BARE BONES: GRAVE INTENTIONS (2021)

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GRAVE INTENTIONS (2021)

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
 
Grave Intentions is an indie horror anthology that features magic shop proprietor Madam Josephine (Joy Vandervort-Cobb) using the tales told as examples of harmful intentions bringing bad results. They are told as a warning of how powerful intent can be, while she also teaches us about her craft.
 
The tales here are presented from a number of writers and directors and unfortunately, with a less than 90 minute runtime, the five tales appear more like vignettes than actual stories. The Bridge Partner has a meek woman (Beth Grant) being tormented by her aggressive bridge partner (Sharon Lawrence). It simply doesn’t go anywhere. The Disappearance of Willie Bingham is an unsettling tale that has a criminal paying for his misdeeds in a very disturbing manner. It’s effective. Violent Florence is a chilling and violent tale of a troubled teen (Charly Thorn) and a resilient feline. This one has it’s chills. The Son, The Father… features a family (Lucas Oktay, Colleen Carey and director Lukas Hassel) and a series of mean-spirited practical jokes that go too far. This segment is silly and the weakest. The final segment, Marian, is about a little girl (Johanah Basanta) stalked by a malicious entity. This is the only segment that feels like a complete story and is the most effective one by far. The casts vary in performance, with veterans Sharon Lawrence and Robert Forster doing quality work in The Bridge Partner segment. Vandervort-Cobb also seems to be having fun as our hostess Madam Josephine, while little Johanah Basanta does great work in Marian. The production value here is good for a low budget indie and the FX work is effective enough, as the flick as a whole doesn’t try to overstep it’s budget. Overall, this anthology is worth a look, but lacks the constancy in story quality to make it a real sleeper hit for the spooky season. Grave Intentions premieres 10/15/21 on VOD.
 
THE SEGMENT CREATORS…
The Wraparound segment is written by Brian and Jocelyn Rish, who also directs
The Bridge Partner is written by Peter S. Beagle and Gabriel Olsen, who also directs
The Disappearance of Willie Bingham is written by Michael L. Fawcett and Matthew Richards and directed by Richards
The Son, The Father… is written and directed by Lukas Hassel
Violent Florence is written and directed by Jaime Snyder
Marian is written by Levi San Luis and Brian Patrick Lim who also directs

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: WILLY’S WONDERLAND (2021)

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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.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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REVIEW: FAULTS (2015)

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FAULTS (2015)

Faults is an intriguing and entertaining little movie from writer/director Riley Stearns. The story opens with cult expert Ansel Roth (Leland Orser) as his life is falling apart, his latest book has tanked and he owes some shady characters (Lance Reddick and Jon Gries) a lot of money. He sees hope in turning things around when a desperate couple (Beth Grant and Chris Ellis) come to him to for help to rescue their daughter Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) from a cult oddly called “Faults”. For a price, Roth kidnaps the young woman and locks her in a hotel room to ‘deprogram’ her. While it seems to be going well at first, events begin to spiral out of control and the line between deprogrammer and subject blurs as does the one between deprogramming and brainwashing…but who is brainwashing who?

I enjoyed this movie. Not only do we get some offbeat characters that populate Roth’s world at the moment, but some interesting questions are posed and there are some nice twists and surprises. Claire appears content and happy when kidnapped by Roth and her parents seem a bit overbearing and controlling. It makes us question the validity of what is transpiring and if her parents have a right to force a full-grown, 28 year-old woman to adhere to their will against her own. We also question whether a man who has lost control over his own life is in any position to try to undo the effects of the cult’s influence, when he seems to be having his own issues. That’s also the fun of this film, which is played seriously, but has a darkly comic atmosphere to it. It gives us things to question, but just when we think we’ve got things figured out, it throws us some twists and curves. There are some nice surprises here and being in the hotel room with our characters in such an intimate setting, sometimes makes us too close to realize there are other things going on, until it’s too late…just like poor Ansel. Tables are turned and characters are not who they seem and Ansel is too focused on his own problems to see it…and it takes the audience awhile to realize it, too, though we do catch on long before our beleaguered ‘expert’. A clever and sometimes downright devious story that is intriguing to watch unfold and is well directed by Stearns.

This wouldn’t have worked as well without a good cast and that it has. Leland Orser really brings Roth to life as a man who is beaten-down and hitting rock bottom and who sees an opportunity to turn things around…so much so, he doesn’t see what’s really going on in front of him. Mary Elizabeth Winstead turns in another strong performance…she was so good in Smashed…that proves she is an underrated actress who really needs more recognition for her work. Her Claire is sweet and a little confused at first, but the more we get to know her, the more we realize she’s far more in control than she let’s on. It’s worth watching alone to see her slowly turn the tables on the man who is supposedly there to ‘fix’ her. Reddick and Gries are good as the oddball thugs Roth owes money to, for his self published failure of a book, and Grant and Ellis shine too, as Claire’s outwardly typical Middle American parents with their own hidden facets. A very good cast.

I definitely recommend this indie flick for those who like something offbeat and intriguing. The script is clever and the performances all strong. It’s an odd little movie for sure but, it’s involving and the story is refreshingly different. Definitely worth a look!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 kidnapped Claires (for her own good, of course!).

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