BARE BONES: THE WIND (2019)

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THE WIND (2019)

Old West set horror finds frontier wife Lizzy (Smiley’s Caitlin Gerard) left by herself after the tragic death of her neighbor Emma (Jukia Goldani Telles) during childbirth. While her husband (Ashley Zuckerman) is away and she’s secluded in their home, Lizzy reflects on recent events and the loss of her own child as a sinister supernatural force closes in on her.

Moody supernatural horror is directed by Emma Tammi from a script by Theresa Sutherland and focuses more on Lizzy’s decaying state of mind than supernatural events. There are scenes of paranormal activity, especially in the last act, when it appears Lizzy is unraveling, but there is a greater focus on telling the story in flashbacks as we learn this “presence” may have been haunting Lizzy for some time. It’s far more somber than scary, but worth a look for Caitlin Gerard’s performance of a woman isolated, slowly coming apart and possibly haunted by a sinister force. The film does try to keep you guessing if Lizzy is simply cracking under the pressures of frontier life, or is there actually a demonic force roaming these lands. The pace is deliberately moderate and the last act has some disturbing events and reveals. Not for everyone, but a bit of a different perspective on the traditional supernatural/demonic haunting flick. Also stars Miles Anderson as a traveling preacher and Dylan McTee (Midnighters) as Emma’s devastated husband Gideon.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (2017)

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INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (2017)

Fourth installment in this franchise is again a prequel, this one taking place just before the events of the first film. First, it opens in 1953 and shows us a young Elise (Ava Kolker) in her childhood home showing her psychic abilities much to the anger of her abusive father (Josh Stewart). We relive a horrifying event and then are taken forward to 2010 where an adult Elise (Lin Shaye) is called by the current occupant of her old childhood house to investigate some paranormal activity. Now Elise must overcome her inner fear and go back to that house and not only relive those awful memories, but find out some horrifying truths as well.

Flick is again written by Leigh Whannell, who also appears as “Specs”, but this time directed by Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan). Robitel brings atmosphere and provides some spooky moments, though the series is starting to show signs of loosing steam. It is interesting to go into Elise’s past and see where this all began, but even so, the backstory isn’t enough to freshen things up completely. The story is well presented and we get the tension between Elise and the estranged brother (Bruce Davison) she left behind when she walked away from her father and that house, but despite the dramatic weight of this being a very personal investigation for Elise, we still feel it could have been stronger. The final showdown in The Further with the house’s reigning specter should have had more intensity. The evil entity lacks weight with being given little to no backstory and is kept on the sidelines till the last act. Still, it is well directed and shows, with a stronger script, Robitel could deliver a spooky and atmospheric film. This flick does have some good moments, including a fairly shocking reveal and there was a purveying sense of dread whenever the action took place inside the house. The film is entertaining, it’s just that it may be time to let this franchise rest in peace, or bring in new blood both creatively and on camera. We are introduced to Elise’s psychic niece Imogen (Caitlin Gerard from Smiley), so maybe such plans are already in place. It’s hard to do much with Elise when they killed her off in the first film, which in hindsight was a big mistake.

Lin Shaye is once again in top form as Elise. She is a great character and the actress gives the role lots of heart. She’s very likable and despite her experiences, she’s still vulnerable and can be scared. She makes the character very endearing which would explain her continual return in prequels. Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell are fine as Tucker and Specs, but it’s Elise’s show and they are wisely kept to side-kick duties. Bruce Davison is a class act and is sympathetic as her emotionally wounded brother, Christian. Josh Stewart is detestable as Elise’s dad and both Spencer Locke and Caitlin Gerard are likable as Melissa and Imogen, Elise’s nieces. A solid cast.

This was a good effort in many ways, just unfortunately in a franchise running out of gas. They gave us some nice backstory on Elise and made the story more personal, but the adventures in The Further and even it’s Key Face (Javier Botet) demon are routine and showing series wear and tear. Adam Robitel added atmosphere and handles the spookiness well, but Leigh Whannell’s script fails to freshen things up despite a more Elise-centric story. Overall, it was entertaining enough, but not going to win new fans and will have current ones questioning how much longer they are going to stick around for “Further” adventures.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 spooks.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SMILEY (2012)

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SMILEY (2012)

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

Smiley is a horror flick you wished you could like more because the makers seem to be trying really hard to deliver…but misses the mark a bit too much to be completely forgiving. The story centers on an internet urban legend of a serial killer named, ‘Smiley’. When you are on a video chat with someone, you’re supposed to type in ‘I did it for the lulz’ three times and Smiley will appear behind the person you are chatting with and kill them. College roommates Ashley (Caitlin Gerard) and Proxy (Melanie Papalia) give it a try one night and, to their horror, watch someone be brutally murdered before their eyes. Now good girl Ashley is convinced that Smiley will soon come for her and Proxy and even starts to see the faceless killer around campus. Is he real and is her life in real danger, or is Smiley all in the emotionally troubled girl’s head?

Written by Michael Gallagher and Glasgow Phillips and directed by Gallagher, this flick tries hard to be a sort of Scream meets Candyman for the internet age, but just doesn’t accomplish it’s goal. The whole Smiley legend seems a little too far fetched and silly to really grab us and Gallagher really doesn’t create any tension with it. Attempts to create enough doubt as to whether Ashley is imagining him, or if he really exists aren’t effective enough and that might have added some mystery and suspense to it, if we weren’t sure. Simply adding a Scream-like plot element that Ashley lost her mother and is still grieving, isn’t enough to make her an unreliable witness…that and more deaths occur, so we know something is up. Ashley also only starts to get a little unglued when she starts to see Smiley, otherwise she seems like she has her head on straight. The script is actually very talky, too with very little Smiley action. There are numerous, lengthy scenes in one of Ashley’s classes with her Professor (Roger Bart) waxing philosophical and none of the scenes really go anywhere or contribute to the story. They seem like time wasters to stretch out a thin script to feature length and the time would have been better spent trying to scare us with more Smiley. The opening scene with a pretty babysitter (Nikki Limo) is actually the best scene in the film and the flick never reaches that effectiveness again. There are a few gory deaths and the Smiley character himself looks effective, but he is never around enough to evoke true menace and the big reveal at the climax really comes as no surprise. It’s too bad, a tighter script and a far more capable hands behind the camera and this could have been a cool little flick. It’s few effective parts just don’t add up to a successful whole.

Our leading ladies are fine and probably would have been more effective with a better script and direction. Caitlin Gerard is a cute, but emotionally troubled girl-next-door as Ashley and we do like her. Melanie Papalia (Extraterrestrial, The Den) is pretty and spunky as party girl Proxy though, she seems like the stronger of the two for certain, though the script has her character being a little too unfazed by witnessing a murder and possibly being the cause. Bart is a bit eccentric as Professor Clayton, but his character really doesn’t contribute much and Shane Dawson is adequate as loner/nerd Binder, who Ashley falls for and asks for help getting to the bottom of this urban legend. A decent cast that work well with cliché characters and could have used better material.

The movie was OK. It’s not terrible, but it is far from succeeding in what it wants to do. You get the feeling the filmmakers were trying their best…there is nothing pretentious about it…it’s just they fell short. It has a bit of a charm, so you want to like it better, but it’s too weak to really embrace and enjoy thoroughly. That and the familiar elements aren’t used creatively enough to give it a total pass. Not a waste of time, but up to you if you want to spend that time checking it out.

-MonsterZero NJ

A generous 2 and 1/2 Smiley’s.

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