Terri Partyka as “Witch”, Justin Rose as “Vampire”, Damian Maffei as “Devil” and Schuyler White as “Zombie” all give their characters a lethality from under their already effective costumes. Last but not least, Samuel Hunt makes the brutish Sam appropriately dislikable with what limited screen time the character has. A solid cast all the way around.

Overall, Haunt is a chilling and intense horror that overcomes the familiarity of a recent horror trend by simply being really good at what it does. It’s intense, scary, has some striking violence and gore and makes good use of it’s spooky setting. It gives us some very likable lead characters, including a three dimensional and sympathetic final girl, to root and fear for and some dastardly villains to be fearful of. Really solid horror and a very spooky surprise from Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, producer Eli Roth and those great folks at Shudder.

*Just to be clear…Flick was produced by Shudder, but won’t be hitting their streaming network until next month. It is currently available on most Pay Per View outlets such as Verizon, Vudu and iTunes. Sorry if there was any confusion caused by my initial referral to it as a Shudder “Exclusive”. -MZNJ

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 (out of 4) creepy haunt hosts.

 

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: CHILD’S PLAY (2019)

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CHILD’S PLAY (2019)

Remake, reboot, or whatever you want to call it, of the classic 1988 Child’s Play upgrades (or downgrades?) Chucky from a doll possessed by the spirit of a serial killer to a doll with a sabotaged A.I. As such, it actually isn’t a bad flick, as we find single mom Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) wanting to get her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) a new Buddi doll for his birthday. When a defective one is returned to the store she works at, she takes it home for him. The needy doll dubs itself Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill) and soon starts to exhibit unusual behavior. This behavior soon escalates into cursing, violence and then murder, in protection of his pal Andy. When Andy tries to get rid of him, Chucky becomes a vengeful little Buddi, a friend till the end…which may come soon for Andy and anyone close to him.

Lars Klevberg directs well from a script by David Katzenberg and despite being unnecessary, as the two recent, old school Chucky movies were really good, it is an effective and entertaining horror. Making Chucky a doll with an Alexa-like A.I. is less spooky on one level, but creepy on another, as Chucky can control any item made by his home company, The Kaslan Corporation, such as lights, smart phones, televisions, cars and other toys. Mark Hamill is a solid successor to Brad Dourif and makes Chucky his own. The actor gives him a personality and is quite scary when Chucky starts to unravel due to a vengeful factory employee turning off his safety features. Gabriel Bateman is good as Andy and is likable. The added caveat of him being hearing impaired, doesn’t really effect the story much and just gives an excuse for him to be a bit of a loner. Plaza is fine as mom, Karen, though seems a bit too young to have a thirteen year-old son. There is a throwaway line about her getting knocked-up at her sweet sixteen party to explain it, but not sure what the point in casting her was other than being the subject of hot mom lines. The flick has a lot of gore, when it gets going and things do move quickly during the 90 minute running time. It’s got some good suspense and has some fun with it’s carnage. While Don Mancini’s killer doll will always remain the classic horror icon, this retread is actually a bloody good time when given a chance and taken on it’s own merits.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE DEAD DON’T DIE (2019)

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THE DEAD DON’T DIE (2019)

If one ever said that eclectic indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch would make a zombie film, or Bill Murray would make two, one would initially be thought mad…but here we are. Flick takes place in the small, rural town of Centerville where a group of eccentric characters including Police Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) are dealing with a bizarre situation. The Earth has been thrown off it’s axis and now the dead are returning to life. As the town population dwindles, Robertson and Officer Ronald Peterson (Adam Driver) must battle the increasing army of the flesh eating living dead.

Flick is written and directed by Jarmusch and is filled with atmosphere and the director’s trademark dry humor. There is a lot of strange stuff going on and a host of oddball characters, but the film doesn’t always click and it does have the pace of, well…a funeral. There are some amusing moments and some bloody ones, too. The familiar tropes are present and Jarmusch does play with them a bit. The cast is quite impressive and amusing, such as Tilda Swinton’s sword wielding Scotswoman, but the movie on a whole never really seems to find it’s footing and rambles on like one of it’s zombies. Considering that it’s Jim Jarmusch actually making a zombie film, one would expect something a bit more special. Also stars Iggy Pop, Selena Gomez, Danny Glover, Chloë Sevigny and Tom Waits as “Hermit Bob”.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SATANIC PANIC (2019)

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SATANIC PANIC (2019)

Simple plot finds pizza delivery girl Sam (Hayley Griffith) delivering to a rich neighborhood and stumbling into a Satanic ceremony. She’s chosen as a sacrifice due to her virgin status, but the resourceful young lady escapes. She meets up with the Satanic Coven Leader Danica’s (Rebecca Romijn) outcast daughter Judi (Ruby Modine), who is in peril of her own and the two try to evade capture. Can the two women escape almost certain death with the forces of evil in hot pursuit?

Flick is directed by Chelsea Stardust from a script and story by Grady Henrix and Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here) and sadly doesn’t quite live up to it’s amusing premise. One problem is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be, a hip comedy or a horror flick. The tone changes from scene to scene with one moment trying to have fun with the tropes of a Satanic thriller and another trying to pull off some serious horror. Unfortunately, director Stardust doesn’t really evoke any scares or intensity when it tries to be more of a horror film and the script fails to be all that funny when it’s trying to be humorous. It wants to be a quirky, edgy comedy one minute and a occult themed horror the next and never really accomplishes either to a successful degree. Sure, there is some fun to be had and there is the underlying commentary about the haves vs the have nots, but none of it really hits the mark we hoped it would. It’s colorful, energetic and Stardust has a good visual eye, it’s just she never really settles on a tone. Should we be having fun?…or should we be taking this more seriously? On the plus side, there is a cool score by the “Wolfmen of Mars” and it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome at only 89 minutes. There is also some fun practical gore, too and it is elevated by a cast that is all in with the material.

On the subject of cast…Hayley Griffith makes a strong and very endearing heroine in her Sam. She’s a down on her luck young lady, working her first night as a pizza delivery girl and her pursuit of a much needed tip turns her first night into a literal living Hell. Rebecca Romijn chews the scenery appropriately as Danica, a rich woman who is also the coven leader. She’s fun in the part and gives her scenes a lot of the “snap” they need. Ruby Modine is good as Danica’s rebel daughter Rubi. Rubi is tough and confident, but being on the outs with a Satanic cult has put her in mortal danger. Modine and Griffith work well together. There are also supporting roles from Jerry O’Connell, horror vet Jordan Ladd and Rob Zombie regular Jeff Daniel Phillips. The cast get the material and really help make this very watchable despite a disappointing script.

Overall, Satanic Panic is a flick that has it’s moments, but ultimately doesn’t live up to it’s potential or premise. It has a bit of an identity problem and isn’t funny enough when it’s trying to be funny and isn’t scary enough when it wants to be scary. It’s heart is in the right place and with a better script with a more consistent tone, one wonders if Chelsea Stardust might be a filmmaker to keep more of an eye on. At least it has enough moments and a material savvy cast to make it worth a look, as long as expectations aren’t conjured too high.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 (out of 4) pizzas.

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: IT CHAPTER TWO (2019)

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IT: CHAPTER TWO (2019)

It: Chapter Two is an adaptation of the second half of Stephen King’s classic novel, focusing on the characters as adults, though we still visit them as kids in flashbacks. It’s been 27 years since we last saw the characters and something sinister is stirring in Derry once more. Only Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) has remained and summons the other “Losers” Bill (James McAvoy), Bev (Jessica Chastain), Ben (Jay Ryan), Richie (Bill Hader), Eddie (James Ransone) and Stanley (Andy Bean) to return home to face Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), hopefully for the last time. Stanley commits suicide, but the remaining members reluctantly return and must face some of their own personal demons before they can confront the demonic clown…who has been patiently waiting for them.

Second half is again well directed by Andy Muschietti from a script by Gary Dauberman, who co-wrote It: Chapter One. Like the first film, this flick has some wonderfully creepy visuals and some really cool monsters and ghouls, but is never really all that scary. There are some very effective moments and good jump scares, but, again, the movie never really gets under your skin or really grabs you. It’s quite entertaining, but there are also a few scenes, like Richie’s meeting with Pennywise in a park, that are a bit too over-the-top for their own good and come across as borderline silly. The film can be very gruesome and never feels nearly as long as it’s 169 minutes, though the inclusion of a sub-plot with grown-up bully Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) seemed like overkill and could have been removed with no harm to the story. The FX are top notch and we even get some background on Pennywise and what he really is and where he came from. To some this might remove some of his mystique, but it also moved this more into monster movie territory, which for others, is just fine. There was a great homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing and a very amusing cameo from a certain world famous author. As stated, it is more of a monster movie this time than supernatural thriller and that also made it a bit more fun and action oriented, though, again, never really as scary as it should have been.

The cast are again strong. McAvoy is very good as the adult Bill and seems to be the one most strongly onboard to confront Pennywise again. He is still tormented by guilt over Georgie. Chastain is a solid actress, no matter what the role and really gives Bev a strong emotional core. She’s still traumatized by her father and the choice of an abusive husband proves it. Pennywise isn’t the only demon she must face down. Hader is good as RIchie, who is now a stand-up comedian. He uses humor to hide his fear and still conveys much of his feelings in sarcasm. Hader shows some solid dramatic chops here. Isaiah Mustafa is noble as Mike, the only one to remain on watch in Derry. He also believes he knows how to stop the monstrous clown and uses that to convince the others to join him. Ryan is solid as the now skinny and sexy Ben. He still has a soft spot for Bev and is still in some ways insecure. Ransone is also good as the cowardly Eddie and makes his journey to overcome his fears work very well. Andy Bean has a brief few moments as Stanley, but makes them count to give his early death emotional resonance. All the young actors who portrayed the characters as kids also return in flashbacks. As for Pennywise, Bill Skarsgård has even more to do this half and it is in this second part that he really makes this incarnation of the character his own. The young actors who played the characters as kids, all return in flashbacks.

Overall, this second chapter was an entertaining flick, but still wasn’t all that scary. Andy Muschietti directs well and has a great visual eye, as well as, takes a few risks this time with the carnage. The cast all perform strongly and there are plenty of effective scenes to entertain. The film can also be a little too over-the-top at times for it’s own good, like a Chinese restaurant scene, and a few of these scenes do skirt a little close to being silly. It does keep one involved, despite being almost three hours long, though a few things here and there could have been trimmed with no harm to the proceedings. A solid mainstream horror and will most likely repeat the success of It: Chapter One.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 (out of 4) red balloons.

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: ROCK PAPER SCISSORS (2017)

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ROCK PAPER SCISSORS (2017)

Flick is also known as Rock Paper Dead, but it’s real selling point is that it is the return of legendary horror director Tom Holland (the original Fright Night and Child’s Play) after a two decade absence. Story unfolds as serial killer Peter Harris (Luke Macfarlane) has been apprehended by police. He spends years in therapy and is finally released by Dr. Evelyn Bauer (Tatum O’Neal) as cured. Peter goes back to live in his family house where he is haunted by his past and pursued by both a pretty neighbor (Jennifer Titus) with her own agenda and a vengeful cop (Michael Madsen). Will Peter return to old habits, or will his past catch up with him first?

Holland directs from a mixed bag script by Kerry Fleming and Victor Miller and thus the film is a bit uneven, despite the director still having got it. There are some very disturbing moments in the film and some very creepy stuff. The flick has some gruesome gore and Holland gives the film atmosphere. There are also some borderline silly moments, too and the performances are uneven as the story. Lead Macfarlane plays his part well, as a disturbed man trying to fight off bad thoughts and habits, while Titus is quite uneven, especially when asked to go over-the-top, and Madsen is playing the same part he always plays. He’s phoning it in. Overall, this flick is worth a look and shows Holland still can make an effective and entertaining flick. He probably should have taken a crack at the script, as he wrote, or co-wrote, his two biggest classics. Curious why no noise was made about this flick with a heavy-hitter like Holland returning to the director’s chair? Also features a score by the legendary Harry Manfredini (the original Friday the 13th flicks).

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: ITSY BITSY (2019)

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ITSY BITSY (2019)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Flick has divorced home-care nurse Kara Spencer (Elizabeth Roberts) taking a job as a caretaker for an elderly man named Walter Clark (Bruce Davison). She movies into his guest house with her two kids Jesse (Arman Darbo) and Cambria (Chloe Perrin). Clark is a collector of ancient artifacts and has recently come into possession of an illegally obtained tribal vessel that when broken open unleashes a vicious entity that takes the form of an enormous and deadly spider. Now, unknown to them, it’s loose inside the house and out for blood…theirs.

Brought to us by Shout! Factory’s Shout! Studios, flick is directed by Micah Gallo from a script and story by Gallo, Jason Alvino and Bryan Dick. The movie is Gallo’s first full length feature and he does well enough. The flick gives us some solid underlying human drama as Kara is becoming addicted to pills due to the grief brought on by the loss of her third child. Davison’s Clark is also still mourning the death of his wife. It makes the characters human and thus sympathetic when our eight legged critter starts stalking the house, especially young Cambria. It’s also a bit of a drawback, as the film sometimes seems to focus more on the melodrama than the spider. When it does show up, it is effective enough and seems like it’s rendered mostly with old fashioned prosthetic and animatronic effects. There is also some bloodshed, though it’s not overly gory. There are some creepy moments, especially if you are not fond of arachnids and things do get quite suspenseful in the last act. Gallo does get good work out of his cast and his eight legged star and gives the film atmosphere.

As for that cast…human that is. Roberts is solid as Kara. She’s a woman in pain and not dealing all too well with her grief. Obviously, the threat to her children reawakens her inner strength. Bruce Davison is an old pro and makes Clark a likable man, even if his acquiring of some of his artifacts has him dealing with some shady people. Arman Darbo is good as Jesse. He’s old enough to understand that his mother’s addiction is making their lives more difficult and is developing a strong independent streak. Chloe Perrin is cute as Cambria and does her job well, as the script really only requires her to be cute and occasionally in peril. Denise Crosby rounds out the main cast as the town sheriff. She is a likable character and is sympathetic to Kara and her family. Well written characters and a cast well directed.

Overall, this is not a great movie, but it is an entertaining one. It’s not quite as scary as one hoped for, but does have some effective spider moments and a solid last act when it’s family vs arachnid. The film focuses heavily on the family drama and while it cuts down on spider time, it does create some well rounded characters. The spider is charming live effects, for the most part, and there is some modest bloodshed. An entertaining night on the couch. Stay through the credits for an additional scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) webs.

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BARE BONES: THE LAST CIRCUS (2011)

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THE LAST CIRCUS (2011)

The Last Circus is the bizarre and twisted story of Javier (Carlos Areces). All Javier wants is to become a clown like his father (Santiago Segura), who was killed during the Spanish Civil War. The sad and unfunny Javier only finds work as the Sad Clown in a local circus in Franco’s Spain of 1973. Even there, his life falls apart as one tragedy is followed by another, as he falls for Natalia (Carolina Bang), the acrobat girlfriend of the violent and abusive star clown Sergio (Antonio de la Torre).

Director and writer Alex de la Iglesia (the cult classic Acción Mutante) weaves this darkly humorous and sometimes extremely violent tale with a very unique and sometimes stunning visual style. He knows how to use his camera and visuals to maximum effect. He also gets good performances out of his cast. What he falls short in, is knowing when enough is enough and cutting his audience a break. All the depressing tragic moments and gory interludes start to get tiresome, about an hour in and by the time the credits role, the audience is too weary to really care how the story ends. On that note, let’s just say not to expect a fairy tale ending, after all you’ve sat through. There is a lot to like about Circus and de la Iglesia’s filming style, but it’s the overall heavy-handedness of his story telling that wears one out. A unique and interesting, if not flawed film.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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