MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE DARK AND THE WICKED and THE VIGIL

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This installment of MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature pairs two of the spookiest flicks to come out in recent months. Both features present persons who are either non-believers, or of lost faith, who are faced with a malevolent demonic presence. Both are extremely spooky and make for quite a scary MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature!

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THE DARK AND THE WICKED (2020)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Chilling horror finds siblings Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) returning home to their parent’s rural farmhouse, as their father (Michael Zagst) has taken gravely ill. Soon after, their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) mysteriously commits suicide and upon reading her journals, the atheist brother and sister start to believe there is a dark and sinister force stalking their family.

Movie is written and directed by Bryan Bertino (The Strangers, The Monster) and is one creepy and unsettling film. The flick opens with some mood setting sequences that elude to the fact that there is something malevolent indeed stalking this house. As the siblings arrive and their mother’s suicide causes them to investigate what is going on, it becomes obvious that in her final days, their atheist mother began to believe something evil was after their ailing father’s soul. Bertino maintains a very unsettling atmosphere throughout the entire film and it really starts to get under your skin as the film progresses. It also makes it unnerving that these simple folk are atheists, yet come to believe something very sinister and supernatural is at work here. He turns up the tension and creep factor gradually, as farm animals are gruesomely harmed and visitors to the house, such as a very strange priest (Xander Berkeley), prove to not be what they seem. Some may not like that we never get a solid explanation as to who, what and why, but here it seems to serve the film’s dread-filled atmosphere to have the cause and exact nature of this malevolence remain somewhat ambiguous. The film has some shockingly violent moments and some really goose-bump inducing scenes and imagery. Bertino rarely uses jump scares, and crafts all of the scares we do get, which are frequent and very effective, with an expert hand. The flick rarely let’s you relax, much like the characters within it are constantly on edge.

As those characters, the small cast are very good. Lead Marin Ireland is very effective as the concerned and then very frightened Louise. The actress starts Louise out with a convincing performance as a woman conflicted and a little hurt by her mother’s demands that she stay away, but then someone who becomes very scared when it seems the things she doesn’t believe in may be all too real. Michael Abbott Jr. is also solid as her brother Michael. Unlike his sister, he has his own family to take care of and it’s no surprise the evil in the house uses that to it’s advantage, to separate and divide the brother and sister. Julie Oliver-Touchstone is quite spooky, as their haunted mother, in her brief screen time. Her performance helps set the tone for the film. Michael Zagst doesn’t do much as their comatose father, but he is an important character nonetheless and has some chilling scenes. Rounding out are a very creepy Xander Berkeley as a “priest” and Ella Ballentine (The Monster) is effective in what she has to do as farmhand Charlie’s (Tom Nowicki) granddaughter. A really good cast!

Overall, The Dark and the Wicked is definitely one of the best horror’s of the year and one of the most consistently creepy and unsettling horror movies in some time. Bryan Bertino keeps the unnerving atmosphere cranked up and gives us numerous sequences and events to chill and spook us. His frights are legitimate and he never resorts to cheap jump scare tactics to get a reaction out of us. Keeping his malevolent entity ambiguous only works in the film’s favor, as the director knows how to get under our skin and does so often. Even the cinematography by Tristan Nyby and the haunting score by Tom Schraeder is effective in giving us the creeps. Definitely one of the best horror films in a movie year where major new releases were few and far between and indie horror came to the forefront at drive-ins and on VOD. Now streaming on Shudder!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) ill-fated goats.

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THE VIGIL (2019)

Supernatural horror steeped in Orthodox Jewish culture comes from Blumhouse Productions and is released by IFC Midnight. The story tells of Yakov (Dave Davis), an emotionally troubled young man, who has left his Orthodox Jewish background and is out of work, in therapy and on medication. He is offered much needed money to be a Shomer for the night, someone who, in Jewish tradition, watches over and prays for the recently deceased till dawn. As he watches the body of a man called Litvak, he starts to realize there may be something malevolent in the house with him.

Yes, this story does evoke the classic flick The Viy, but is most definitely it’s own thing. The film is written and directed by Keith Thomas and is a very impressive feature debut. Thomas creates tension from almost the first scene by first establishing Yakov’s emotional and financial duress, but also then the tension between he and the members of the Orthodox Jewish community that want him back. Once Yakov enters the house, he finds out the first Shomer left in fear and the widow, Mrs. Litvak (Lynn Cohen from Feast of the Seven Fishes), doesn’t want him there, either. As the spooky goings on in the house begin to escalate, Thomas lets us know that not only did Yakov witness the death of his little brother as a result of a hate crime, a death he feels responsible for, but that the recently deceased Mr. Litvak (Ronald Cohen) was obsessed with combating a demon called a Mazzik (Rob Tunstall). Thomas knows how to create an atmosphere of dread and knows how to generate chills simply with his camera. The combination of lighting, spooky sets and shot composition, go a long way in making this flick very spooky all in itself. There are some familiar tropes that come with these type of demonic haunting flicks, but Thomas knows how to use them very well and knows when to mix in some new twists, such as demonic manipulation of Yakov’s cellphone. The entity uses Yakov’s past trauma and the voices of those he trusts against him and it is scary stuff. Add to all that a really effective score by Michael Yezerski (The Devil’s Candy) and some very unsettling cinematography by Zach Kuperstein (The Eyes of My Mother) and you have a legitimately scary movie.

The small cast is also very good, with Dave Davis pulling out a very strong, emotional performance of a man already on the edge, being pushed by something unearthly. He makes Yakov sympathetic, so we connect with him and feel badly as the demonic presence really puts him through the ringer. We also are behind him when he digs deep into his abandoned faith to fight back. Solid work! Lynn Cohen can be very spooky as Mrs. Litvak, a woman suffering from loss and a touch of Alzheimer’s, but also somewhat likable as we get to know her. Menashe Lustig is also good as Reb Shulem, an Orthodox Jewish community leader who wants Yakov to return to them and gives him this job as a way of coercing him back. A very good cast.

Keith Thomas delivers what might be the first truly scary horror flick of 2021. Despite the flick playing festivals and internationally since 2019, it is only now being released here in the U.S by the awesome folks at IFC Midnight. It is simply a good, old fashioned, scary movie that uses atmosphere, tension and some super creepy camera work to scare you. Thomas builds a lot of tension before the scares even begin and gives us an emotionally troubled main character to get put through a truly hellish night. All his characters have some history and depth to them, that the telling of which is woven cleverly into his simple, but layered story. A very spooky, scary horror with some nice emotional depth behind the proceedings, a refreshingly different cultural perspective and some really effective use of the familiar tropes and trappings. Keith Thomas is definitely a filmmaker to keep an eye on. The Vigil is available to stream on Amazon Prime and other streaming outlets, while also in a limited theatrical release.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) candles.

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE VIGIL (2019)

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THE VIGIL (2019)

Supernatural horror steeped in Orthodox Jewish culture comes from Blumhouse Productions and is released by IFC Midnight. The story tells of Yakov (Dave Davis), an emotionally troubled young man, who has left his Orthodox Jewish background and is out of work, in therapy and on medication. He is offered much needed money to be a Shomer for the night, someone who, in Jewish tradition, watches over and prays for the recently deceased till dawn. As he watches the body of a man called Litvak, he starts to realize there may be something malevolent in the house with him.

Yes, this story does evoke the classic flick The Viy, but is most definitely it’s own thing. The film is written and directed by Keith Thomas and is a very impressive feature debut. Thomas creates tension from almost the first scene by first establishing Yakov’s emotional and financial duress, but also then the tension between he and the members of the Orthodox Jewish community that want him back. Once Yakov enters the house, he finds out the first Shomer left in fear and the widow, Mrs. Litvak (Lynn Cohen from Feast of the Seven Fishes), doesn’t want him there, either. As the spooky goings on in the house begin to escalate, Thomas lets us know that not only did Yakov witness the death of his little brother as a result of a hate crime, a death he feels responsible for, but that the recently deceased Mr. Litvak (Ronald Cohen) was obsessed with combating a demon called a Mazzik (Rob Tunstall). Thomas knows how to create an atmosphere of dread and knows how to generate chills simply with his camera. The combination of lighting, spooky sets and shot composition, go a long way in making this flick very spooky all in itself. There are some familiar tropes that come with these type of demonic haunting flicks, but Thomas knows how to use them very well and knows when to mix in some new twists, such as demonic manipulation of Yakov’s cellphone. The entity uses Yakov’s past trauma and the voices of those he trusts against him and it is scary stuff. Add to all that a really effective score by Michael Yezerski (The Devil’s Candy) and some very unsettling cinematography by Zach Kuperstein (The Eyes of My Mother) and you have a legitimately scary movie.

The small cast is also very good, with Dave Davis pulling out a very strong, emotional performance of a man already on the edge, being pushed by something unearthly. He makes Yakov sympathetic, so we connect with him and feel badly as the demonic presence really puts him through the ringer. We also are behind him when he digs deep into his abandoned faith to fight back. Solid work! Lynn Cohen can be very spooky as Mrs. Litvak, a woman suffering from loss and a touch of Alzheimer’s, but also somewhat likable as we get to know her. Menashe Lustig is also good as Reb Shulem, an Orthodox Jewish community leader who wants Yakov to return to them and gives him this job as a way of coercing him back. A very good cast.

Keith Thomas delivers what might be the first truly scary horror flick of 2021. Despite the flick playing festivals and internationally since 2019, it is only now being released here in the U.S by the awesome folks at IFC Midnight. It is simply a good, old fashioned, scary movie that uses atmosphere, tension and some super creepy camera work to scare you. Thomas builds a lot of tension before the scares even begin and gives us an emotionally troubled main character to get put through a truly hellish night. All his characters have some history and depth to them, that the telling of which is woven cleverly into his simple, but layered story. A very spooky, scary horror with some nice emotional depth behind the proceedings, a refreshingly different cultural perspective and some really effective use of the familiar tropes and trappings. Keith Thomas is definitely a filmmaker to keep an eye on. The Vigil is available to stream on Amazon Prime and other streaming outlets, while also in a limited theatrical release.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) candles.

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: FREAKY (2020)

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FREAKY (2020)

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

Blumhouse’s latest is a slasher twist on the classic body switch scenario. While the town of Blissfield is being stalked by a serial killer, misfit high school teen Millie (Kathryn Newton) has her own problems to deal with. She is still mourning the death of her father, her mother (Katie Finneran) has turned to drinking, her crush Booker (Uriah Shelton) doesn’t even notice her and she is not exactly the most popular girl in school. The paths of she and The Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) are fated to cross and when they do, the use of an ancient Aztec dagger, procured from a previous victim, causes Millie and her attacker to switch bodies. Now, on Friday the 13th, of all days, Millie, in the Butcher’s body, has till midnight to fix things before the switch becomes permanent. She has to convince her best friends Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) that it’s really her, avoid her cop sister (Dana Drori) and stop The Butcher, who is using Millie’s body to stalk new prey in her high school’s very halls. It’s going to be a freaky Friday the 13th indeed!

Flick is directed by Christopher Landon from his script with Michael Kennedy. Landon is responsible for writing a number of Paranormal Activity sequels and directing that series’ The Marked Ones installment, as well as, directing and writing the fun Happy Death Day movies. It’s an entertaining mash-up of slasher meets Freaky Friday, though not quite the energetic fun that was his previous slasher meets Groundhog Day flicks. It is a lot more gruesome than Happy Death Day, though, and earns it’s “R” rating, while still being filled with some fun dialogue and generous movie references. The script is fairly clever with getting the Aztec dagger “La Dola” into The Butcher’s hands quickly, to get the story rolling, and using web savvy teens to give us the exposition we and Millie need, as to how the dagger works and what needs to be done. This sets in motion the race to regain possession of La Dola, before midnight passes and Millie is trapped forever in the body of a middle aged murderer…which The Butcher realizes may not be a bad thing. The film only falters a little when a few sentimental dialogue scenes go on for a bit too long and the filmmaker’s desire to be politically correct becomes a little too obvious in spots. The last act could have been a bit punchier, too, with it’s teen filled party in a warehouse setting. Otherwise, it’s a fun slasher/high school flick homage with some witty banter, some bloody carnage and a hip sense of humor.

The flick wouldn’t have worked nearly as well, if it wasn’t for our two leads having a blast playing each other’s parts. Kathryn Newton is very good, first as the awkward, likable and sympathetic Millie, and then as the sadistic serial killer. Newton is very successful as oozing evil and malice from within a high school girl’s veneer and has a threatening presence despite being a very pretty young girl. It’s Vince Vaughn, however, that really has a chance to take the ball and run with it as Millie in The Butcher’s body. Vaughn is hilarious as the awkward high school girl in the body of a middle aged serial killer and his mannerisms and body language are just as funny as his line delivery. He is even very threatening when he is The Blissfield Butcher back in his own body, in case you forgot he was a sadistic killer. Supporting cast is solid, too. Celeste O’Connor and Misha Osherovich as Nyla and the flamboyantly gay Josh are a fun duo. They play off Vaughn very well and have some amusing dialogue and comic bits as they race to help get Millie back in her own body. Katie Finneran is good as Millie’s lonely, mourning mother, as is Dana Drori as Millie’s tough, sarcastic cop sister. Uriah Shelton is likable as Millie’s crush, Booker, who is dragged into this mess and Ferris Bueller star Alan Ruck appears as a harsh wood shop teacher.

Overall, this flick was fun and was a nice mash-up of two types of film’s one wouldn’t immediately think of mixing up. The cast are really good, especially our body swopping leads, who have a blast playing each other. It can be gruesome, but is very witty and clever as well. It does drag in a few parts, due to some lengthy attempts at adding some sentimentality to the proceedings, but otherwise is an entertaining homage, though not quite the infectious fun of Landon’s Happy Death Day flicks…which Landon recently conceded take place in the same universe. Freaky Death Day someday maybe?

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) chainsaws which pretty Kathryn Newton wields quite well.

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: THE HUNT (2020)

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THE HUNT (2020)

Flick is yet another version of the the tired ‘rich people hunting poor people’ scenario. Here a group of elitist, extreme left rich folks bring a group of low income, right wing captives to an area of Croatia to be hunted for sport. A case of mistaken identity amongst their specifically chosen targets lands ex-soldier Crystal (Betty Gilpin) in their midst and she has no plans to die easily.

Flick gained some attention after being delayed from it’s September 2019 release date due to some real-life shootings at the time. Now having seen the film, it seems more like a publicity stunt to give some notoriety to this turkey. The flick is badly directed by Craig Zobel (the far better Compliance) from an awful script by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse. The makers give no credit to it’s audience for having any intelligence and the film stops dead, so characters can recite the film’s political and social commentary right at you. It’s so heavy-handed and obvious that midway through it starts to give you a headache. It would seem like the script writers had no faith in their own story to relay it’s messages…about race, immigration, the division between rich and poor…so they literally throw it in your face every chance they get. Having the rich a-holes being extreme leftists this time and their quarry being right wing “rednecks” does not cleverness make and the attempts at humor and satire fall flat most of the time, as well. Gilpin (Glow) does the best she can with what she’s given to work with and if there are any points to give here, her climactic fight with Hilary Swank’s villainous Athena, is fun to watch. The reveals during this last act confrontation, however, aren’t as big a deal as the film wants us to think they are. We’ve been force fed so much already, we simply don’t care at this point. Avoid unless you are too curious to save yourself money and 90 minutes of your time. Definitely a candidate for worst film of the year

-MonsterZero NJ

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REVIEW: THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)

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THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)

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Update of the classic H.G. Wells story finds Cecilia Kass (Elizabeth Moss) running from her relationship with her abusive, control freak boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). She’s helped by her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) and is living with her friend James (Aldis Hodge), a policeman, and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). Two weeks after her daring escape, she hears that millionaire Adrian has committed suicide and even has left her a large sum of money. She thinks she’s free of him, until strange things start to occur around the house and someone starts messing with her life. There are hints that it’s Adrian and soon Cecilia is convinced he’s somehow still around. The events continue to escalate, but no one believes her that her ex is somehow the cause and soon those close to her start to doubt her sanity. Is Cecilia crazy or is Adrian somehow still alive and stalking her for revenge?

Flick is extremely well written and directed by Leigh Whannell, who cut his teeth writing for the Saw and Insidious movies. Whannell showed the potential for solid direction with his debut, Insidious: Chapter 3 and the 2018 Upgradebut really comes into his own here. Not only is the script a clever updating of a story that is well over 100 years-old, but adds in some contemporary themes, such as domestic abuse, stalking and the effect of abusive relationships, in a way that perfectly blend with the story. Here our scientist is a psychotic, Tony Stark-ish, millionaire optics expert, one who uses his brilliant new technological invention to stalk and terrify his ex-girlfriend, rather than benefit mankind. In the director’s chair, Whannell starts the film off with a very tense and suspenseful scene of Cecilia trying to escape from Adrian’s bed and home, while he is in a drug induced sleep. The film gives us just a brief moment to breath before things start going on in James’ house and Cecilia starts to believe Adrian is not as dead as the world thinks. She sees his touch in all that is befalling her, sometimes literally. No one believes her, especially when the invisible stalker frames her for murder and everyone is convinced she’s crazy. It’s a tense, suspenseful and very effective ride as Adrian could be anywhere…and usually is. When Cecilia begins to fight back, all hell breaks loose leading to an intense showdown. Whannell gets a lot of milage out of mixing a classic story with contemporary story elements, but wisely never let’s it go over-the-top. By keeping things grounded, we go along with even the more fantastic parts of the story, such as the manner in which invisibility is achieved. It’s not perfect. When things start to happen in the house, Cecilia skips right over other possibilities, such as, maybe, a haunting and goes right to invisible man. Sure, she knows better than anyone Adrian’s intellect and optics expertise, but it’s hard to swallow, that she’d leap straight to that conclusion so quickly. That and after the exciting and violent final showdown, there are a few additional scenes that continue the story for another few minutes. An extra chapter after we thought it was done. It comes to a chilling conclusion, but sort of takes the flick into an extra inning that doesn’t quite match the momentum of what came before. None of it’s flaws are critical to the film’s effectiveness, but, as said, the flick is not perfect.

Whannell has a good cast. Elizabeth Moss gives a strong performance of a woman terrified to the point of feeling like she’s loosing her mind. When Cecilia starts to fight back, you fully believe she’s a woman driven to the point of finally standing up for herself. As we don’t actually see samples of her abusive relationship with Adrian, we still feel it’s potency based entirely on her performance. Great work. Oliver Jackson-Cohen has only two brief scenes and is fine. Again, most of his character actions are portrayed through Moss’ reactions and FX, so he hasn’t much to do physically. He is appropriately creepy when we do see him. Aldis Hodge is solid as supportive friend James. As a cop, he is forced to walk a thin line with what he can believe once Cecilia begins to rant about being stalked by a man who’s supposedly dead. In more supporting roles, Harriet Dyer is fine as Cecilia’s sister, Emily, Michael Dorman is appropriately slimy as Adrian’s lawyer, brother Tom and Storm Reid is likable as James’ daughter, Sydney. A solid and effective cast.

A very effective thriller from Leigh Whannell. It’s tense, suspenseful and mixes contemporary themes into it’s sci-fi/horror story very well. It’s paced efficiently and moves quickly for a film over two hours in length. There is some shocking violence to punctuate certain scenes and really recreates the fear of someone being stalked and manipulated to maximum effect. It has a few flaws, but otherwise shows Whannell has really locked in his directorial skills and one looks forward to whatever he comes up with next.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) invisible men.

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: CAM (2018)

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CAM (2018)

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Cam is an interesting and sometimes unsettling thriller about pretty Alice (Madeline Brewer), who unbeknownst to her mother, works as a web cam model known as “Lola”. Alice is struggling to get her sexy/playful online show up in the ratings, and is just happy to break the top fifty. One morning she awakens to find that her account has been stolen and her web show is now being run by a woman who looks like her exact duplicate. Not only is having her identity and livelihood stolen away from her driving her crazy, but this new “Lola” is rising in the ratings faster than Alice ever could. Now the desperate young woman goes on a hunt to find out who…or what…has taken over her cyberspace.

Effectively directed by Daniel Goldhaber, from a script and story by he, Isa Mazzei and Isabelle Link-Levy, this is a movie that delves into a few cyber subjects while telling it’s tale of a woman whose alter-ego is stolen away from her. Aside from identity theft, it covers the world of sexy web shows and chat rooms, internet celebrities, the lengths folks go to become famous on the web, cyber relationships, as well as, cyber stalking turning into real stalking as one of “Lola’s” online followers “Tinker” finds her in real life. The film has a slightly playful nature at first, than gets a bit creepy as we watch Alice’s online world and identity taken away. She goes on a quest to find this impostor, but along the way we learn a lot about this online alternate reality and how it becomes the only reality for some. We also see the damage caused when the impostor’s antics out Alice to the real world and the negative impact it has on her and her family. It all leads to a cyber showdown with Alice trying to turn the tables on Lola V2, which is tense and unsettling. It’s an off-beat and clever little movie that can be quite disturbing at times and in more ways than one. Are we heading towards a fantasy world that exists totally online? Cam might give some cyber food for thought on that, as it’s conclusion is no surprise and that’s on purpose. It’s making a point and making us think. There may be some unanswered questions, too, by the time it’s over, but in this case, the cause is not the focus but the effect. Besides, if you pay attention to what some of the characters are saying and a few things that occur, you can probably fill in the blanks on your own.

As for the cast, this is Madeline Brewer’s show and she gives a lively and strong performance as Alice, her alter-ego Lola and the impostor Lola. She’s a perky and slightly eccentric young woman as Alice, playful and sexy as Lola and gives Lola V2 something a bit off as the impostor escalates the sexy hi-jinx, yet, we feel there is something not quite right about her. Very good work by an actress that has to carry pretty much the whole movie on her shoulders. In support there is Love Witch’s Samantha Robinson as an online rival, Patch Darragh, who is suitably creepy as Tinker and Michael Dempsy as another of Lola’s followers who…surprise!…also turns out to be a creep.

Cam isn’t the first time cyberspace and impostors have been the subject of a horror or thriller. Just recently, we saw sexual chatrooms and cam shows in Girlhouse, mysterious doppelgangers in Imitation Girl and +1, cyber stalking in Open Windows and other cyber horrors in the Unfriended movies. Still Cam has it’s own style and a strong leading lady to stand out from the pack in how it presents it’s tale and themes. It’s a fun thriller and a bit disturbing in it’s portrayal of a world that exists on the internet and how so very important it has become to some.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 very solid laptops.


unfriended rating

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: STEPHANIE (2017)

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STEPHANIE (2017)

Something strange is happening in the world and it has left little Stephanie (Shree Crooks) all alone in her house. She’s surviving the best she can and is trying to stay clear of what she believes is a monster living in the woods outside. When her military parents (Frank Grillo and Anna Torv) suddenly return home, dad starts building an immense wall in the backyard and mom starts doing research on a strange phenomena affecting the brain. What are her parents trying to protect Stephanie from?…or is it Stephanie from whom they need protection?

Flick starts out like Home Alone meets A Quiet Place, but evolves into something different, though not totally unexpected. It is effectively directed by Akiva Goldsman from a script by Luke Piotrowski and Ben Collins that has some clever spins on situations we’ve seen before. The opening of a little girl trying to raise herself in a house with only her stuffed turtle, Francis and the corpse of her dead brother, Paul (Jonah Beres) to keep her company, is unsettling enough. When her folks mysteriously show up, things starts to really get strange. Sure, ultimately it’s just a variation of the creepy kid sub-genre, but a fairly clever one and it has some very disturbing sequences, especially in the last act when we finally discover what is actually going on. The small cast are very good, especially young Miss Crooks as Stephanie, who can be quite cute, or quite chilling, depending on the situation. At it’s core it may not be all that original, but it presents it’s premise with some interesting and creepy touches and ends on a chilling note. Definitely worth a look!

 

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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REVIEW: THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR (2016)

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THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR (2016)

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The Purge flicks aren’t great movies by any length, but give credit where it is due, the concept is interesting and series writer/director James DeMonaco is trying to do something different with it each installment. After a routine invasion flick first time around and an Escape From New York-ish second installment, we get a third chapter that is more hyper-violent political thriller. The third entry picks up 18 years after pretty Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) watched her family brutally murdered during The Purge and now Senator Roan is vying for the presidency and the abolition of the yearly crime spree event. There is growing opposition to The Purge, especially from the poor, whose numbers it’s aimed at thinning and the senator is growing in popularity. The NFFA, who created the blood spattered event, plans to use this very night to end the senator’s campaign against them and now Roan is on the run for her life with only her security chief (a returning Frank Grillo) and a proud local deli owner (Mykelti Williamson) and friends, to protect her during the 12 hour period of murder and mayhem.

Here DeMonaco delivers a more moderately paced political thriller with conspiracy and treachery all around and The Purge itself serving more as a setting than the theme. While not a more straight-up action flick like The Purge: Anarchythere is still plenty of graphic violence and bloodshed and the director does create some unsettling images and sequences along the way. There are some themes he expands on, such as The Purge’s true purpose being to thin the numbers of the lower class to cut down on government welfare expenses and some new concepts, such as “murder tourists” who travel here from foreign countries on the night of The Purge, to get in on the bloody fun and an underground movement run by EMTs and doctors to treat victims. Yes, there are a lot of political, social and racial commentary mixed in here and none of it is any too subtle. It is very heavy handed and obvious and sticks out like a sore thumb, but at least the filmmakers earn a little credit for trying to give all the blood spattering a little substance. There are some problems here, too. As mentioned, the pace is a lot more moderate and it seems longer than it’s 90+ minutes, though never boring. There is also some clunky dialog and poor acting that drag down some scenes, no more evident than in the opening NFFA meeting and scenes involving a tough talking female hood (Brittany Mirabile) who is pretty annoying even with her limited screen time. Add to that, villains that are all a bit bland and we have a third installment that aims high and falls a bit short, though still entertains.

As for the cast, they are fairly serviceable with Grillo once again being a stand-out. He has a strong presence and kicks some ass in the action sequences and is a likable action hero. Elizabeth Mitchell is solid as Roan and while she comes across as sincere and not without strength, her character is reduced to a damsel in distress in the second half. Mykelti Williamson is good as deli owner Joe Dixon. He has a quiet strength and is convincing as a man of a humble lifestyle and a sense of integrity. There is also solid work from Julian Soria as Joe’s employee Marcos and Betty Gabriel as a tough as nails EMT who helps Roan and company evade capture. Our villains, unfortunately are a bit bland, which is partially due to a lack of good development. Kyle Secor is weak as a psychotic minister who is the NFFA’s presidential candidate in opposition to Roan and Terry Serpico is a stereotypical evil mercenary type as a tattooed white supremacist, militant send to collect the pretty blonde senator for her demise.

Overall, the third in this franchise doesn’t really improve greatly on the second entry, but does have some interesting ideas and attempts a little social commentary, though does it bombastically. There is some chilling imagery and some brutal action, but it is delivered at a much more moderate pace. The villains are somewhat weak, though we have a strong and likable batch of underdog heroes in contrast. Doesn’t accomplish all it’s goals, but credit given for trying to add some substance to the gruesome proceedings and allowing it’s theme event to take a backseat to the story and characters.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets.

ex2 rating

 

 

 

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FIRST TRAILER FOR MIKE FLANAGAN’S “OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL”

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We finally get a trailer for Mike Flanagan’s (Oculus, Hush) follow-up to Blumhouse Productions’ 2014 teen-centric horror hit OuijaWhile originally thought to be a sequel, this seems more like a prequel or possibly a completely unrelated period piece with a ouija board being the only common thread. Either way the flick is headed our way 10/21/16 right in time for the Halloween season!

-MonsterZero NJ

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: MOCKINGBIRD (2014)

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MOCKINGBIRD (2014)

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

POV horror flick has three groups of people, a couple (Todd Stashwick and Audrey Marie Anderson), a college student (Alexandra Lydon) and a slacker (Barak Hardley) still living with his mom, getting cameras sent to them with the ominous message to keep filming or someone will die. More messages and packages are sent, as the couple and the student are threatened and tormented, while Leonard is told to put on a clown suit and go on various tasks…of which he is gleefully happy to do. Whoever this manipulator is, they are playing a dangerous game with an  ulterior agenda that will bring all three subjects together…and probably not in a good way.

Flick is written and directed by Bryan Bertino for Blumhouse and is fairly entertaining. It may not be anything new, but it does generate some chills, as our couple and student are being tormented by this mysterious person/persons and some laughs with the far too giddy to cooperate Leonard. They are trapped inside their homes with the threat of death looming and it is kind of creepy as they are manipulated slowly and gradually, till finally instructed to leave and head to a specific address on Mockingbird Drive. The cast members all do well in portraying their fright, or in Leonard’s case their delighted compliance and that helps make this stay fairly entertaining for most of the running time. The film only really falters at the end and in more than one way. First, this is exactly where we figured this flick was going as bringing the characters together in a devious manner was obvious from the start. Another point is that after just over 80 minutes we realize that there isn’t much of a story here, once it predictably ends. The third and biggest problem is once we find out who is instigating this sadistic plan, it becomes obvious that they would not have had the resources and mode of travel to accomplish all that they do. Those responsible would have needed to get from place to place very quickly and have considerable capital to pull this off. Once you meet them, you realize it’s highly implausible that they could have authored all this by themselves and they appear to be acting alone. It’s supposed to be creepy, but our villains inspired more questions than chills, once finally unveiled. We are also never given a reason for all this, or any backstory as to who these people are, or why the victims are chosen, other than a vague but effective opening scene. The film works until it’s reveal, then it looses it’s grip as the creditability is strained a bit too much…aside from leading exactly where we thought it would.

Overall, I had some fun with this and it did have some spooky moments, some chilling scenes and some legitimate laughs when we follow Leonard. It works for most of the movie until it’s last scene reveal. Once we find out what is going on, we have serious doubts that they would have been able to successfully pull it off. It also ends as we knew it would with our victims. Not a bad flick for a night on the couch, but one that needed to be a bit more clever to keep belief suspended beyond it’s final moments.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 gift boxes

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