HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE DARK AND THE WICKED (2020)

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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.

-MonsterZero NJ

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

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S 12 RECENT HORRORS/THRILLERS WITH ASS-KICKING HEROINES!

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Haley Bennett alone against a vicious cult in Kristy

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S 12 RECENT HORRORS/THRILLERS WITH ASS-KICKING HEROINES!

Who doesn’t love a good final girl!? Most horror fans do! So, here are twelve recent horrors/thrillers where our heroines made an especially strong impact kicking the ass of evil!

 

Click on the titles here to go to the review page for the corresponding movie!

1. Kristy

2.Hush

3.Bound To Vengeance

4.Hellions

5.Final Girl

6.Don’t Breathe

7.The Guest

8.All I Need

9.Carnage Park

10.The Monster

11.Curve

12.Girlhouse

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Tina Ivlev turns the tables on female traffickers in Bound To Vengeance

-MonsterZero NJbars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE MONSTER (2016)

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THE MONSTER (2016)

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

The Monster is the latest flick from writer/director Bryan Bertino who made the harrowing home invasion flick The Strangers and the more recent found footage horror Mockingbird. In his latest film, he tells the story of young Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) who is going on a road trip with her selfish, alcoholic mother, Kathy (Zoe Kazan), to visit her father…a trip her mom knows Lizzy is not planning to return from. The two have a tumultuous relationship at best and Kathy’s reliance on booze and jerk boyfriends isn’t helping. When traveling in the rain on a deserted backwoods road, they have an accident and help will take some time to arrive. The worst is yet to come, though, as there is something stalking the woods they are now stranded in and it is large, vicious and very hungry.

Bertino creates tension long before his mysterious creature arrives by giving a harsh view of what life is like for young Lizzy with her mom. Just from the opening scene we see how disappointed and angry the young girl is with her mother, who is just too wrapped up in her own life to make a better life for her daughter. As the two travel, we are treated to some grim flashbacks of Kathy’s drinking and the abusive nature of the type of men she brings home. Lizzy’s young life is not a pleasant one and Bertino doesn’t shy away from letting us know it. This works well in both creating tension before the monster shows up and adding weight to the bonding of mother and daughter against the vicious predator. Any help that comes to their rescue meets the beast as well, so, it’s up to Kathy and Lizzy to fend for themselves. This is where the film really clicked. The creature itself is just a catalyst for the mother and daughter to rediscover how much they mean to each other and Kathy especially to think beyond herself and to her daughter’s well being…and it works. The real monster here is a mother’s selfishness and the hurt and anger it has given her child and thus the story is about how extreme adversity finally opens both their eyes as to how much they care about…and need…each other. Not to say this is all drama, as there is plenty of monster action and there are some intense, suspenseful and bloody attack sequences throughout. There is also some decent gore and the creature is delightfully rendered with old fashioned prosthetics. Sure, there have been more realistic monsters on screen, but I’ll take a rubber suit over cheesy CGI any day and Bertino gives his creature presence and a bit of a mean streak. On a production level, the film seems modestly budgeted but looks good. There is also some atmospheric cinematography of the isolated backwoods setting by Julie Kirkwood and a fitting score by Tomandandy who also scored Girlhouse.

As for the cast, while there are some brief appearances by supporting characters, this is all Kazan and Ballentine’s show and both actresses bring it. Zoe Kazan gives a strong portrayal of a white trash mother who seems to legitimately love her daughter, but can’t get past her own indulgences to show her properly and be a good mom. She conveys the sadness that her daughter wants to leave her, yet also that selfish hesitation that keeps her from getting her act together to keep her. She succeeds in portraying a bad mom, but one that is not totally unlikable. We do feel a bit sorry for her. Fifteen year-old Ella Ballentine is a powerhouse as Lizzy. She is portraying a girl much younger and one that has had a harsh life with seeing her parents separate and then watching as her mother’s indulgences ruins both their lives. Some of the scenes she performs are harrowing…and that’s just the dramatic sequences that illustrate the sad nature of her relationship with her mom. When Lizzy goes one on one with our monster, she is pure dynamite! We sympathize and root for Lizzy completely. Great job by the young actress.

Despite some underwhelming advanced word, this film really clicked for me. Bryan Bertino gave it a strong dramatic backbone by creating two, three dimensional characters with a very intense, antagonistic and sad relationship between them. He then forces those characters to rediscover their need and importance to each other by putting them in a life and death struggle with a dangerous predator and in a situation where they have only each other to rely on. It may sound corny, but it worked completely. The director also gave us some intense and suspenseful monster sequences, for those who came here to see a monster movie and they were quite bloody. Add to that two very strong performances by it’s lead actresses and you have a movie that is powerful family drama and intense monster movie and very satisfying…and sometimes heartbreaking…as both.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 teddy bears that pick the worst time to sing.

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