BARE BONES: THE TOKOLOSHE-THE CALLING (2021)

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THE TOKOLOSHE: THE CALLING (2021)

The Tokoloshe: The Calling is a South African supernatural thriller that finds writer Arish (Arish Sirkissoon) staying with his wife Angelina (Angela Balkovic) and their adopted daughter Thembi (Shezi Sibongiseni) at an abandoned hotel, so he can write. The hotel has a dark past and before you can say The Shining, Arish and his family fall under attack from a demonic spirit known as a tokoloshe.

Supernatural thriller is directed by Richard Green, from his script with star Arish Sirkissoon, and despite the interesting South African supernatural folklore, chooses to focus more on being a retread of The Shining. It’s too bad, as the tokoloshe sounds like an interesting bit of untapped folklore for a movie such as this, but Green instead decides to replay moments of the Stanley Kubrick classic. We get spectral children, ghostly bartenders and guests, along with a writer whose temperament is become shorter by the day. Thembi even rides her bike through the hallways a la Danny. If we didn’t get the idea that Green is a Stephen King fan, there is also an appearance by a red balloon to make sure we do. There is such a missed opportunity here, as with so little known about South African supernatural folklore, this flick really could have been something fresh in the haunting sub-genre. Instead we only get sparse background on this demonic creature of South African legend. Green does make good use of his spooky hotel setting and does create some atmospheric shots, even in broad daylight. Maybe next time he will have more faith in his own ideas and leave recycling his influences behind. Flick gets a little extra credit for trying something new with what tokoloshe folklore, that it should have been even more about, and for it’s South African locations. The Tokoloshe: The Calling is a tight 72 minutes in length and is available today (09/03/21) on VOD.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

BARE BONES: THE OLD WAYS (2020)

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THE OLD WAYS (2020)

Troubled Latina reporter Christina (Brigitte Kali Canales) returns to her Mexican hometown village of La Boca to research a story about witchcraft. She finds herself kidnapped and held by the local bruja Luz (Julia Vera), her assistant Javi (Sal Lopez) and Christina’s cousin Miranda (Andrea Cortés). The bruja believes Christina is possessed by a demon, a malevolent entity that must be removed and banished at all costs.

Flick is directed by Christopher Alender from a script by Marcos Gabriel. The Latin background to the proceedings gives it a bit of a fresh feel and director Alender gives it atmosphere and a spooky visual style. What holds it back a bit is that it basically takes place in one room for most of the runtime and, for the most part, is a slow and drawn-out 90 minute exorcism in multiple parts, with Christina doing some soul searching in between. The pretty reporter does bare her soul in more ways than one and the exorcism scenes are effective, but it really feels like an hour long episode of a TV show stretched out to feature length. This is especially evident when about two-thirds in, the demon is expelled, but finds another host and we repeat the main exorcism all over again. It becomes repetitive and tedious. Leading lady Brigitte Kali Canales is very pretty and tries hard, but could have been a bit stronger in the role of Christina. Supporting cast was very good, so that helped. Not a waste of time and can be effective and atmospheric, but definitely needed a bit more story to properly fill it’s hour and a half runtime. Flick is now streaming on Netflix.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

BARE BONES: DEMONIC (2021)

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DEMONIC (2021)

Demonic finds a woman named Carly (Carly Pope) finding out her mother Angela (Nathalie Boltt) is no longer in prison for committing mass murder, but now in a coma under study at the Therapol institute. They contact her and ask her to participate in a procedure where a virtual reality simulation will make it possible for her to communicate with Angela’s sub-conscious. The more she enters her mother’s mind, though, the more she begins to believe her mother’s problems are more malevolent than medical and that the mysterious doctors at Therapol may have a hidden agenda.

As written and directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Chappie), there are some interesting ideas here mixing technology and religion. The idea of the Vatican using modern VR technology to track demonic entities, so they can be destroyed, is novel and intriguing. Despite some clever concepts, though, Blomkamp basically delivers yet another run- of-the-mill demonic possession thriller and not an overly original or effective one, once we get passed the intriguing first act set-up. Strip away the contemporary technology coating and it’s just another supernatural horror flick with someone forced to battle a demonic entity to save themselves and the ones they love. There are some spooky moments and the action is well directed, but after the interesting first third, it digresses into a movie we have all seen many times before. It’s worth a look, but it’s nothing overly scary, or memorable, and a routine film that disappointingly doesn’t make full use of what original ideas it does have.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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REVIEW: THE CONJURING-THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (2021)

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THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (2021)

Third Conjuring flick takes place in 1981 and finds Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) presiding over the exorcism of a little boy named David (Julian Hillard). It almost costs Ed his life, leaving him unconscious, and unknown to Lorraine, the demon transferred to Arne (Ruairi O’Connor), a young man present during the ceremony. As Ed recovers in a hospital, warning that Arne is possessed, the young man under demonic influence, stabs his landlord (Ronnie Gene Blevins) to death. Now the Warrens must somehow prove that demonic possession was involved and Arne is innocent of murder.

Threequel is directed this time by Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona) from a script and story by producer James Wan and David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick based on a supposed real-life case of the Warrens. It opens with a supernatural bang with yet another exorcism, but it is an effective one and sets the tone for the film. It establishes to the audience that Arne is the host and we know something bad is soon to happen…and it does. Third in this series takes a bit of a different direction once blood is shed, as not only does it have the now traditional supernatural hi-jinx, but is a paranormal detective drama as well. Ed and Lorraine go on the road to investigate the origins of David’s possession, unraveling a trail of evil and death leading to a demonic cultist. It takes this franchise in a bit of a different direction and is well done, but the exorcism/possession storyline elements are just too familiar and overdone in recent films to be that scary. At least the cultist angle adds a human adversary which is a welcome change. Chaves is a competent director, but he can only do so much with such frequently treaded material and he doesn’t quite have Wan’s skill at theatrical scares. The investigative portion of the story is intriguing and keeps one’s attention and is the strongest element of this second sequel. If anything, it takes The Warrens out of their usual haunted house setting and that at least keeps them and this sequel from getting too stale. The FX are well done, there is some bloodshed and in contrast, the flick also has some nice heart to give resonance to the Warrens’ cause. Chaves may not have Wan’s visual eye, but he does produce some atmosphere and appropriately spooky imagery, especially in Lorraine’s visions, and orchestrates the jump scares well, though is less reliant on them. The climax is an entertaining The Exorcist meets Silence of the Lambs mash-up that works very well and ends the story with the theatrics fans come to expect.

The cast are solid. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are good as Ed and Lorraine Warren. Whether you believe the real couple are legit or shysters is up to you, but their cinematic counterparts make for endearing characters. They tread a little new ground for this series and do well and the actors make a good team that gives the movie it’s heart. Ruairi O’Connor is sympathetic as the tormented Arne and pretty Sarah Catherine Hook is likable as his girlfriend and little David’s sister, Debbie. John Noble also appears, in an exposition role, as a retired priest with knowledge of the cult in question, while Eugenie Bondurant is creepy as the cultist whose curse drives this flick’s story.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is a well made film with some spooky moments and wisely takes it’s paranormal couple into a somewhat different scenario to freshen things up a bit. It’s well directed by Chaves, though still focuses heavily on demonic possession/exorcism elements that have become almost as frequently seen in recent horror, as zombies. If you are a fan of this series you will probably like this one and if not, the investigative/detective drama aspect may keep you intrigued enough to be entertained, during it’s almost two hour runtime. Series hasn’t run of of gas quite yet, but shows signs that it might be time to really dig into the Warrens’ case files for a fourth installment. Watch through the credits for some spooky footage, photos and reel to reel recordings from the real life Warrens and this case.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 spooks

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BARE BONES: THE CLEANSING HOUR (2019)

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THE CLEANSING HOUR (2019)

Shudder Original has a shyster priest, Father Max (Ryan Guzman) staging phony exorcisms for his web show, The Cleansing Hour. During one of his staged performances, a real demonic entity decides to show up. Now the fraudulent Father Max has to not only battle the real thing, but has all his darkest secrets brought out to bear in front of his live audience.

Flick is well directed by Damien LeVeck despite being from a silly script from he and Aaron Horwitz. There is some very bad dialogue and some silly moments, but LeVeck directs the nonsense with a skilled hand and makes it far more effective than it should be. His demon puts Max through an emotional wringer, as the former priest is forced to bare his soul before his internet audience, which grows as the demonic hi-jinx accelerate. LeVeck has a good visual style and there are some very convincing gore and creature effects. He gets good work from his cast, especially Guzman as the troubled priest, Father Max and even sneaks in some biting commentary on the contemporary clergy. Director and cast take this all very seriously and this also helps make it far more effective than it should be, including a very disturbing climax. No classic, but worth a watch and signals LeVeck could turn out something really interesting with a stronger script. Also stars horror flick vet Kyle Gallner (Jennifer’s Body, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010) as Max’s childhood friend and partner, Drew and Alix Angelis as Drew’s fiancée and the object of demonic possession, Lane.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: BELZEBUTH (2017)

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BELZEBUTH (2017)

Mexican horror opens with a massacre in a hospital maternity ward where police detective Emmanuel Ritter (Joaquín Cosío) loses his infant son. Five years later, he is given a case of a similar massacre at a school…one right out of today’s headlines. Aside from the painful similarities, Ritter doesn’t see a connection till Vatican paranormal expert Ivan Franco (Tate Ellington) arrives. Franco warns Ritter these killing may be the work of rogue priest Vasilio Canetti (Tobin Bell) and an ancient demonic presence. At first Ritter is skeptical, but soon his eyes are opened to things he’s never imagined, especially when he finds out the reason all these innocent children are being slaughtered.

Film is effectively directed by Emilio Portes from a plot heavy script by he and Luis Carlos Fuentes. There is a lot going on, but the film has some spooky and intense moments, especially the shocking maternity ward scene which sets the tone. The flick has biblical implications, some interesting plot twists and some very familiar demonic possession tropes, but uses them effectively for the most part. It is a bit overlong, but the cast is good and Portes has a visual style that works well with the horror elements. There is some graphic violence which has impact and Portes uses his Mexican locations atmospherically. Even the traditional exorcism is effective enough, despite the familiarity. An entertaining horror, even if a bit cliché heavy. Also stars Liam Villa as Isa, a little boy who is the focus of the demon’s attention and Yunuen Pardo as his mother.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE POSSESSION OF HANNAH GRACE (2018)

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THE POSSESSION OF HANNAH GRACE (2018)

Megan Reed (Shay Mitchell) is an ex-cop still traumatized over freezing up and allowing a perpetrator to kill her partner. It’s turned her into a recovering addict who gets a graveyard shift job at the morgue. Makes sense! Along comes the body of Hannah Grace (Kirby Johnson), a young girl killed during a botched exorcism. The demonic entity that inhabits Hannah’s body hasn’t left yet and supernatural hi-jinx ensue. 

Film is directed by someone named Diederik Van Rooijen from an uninspired script from Brian Sieve. It offers almost nothing new to the possession sub-genre and pulls out every lame cliché demonic themed flicks have to offer. Any new wrinkles are few, far between and silly…like Hannah’s demon infested corpse being able to regenerate itself with each person it kills. What? It’s also hard to believe a former cop who is suffering from depression over the death of her partner would choose a morgue as a new place of work. Mitchell makes a solid enough heroine, but is let down by the movie surrounding her. Hannah Grace made almost four times it’s budget back at the box office, so someone thought this drivel was cool.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: THE DEVIL’S DOORWAY (2018)

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THE DEVIL’S DOORWAY (2018)

Found footage flick takes place in 1960 and is supposed to be film footage shot by two priests, Father Thomas (Lalor Roddy) and Father John (Ciaran Flynn) as they investigate the reported bleeding eyes of a Virgin Mary statue. The statue stands in an Irish Magdalene laundry which were basically homes for wayward women cast out by society. Once the priests start to investigate, they find the statue is the least of their problems as there is true evil in this place both human and supernatural in origin.

Aside from it’s intriguing setting, there is nothing all that original in this flick, as either a found footage film or a demonic thriller. Director Aislinn Clarke makes atmospheric use of her locations, including some creepy rooms and catacombs beneath the building, but fails to set anything all that involving within them. Her script, that she wrote along with Martin Brennan and Micheal B. Jackson, drags out every cliché imaginable in the found footage and demonic possession genres from the shaky cams and conveniently failing lights to the laughter of spectral children and levitating young women in nightgowns. The last act down in the subterranean catacombs beneath the building were right out of As Above, So Below and the sticks used for demonic symbols, right out of Blair Witch. Roddy’s Father Thomas was an interesting character and there was a creepy twist involving his past and Helena Bereen‘s Mother Superior was spooky without the last act reveals. It’s just the film seems to be simply a mash-up of elements and scenes from other movies and not done interesting enough to freshen them up or give the filmmakers a break. There is some feminist commentary mixed in, but it doesn’t make up for all the under-cooked horror elements that we’ve seen so many times before. There is some spooky and disturbing stuff in the last act, but it’s too little, too late and too familiar to elevate the film, even with a brief 76 minutes run-time.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE OFFERING

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THE OFFERING (2016)

 

Ho-hum possession/demonic thriller has pretty atheist Jaime Waters (Elizabeth Rice) rushing to Singapore when she learns of her sister’s (Rayann Condy) suicide. She begins to investigate the reasons behind her sibling’s demise and finds a a supernatural threat is emerging and one that challenges her disbelief and threatens her young niece (Adina Herz).

Despite the novelty of the Singapore location and Rice making a likable heroine, this is a dull and routine demonic thriller that makes good use of neither. There is a convoluted plot invoking a demonic entity trying to resurrect the Towel Of Babel and even when writer/director Kelvin Tong comes up with a clever idea of the demon using computers to influence, he jettison’s it for the same old possession/haunting tropes, including a basement-set exorcism finale that totally rips-off The Conjuring. Completely derivative and forgettable even when it tries to be clever. Would like to see cutie Elizabeth Rice do final girl duty in a much better film. Also known as The Faith Of Anna Waters.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE POSSESSION (2012)

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THE POSSESSION (2012)

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

The story of this PG-13 horror concerns a divorced couple Clyde (Jeffery Dean Morgan) and Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and their two daughters Hannah (Madison Davenport) and Emily (Natasha Calis). When Clyde buys Emily a strange wooden box she spots at a yard sale, Emily soon starts to exhibit strange and violent behavior. Clyde soon finds out the box is a Hebrew demon box whose occupant Emily has unleashed. Now, somehow, Clyde must save his daughter from the demon’s grasp!

The Possession is a well-made and, for the most part, well-directed horror film that is sadly weakened by being just too routine and filled with clichés. Director Ole Bornedal actually does a good job building tension and does gives us a few scares, but Leslie Gornstein’s script is so full of the typical possession/exorcism elements, that even with the Jewish slant, it can’t save the material from being far too familiar to be effective. The film is at it’s weakest when the actually exorcism finally takes place, as even in Hebrew, we’ve seen it all before, from swarms of insects to creepy voices to contorting bodies to conveniently empty hospital hallways. The more familiar it gets, the more Bornedal’s tension evaporates and the last act loses us completely when it should grip us the most.

The cast is all fine, especially young Natasha Calis who really does a great job as the tortured Emily. It’s only Sedgwick who overacts a bit and seems uncomfortable with the supernatural themed material. Morgan makes a strong father figure and Davenport is quite adequate as Hannah.

All in all it’s an OK  passing of time, but nothing new to this horror sub-genre and quite forgettable when it’s all said and done.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 flies.

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