BARE BONES: FOLLOW (2015)

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FOLLOW (2015)

Offbeat and unsettling little flick has Quinn (Noah Segan) waking up a few days before Christmas and finding a gun in his hand, his girlfriend (Olivia Grace Applegate) dead and not remembering a thing. Quinn panics and as he tries to remember what happened, keeps the body hidden and doesn’t call authorities. Adding fuel to the fire, his cute co-worker with a crush, Viv (Haley Lu Richardson) comes to the house looking for him when he doesn’t show up for work…and finds the corpse. Now Quinn’s life starts to really spin out of control with a dead girl upstairs and and a live witness held captive in the cellar.

Written and directed by Owen Egerton, this is an interesting and twisted little movie. Quinn starts to slowly lose his mind and make increasingly bad decisions upon finding the death obsessed Thana (Applegate) actually dead after some unsettling foreplay with a gun the night before. We are along for the ride as he unravels, as the fact that he can’t remember what happened starts to panic him. Did he kill her? Things start to snowball when Viv discovers the body and gets locked up in the basement by the unglued Quinn, who is starting to talk to the dead Thana to get some answers. Egerton delivers an unsettling downward spiral and mixes a little warped humor in with the delirium. The good performances from Segan, Richardson and Applegate also help make the eccentric story work, too. Not everything always clicks but at under 80 minutes it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome and is a disturbing and sometimes weirdly amusing flick.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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REVIEW: THE YOUNG KIESLOWSKI (2014)

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THE YOUNG KIESLOWSKI (2014)

Indie comedy/drama finds nerdy college virgin Brian Kieslowski (Ryan Malgarini) going to a party one night and meeting adorable and opinionated also virgin Leslie Mallard (Haley Lu Richardson). After some awkward drunken moments, Brian and the young woman hook up. Weeks later Leslie finds out she is pregnant and with twins and wants to keep them, as she is Christian. When confronted with this news Brian, who is currently dealing with his mother’s (Melora Walters) terminal cancer, tries to appear supportive, but is actually quite terrified and the turmoil begins as they travel to tell both sets of parents.

Film is well directed by Kerem Sanga from his own script and is probably more realistic about how things would go in this scenario, especially with today’s self-absorbed generation of youth. It’s aggravating to watch Brian constantly lie about his support of Leslie’s decision to keep her babies and even more infuriating to watch him let his selfishness and fear govern how he treats her and the situation. You sit there waiting for him to man-up and take responsibility for his part in her pregnancy, but all he does is lie to her face and run from his responsibilities. In the meantime we feel terrible for poor Leslie whose own rich, self-absorbed author father (James LeGros) wants her to have an abortion, or he will cut off her college funding and money to live. Brian outwardly pretends to side with Leslie, but secretly hopes her father convinces her otherwise. It’s actually heartbreaking to watch so many other people trying to decide what’s right for the young woman without taking her feelings or opinion into consideration. The only ally she really has is Brian’s terminally ill mother. It’s a lot of drama for a film that sometimes quite awkwardly, tries to interject humor into it’s scenario, which doesn’t always work and occasionally makes one uncomfortable as this would be a serious situation in real-life. If the film has any major flaw, it’s the humor doesn’t always mix well with the subject and one would like to think writer/director Sanga isn’t trying to make light of a young woman in such a predicament and wanting to make her own choice. Perhaps there is a thinly veiled statement here as the male characters favor abortion, while the women favor keeping the babies. Echos of our own country where male politicians seem to feel they can speak for women’s right’s…without the woman’s point of view being considered. Hard to believe that this was unintentional as we watch Brian secretly hope Leslie doesn’t go through with having what are his children, too…another point he seems to miss. One other gripe is that at no point do any of the characters mention the option of adoption. It’s either abortion or nothing on the side of those opposed to her keeping her babies and it was infuriating that at no point does anyone suggest a possible compromise of giving the children up for adoption. You’d think at least Brian’s mom would have suggested it, being one of the only people who cared about how Leslie felt. Was this not touched upon for dramatic purposes? Only writer Sanga knows for sure.

The director does have a very good cast even if we want to punch his lead character sometimes. Ryan Malgarini does convey well the terror and selfishness of an already somewhat immature young man who now has to grow up and do the right thing. It makes one angry to see how little consideration Brian gives to Leslie’s feelings and how selfishly he runs from being there to support her and being a man and taking responsibility. It’s a good stretch of the film where Brian becomes unlikable for his lack of maturity and how he hurts Leslie and in that, the actor plays the part very well. We are actually proud of Brian when he finally grows up and steps up and Malgarini makes that work even though we wanted to throttle Brian for the last hour. As Leslie, Hayley Lu Richardson (The Last Survivors, Split, Edge of Seventeen) once again proves she is a star in the making. Her Leslie is a fiery, opinionated young woman and seems to have a good heart and a pretty good head on her shoulders, even if she can be impulsive. Despite her strength and resolve, she still generates a lot of sympathy when the person she should most trust in, Brian, doesn’t support her and outwardly betrays her. That and having her own father try to force her to make a decision she feels isn’t right, is heartbreaking and Richardson has us by the heartstrings without taking her character into over-the-top melodrama. She has a strong screen presence and once again shows her versatility in yet another type of film. The girl has talent. James LeGros is an underrated actor and once again gives a strong performance as the self-absorbed Walter Mallard. He wants his daughter to do what HE thinks is right, ignoring her opinion and the fact that he was a young dad and his life and daughter turned out alright. He doesn’t even consider letting her make her own decision and being supportive and respectful of that. Legros, as with Malgarini, is a good enough actor to make us smile when Walter changes his mind. There is also good work from Joshua Malina as Brian’s father Robert, who is not ready to become a grandfather yet, and a wonderful supporting performance by Melora Walters as Brian’s terminally ill mother who becomes Leslie’s only true supporter and whose only concern is to see her grandchildren before she leaves this world.

I liked this movie. It stirred up some emotions and dealt with the difficult situation of pregnancy at a young age and the resulting turmoil, probably more honestly than one wants to admit. It boldly allowed it’s lead character to behave in a irresponsible and sometimes borderline cold manner and really makes us wait for him to do the right thing. Director/writer Kerem Sanga gets some really strong work from his cast and quite possibly was making a statement about men arrogantly making decisions about a woman’s right to choose. If the film has any flaws, it’s that sometimes the attempts at humor don’t fit the situation and we would like to think Sanga wasn’t making light of a serious subject, just choosing awkward moments to lighten the tone. If you like indie flicks, this is worth checking out.

-MonsterZero NJ

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HALLOWEEN HOTTIES: 3 ACTRESSES TO SCREAM ABOUT!

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This newest installment of Halloween Hotties features three relatively new faces in horror that recently have made quite an impression in the genre. These three actresses made for memorable final girls/characters in their respective horrors/thrillers and we can only hope they will grace the horror genre again and soon!

(Click on the highlighted links to read a review of the films that our Halloween Hotties have appeared in)

Anya Taylor-Joy

ANYA TAYLOR-JOY!

Anya has taken the horror world by storm, appearing in two highly acclaimed horror films within the space of a year and an entertaining Sci-fi thriller in the middle. The actress was born in Miami, but has lived in Argentina and London and has also modeled and been a ballet dancer. Her varied background may be the reason she can play such different roles and almost be unrecognizable from one to the other. Whether it be a coming of age puritan teen in The Witch, a genetic experiment in Morgan, or an emotionally troubled teen kidnaped by someone with far bigger head problems in Split, Anya is proving a welcome presence in the horror genre and an actress to keep an eye on! Rumor now suggests she may join the cast of The New Mutants, the new X-Men film in the works…and we hope so!

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Anya first got our attention as The Witch’s tempted teen Thomasin!

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CAITLIN STASEY!

Between movies and TV, this Aussie beauty has been quite busy and we couldn’t be happier that some of that busy has been in our favorite type of flicks! Stasey, already a veteran of TV and films, made her first waves in the horror genre in Lucky McKee’s 2013 horror comedy All Cheerleaders Die as lead Maddy. She next appeared in the unintentionally funny graphic novel adaptation I, Frankenstein, as a sexy gargoyle, no less. She then starred as kidnap victim, Chloe in the 2015 horror/thriller All I Need, which is only now being released and just last year in the horror comedy Fear, Inc. While we wait for this Australian stunner to appear in her next genre role, she can currently be seen in the sexy TV historical drama Reign. A busy girl we’d like to see even more of!

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Caitlin would like to tell you how much she loves being in horror movies, but…(from All I Need)

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HALEY LU RICHARDSON!

This talented twenty-something from Pheonix, Arizona is an actress and a dancer and has proven to be quite versatile. She first caught our attention in the violent post apocalyptic epic The Last Survivors as the tough and tenacious Kendal, who takes on an entire gang to save the lives of those close to her. She also starred in the thriller Follow, was Krista, best friend to troubled teen Nadine, in the heartfelt and hilarious The Edge Of Seventeen (OK, not horror, but a really good flick!) and battled 23 different James McAvoys in the intense chiller Split! Obviously we’d watch Haley in any of her upcoming projects, but hope she returns to our favorite genre soon!

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Haley’s Claire finds outwitting 23 different personalities may not be that easy in Split!

-MonsterZero NJ

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And don’t forget to check out our previous Halloween Hotties focusing on, Maika MonroeAddison TimlinMelanie PapaliaBriana EviganKatrina BowdenAlexandra DaddarioKatie FeatherstonKatharine IsabelleAmber Heard and Danielle Harris! (just click on their names to go to their pages or head over to the Halloween Hotties listings!)

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SPLIT (2016)

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SPLIT (2016)

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

With The Visit, M. Night Shyamalan had started to show a bit of a return to form after a string of disappointments lasting over a decade of his career. Now with Split, he seems to have hit his stride again with this intense and disturbing thriller.

The film tells the story of Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man diagnosed with over 23 different personalties. His therapist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) is using Kevin to prove her theory that the belief in a personality can effect the physiology of the subject while under the influence of that personality. But unknown to Fletcher, Kevin’s alter egos have kidnaped 3 young girls, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch and Morgan), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson from The Last Survivors and The Edge Of Seventeen) and Marcia (Jessica Sula). His alternates say they are to be used as sacrifice for a new personality…called The Beast. Can these three young girls escape before The Beast is unleashed?

Written and directed by Shyamalan, this is an intense and suspenseful thriller that is his best work in well over a decade. It has some interesting ideas, such as strong personality disorders developing physical changes within certain personalities, for example, Dr. Fletcher’s citing of a blind woman who gained sight under the influence of one of her alternate personalities. This does not bode well when Kevin’s alternates like Patricia, Barry and Dennis keep heralding something called The Beast. We also like the three captive girls and their refusal to give up trying to escape and it certainly makes us fear what’s in store for them. Shyamalan plays this out in the confined space of Kevin’s lair, only briefly going outside to Fletcher’s office during Kevin’s sessions. This keeps things isolated and claustrophobic which adds to the overall atmosphere. Of course the last act delivers the goods and without giving any details, it is a very intense and effective ride as ‘guess who’ finally arrives. As usual with his best work, Shyamalan also gives us some solid surprises and fans of his films will be thrilled as to how this one closes out. I’d go more in depth, but this is a film that is best seen knowing as little as possible.

James McAvoy is simply brilliant as the multi-personality Kevin and a number of his alternates. He plays each one as a separate person and gives each alternate a full personality, complete with facial expressions and their own body language. If there is any minor complaint, it’s that we only see about four or five of the personalities and McAvoy’s performance begs us to want to see more of the supposed 23. The girls are all good. Taylor-Joy plays the loner and social outcast and she is not only likable, but strong, resilient and may have some things in common with her captor. Richardson’s Claire is also resilient and is the one who is the most vocal and steadfast about escaping their captivity. She and Casey butt heads sometimes as to how to proceed in their efforts, as Claire sees Casey’s waiting for the right moment as more of an excuse to not try. Sula’s Marcia is the quietest and most timid of the three basically doing what she is told and seems to be the most frightened. Rounding out is a very solid Betty Buckley as Dr. Fletcher, a woman who is too fascinated by her subject to see how dangerous he really is. A very good cast who make this film work so well, especially lead McAvoy and his stunning performance.

This was definitely the Shyamalan of old with some truly suspenseful moments, an unusual, but well written story and some legitimate scares and intensity. He is aided by the perfectly cast James McAvoy who gives many of the film’s chills and a solid supporting cast in those playing his three hostages and therapist. The film has a fantastically nerve-wracking last act and a final scene that will have fans on their feet. Welcome back, M. Night!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 alternate personalities.

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REVIEW: THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016)

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THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016)

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

Nadine Franklin (Hailee Steinfeld) has always walked to the beat of her own drum…and it hasn’t made life any easier when it comes to school and making friends. Her dad was one of the only people she felt understood her and he passed away four years earlier. She is jealous over her super popular older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner), especially when her one and only friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating him. Feeling betrayed, Nadine sets out to find her place in the world with a little help from her cynical teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) and Erwin, a nerdy classmate (Hayden Szeto) who might be what she’s been looking for all along, but is too absorbed in her own drama to notice.

Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, this is a poignant, feisty and sometimes very funny coming of age story with a firecracker performance from it’s leading lady. One of the things that makes this comedy/drama so enjoyable is that Craig uses the familiar tropes that we expect from these movies, yet keeps them fresh, so they don’t quite come across as the well-worn clichés they are. Her script paints a portrait of a spirited and slightly eccentric young girl who is just trying to find her place. She doesn’t quite feel comfortable with most of her peers and is sort of left to wander once she feels she’s lost her best and only friend. Nadine embarks on a funny and heartfelt journey of discovery both in herself and in those around her. Sometimes what you are looking for is right in front of you and Nadine needs to find that out for herself. There are some very funny scenes and some well written and sometimes cleverly raunchy dialogue, especially for Steinfeld’s Nadine. If the film, stumbles a little it is that a scene where Nadine goes on a ‘date’ with a boy she’s crushing on, goes perhaps a tad too far in making it’s point that this guy isn’t what she needs. It’s a bit rough and uncomfortable and sticks out somewhat when the rest of the film had a nice balance to it between comedy and drama. Nadine also seemed a bit too smart to make such a dumb mistake and it seemed a little out of character for the socially inept girl even if she was confused and frustrated at this point. Despite some minor flaws this is a well written and directed tale of a young girl trying to become a young woman who remains herself, yet doesn’t feel so isolated in the world around her.

As for the actors, Craig gets good work from a good cast. Hailee Steinfeld gives a spunky and spirited performance as Nadine. The character of the sarcastic loner has been seen before, but Steinfeld injects her with her own personality and really plays well the emotional confusion of being at that age between teen and adulthood. She delivers the lines with a cynicism of an older person, yet portrays a girl not quite old enough to handle some of the things she’s feeling. At that age you overreact to some things and under-react to others and the script and actress nail that very well. Hailee Steinfeld is a star in the making. While it is a one woman show, to a degree, there is some great supporting work. Harrelson once again proves he has become one of the most consistent and durable actors around with his cynical, yet caring performance as Mr. Bruner, Nadine’s favorite teacher and the one she comes to when she needs guidance or someone to rant to. Harrelson deftly captures the balance of a man who knows that sometimes teens need to figure these things out for themselves and yet, sometimes they need a little help. Solid work from an actor who has become a reliable performer in a variety of roles. Kyra Sedgwick is good as Nadine’s self absorbed widow of a mom. She gives us a women who wants to have a better relationship with her daughter, but is frustrated as to how to achieve that. Hayden Szeto is charming and likable as Erwin, a boy Nadine befriends who is a quirky film nerd and may be what Nadine needs, if only she stopped looking past him to realize it. Haley Lu Richardson is likable as the Nadine’s best friend Krista, who is difficultly caught in the middle of Nadine and her brother when she starts dating her popular sibling. Rounding out is former Glee actor Blake Jenner, who adds some nice depth to what could have been the stereotypical popular jock as Nadine’s brother Darian. A very good cast that make a good script come to life.

Overall, I really enjoyed this coming of age flick for taking the clichés and adding a feisty coat of paint to them. It had some nice emotional depth, some heartfelt humor and some delightfully, witty dialogue, even when being a bit raunchy. It stumbles a bit with a scene that was maybe a bit too uncomfortable for it’s own good, but that sequence had a purpose and did serve it, thought bluntly. Otherwise filmmaker Kelly Fremon Craig delivered a spirited and empathetic movie in a film sub-genre that can be crass and crude while forgetting the emotional turmoil of this sensitive age…one thing The Edge Of Seventeen does not overlook.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Nadines.

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REVIEW: THE LAST SURVIVORS (2014)

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THE LAST SURVIVORS (2014)

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Formally titled The Well, this post-apocalyptic drama takes place in a world that hasn’t seen rain in ten years. Once lush farm lands are now barren and home to squatters who survive on remote farms with wells that are slowly drying up. If the threat of not having water isn’t great enough, there is the greedy Carson (Jon Gries), a man who seeks to control all the remaining water and will kill anyone on the surrounding lands he finds using the wells. Enter young Kendal (Haley Lu Richardson) and Dean (Booboo Stewart) who live hidden on the ruins of the Wallace Farm For Wayward Youth surviving on an underground well. They have plans to escape, if they can find the right part for the old Cessna on a nearby property. Time is running out, though, as the ill Dean’s kidney’s are failing and Carson is becoming more desperate to rid the land of ‘vagrants’. Soon teen Kendal must choose between leaving Dean and the farm behind, or fight superior odds to save what she holds dear.

Film is well directed by Tom Hammock from his script with Jacob Forman. This isn’t an action flick, per se, and the film is moderately paced, but it is still an engrossing story of survival featuring a very endearing and strong central character in the young Kendal. Despite the looming threat of both running out of water and running into Carson, Kendal moves with a singular focus and that is to get her, Dean and a young boy, Alby (Max Charles) hiding on a neighboring farm, on that plane and out of there. It’s watching this tenacious teenager fighting to keep those around her alive and at the same time, not lose her humanity, that is what drives the film and keeps us watching despite familiar elements for this type of flick. Sure, we have seen many a post-apocalyptic drama with noble survivors and greedy villains, fighting over/hoarding gas or water, but this is more character driven and gives us a strong leading lady to follow. The film does have it’s confrontations and there is some startling bloodshed in the last act, when Kendal’s fragile world starts to collapse and she is forced to go on the offensive. The movie looks good on a low budget with it’s minimal but effective desert setting and properly creates the purveying mood of desolation and gloom, but not without a glimmer of hope via the resilient Kendal.

Hammock hit a home run with the casting of young Haley Lu Richardson as our strong-willed fighter, Kendal. Richardson carries a presence that comes across as natural and delivers a nice range of emotions in an untraditional story and setting. You believe she cares for Dean and Alby and fully believe in the risks she takes to see them safe. In a somewhat similar role, she reminded me a bit of Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone. In the final confrontation with Carson and his thugs, we are rooting for her all the way. As Carson, the underrated Jon Gries creates a man who is so full of his own self-righteousness that he truly believes the water is his and murdering other survivors is actually an act of mercy. He makes an interesting villain and again proves himself a versatile character actor that doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Booboo Stewart is effective as the kind but ailing Dean. It’s easy to see why Kendal cares for him so much and why he is her emotional and moral anchor. Girlhouse‘s Nicole Fox plays Carson’s daughter, Brooke and she is actually far more vicious than her father and outright enjoys the acts of murdering the innocent, while her father makes excuses to justify it. We also get appearances from veterans such as Barbara Crampton, Michael Massee and Rena Owen, who was so good in the powerful New Zealand drama Once Were Warriors.

There are a lot of really familiar story elements that keeps this from completely impacting the viewer, but it’s leading lady keeps us far more interested than we should be with it’s oft told story. Haley Lu Richardson is a star in the making and gives us a character far more worldly and wise than her age would imply. The film is well directed by Tom Hammock and despite it’s intentionally slow burn, it does deliver some action and violence that comes with such a story of survival against overwhelming odds. An impressive starring role for Haley Lu Richardson and an impressive debut from director/writer Tom Hammock who was production designer on The Guest and All The Boys Love Mandy Lane.

-MonsterZero NJ

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