BARE BONES: PLEDGE (2019)

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PLEDGE (2019)

Nerds David (Zack Weiner), Justin (Zachery Byrd) and Ethan (Phillip Andre Botello) are looking to pledge a fraternity and not having any luck. Respect from their campus peers is something they are lacking. They’re invited to a party at a remote social club by pretty Rachel (Erica Boozer) and are offered a chance to join. To be accepted they must go through 48 hours of hazing, which at the deranged hands of those running the club, turns into two days of abusive and increasing violent treatment. Can the trio make it through this brutal initiation alive?

Tale of the horrors of hazing gone extreme is written by star Zack Weiner and directed by Daniel Robbins. As the subject of harsh college initiation practices has made the news more than once in the last few years, Weiner and Robbins have decide to take it to new heights…or should we say, new lows. The film is disturbing as we watch the three tormented continuously with a couple of other young men. After a party of booze, drugs and beautiful girls they are lured into pledging, which turns out to be a blood-soaked mistake. The film gets progressively darker as the ordeals become more sadistic and cruel and just as it starts to hit that torture porn level, it turns into a deadly fight to survive, as our three pledges have had enough. There are some twists and reveals along the way and the cast all do well as villain and victim alike. While we’ve seen stuff like this before, it is done effectively and well here. Pledge can be an unpleasant sit at times, but it shows filmmakers with promise. Overall, a deft mix of social commentary and straight up horror with a chilling finale. Also stars Aaron Dalla Villa, Cameron Cowperthwaite and Jesse Pimentel as the tormenters in question.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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REVIEW: RUST CREEK (2019)

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RUST CREEK (2019)

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

Thriller finds pretty college student Sawyer (Hermione Corfield) ditching her folks at Thanksgiving break to go for a job interview. When her GPS leads her astray, she finds herself on a remote road in the Kentucky backwoods. She crosses paths with troublesome brothers Hollister (Micah Hauptman) and Buck (Daniel R. Hill) who fear she might have seen the no good they were up to. After a violent confrontation, Sawyer injures both men and escapes, though injured herself. Wandering bleeding through the wilderness she happens upon a meth cooker named Lowell (Jay Paulson). Lowell is the cousin and cooker for Hollister and Buck, but decides to hide her from them. As Sawyer tries to remain hidden from her pursuers, she and Lowell form an unusual bond.

Slow paced thriller is directed by Jen McGowan from a script by Julie Lipson and Stu Pollard. It starts out involving with Sawyer meeting up with delinquent rednecks Hollister and Buck and then fighting for her life as their intentions for her are not good. The flick slows down considerably when she is taken in by Lowell and starts to loose it’s grip a bit as Sawyer goes from reluctant hideaway to cooking meth with Lowell side by side. It doesn’t quite click that a girl running for her life and basically behind enemy lines, as the local sheriff (Sean O’Bryan) isn’t exactly one of the good guys either, would become buddy, buddy with a drug dealer to the point of making cozy meth together. The fact that the first act of this movie is basically taken right out of Wrong Turn doesn’t help either. The performances are good and there are some tense scenes at the beginning and end, but it’s the mid section of the film that bogs down and stagnates till the bad guys finally find our heroine. It’s understood that the film is trying to be more of a Winter’s Bone type of thriller and not an action movie, but the whole bonding between Lowell and Sawyer just doesn’t really get that involving and seems a little odd being that the ones who want her harmed are so closely associated with him. She seems to relax far too much for someone with three dangerous men out to kill her. Either way, Rust Creek is not the horror flick or Deliverence-like thriller it’s advertised as. It’s not a bad movie, but not what some might be expecting.

The cast here is very good. Hermione Corfield gives us a strong and able heroine in Sawyer. She’s tough, resilient and can take care of herself for the most part. A very likable lead. Jay Paulson is good as Lowell. He’s not vicious like his cousins. He’s not a good guy, but he’s not cold blooded either. He has his own reasons for helping Sawyer. Micah Hauptman is very effective as the vicious and blood thirsty Hollister. He’s a bit of a stereotype, but works well as the redneck bad guy. Daniel R. Hill is fine as Buck who follows Hollister’s lead and doesn’t have all that much to say on his own. Rounding out is Sean O’Bryan, who is appropriately sleazy as the dirty Sheriff O’Doyle and Jeremy Glazer as the unfortunately naive Deputy Katz who is too inquisitive for his own good.

Overall, this is a well made film, but one that gets bogged down by a midsection that focuses on budding relationship that didn’t quite click…at least not for this viewer. The beginning and end have some tense sequences and the performances are good. The overall story is a bit derivative and reminds one of other flicks, but at least they tried to do something a bit different by having this backwoods thriller turn into a relationship drama, even if it didn’t quite gel.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 meth crystals (out of 4).

 

 

 

 

 

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S BEST HORROR FLICKS of 2018!

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It’s time to look back at the past year and see what horrors left an impression. Without further ado, here are my ten favorite/best horrors of 2018 with two honorable mentions!

(NOTE: There are a few titles here initially released in 2017 at festivals or limited theatrical release, but I did not catch up to them till VOD or home media in 2018 and felt it unfair not to include them!-MZNJ)

(To get to our reviews of these titles use the search engine at the top of the page!)

TOP TEN

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

 

 

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER (2018)

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THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER (2018)

Film takes place ten years after a small Kentucky town was plagued by a series of murders by a serial killer known as The Clovehitch Killer. The killings mysteriously stopped with the killer never found. When young Tyler (Charlie Plummer) finds a disturbing photo in his father’s truck, he starts to question things about his churching-going, Boy Scout master father (Dylan McDermott). The more Tyler seeks answers, the more he starts to suspect his father and The Clovehitch Killer might be one and the same.

Written by Christopher Ford and directed by Duncan Skiles, this is a methodically paced thriller that evokes similar films like the recent Summer of 84 and the classic Frailty. Whether his father is really a killer or not, isn’t the true mystery here, but what a boy will do when he finds out disturbing things about his own flesh and blood. The film is well done and the performances are excellent and it has a nice replay of events from another POV that works well in the last act. What holds this thriller back is that it lacks a real punch. It’s a bit too understated for it’s own good and since we all know where it is heading, it needed more punctuation at the time of it’s reveals. It’s a well-made thriller about what darkness can lurk beneath the All-American veneer, but one that needed a bit more of a “wow” factor to really be something worth talking more about. As it is, it is still an unsettling thriller about what one might be faced with when learning dark things about someone they love. Also stars Samantha Mathis as Tyler’s mother and Madisen Beaty, who impresses, as a girl who befriends Tyler and with a personal interest in Clovehitch’s identity.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: WELCOME TO MERCY (2018)

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WELCOME TO MERCY (2018)

Unconventional possession flick finds Madaline (Kristen Ruhlin) and her young daughter Willow (Sophia Massa) returning to the rural home of her estranged parents. Once there, she starts to experience stigmata and priest Father Joseph (Juris Strenga) sends her to a convent to find out what is happening to her. Thus Madaline embarks on a journey of demonic entities and secrets that have been kept for decades.

Film is atmospherically directed by Tommy Bertelsen, but it is the script by star Kristen Ruhlin that sets this apart from traditional possession flicks, or other religious themed horror. It takes a while to realize what is actually going on at the convent and that’s on purpose, as this flick is equal parts mystery as it is supernatural thriller. It’s no secret that there is a demon fighting for Madaline’s soul, but why it has targeted her, or how events of her past are responsible, are what we find out during the course of this spooky and sometimes clever flick. There are some nice red herrings along the way and we may not be watching what we think we are. The performances are also solid, characters well-written and director Bertelsen creates some good tension while making effective use of the Gothic Latvian locations. Worth a look for something that isn’t as conventional as it first appears.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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5 DIRECTORS BRINGING NEW BLOOD TO HORROR!

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5 DIRECTORS BRINGING NEW BLOOD TO HORROR!

At Halloween 🎃 time it is when we most think about scary movies, even those of us who watch them all year round. So why not take a look at five individuals who are bringing their own distinct vision to the genre and whom horror fans should be talking more about!…and no, I didn’t forget the ladies, they deserve their own installment, forthcoming!

(To get to the full reviews of the films mentioned, just hit the highlighted titles that link to the corresponding page!)

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Adam MacDonald

 

Adam MacDonald is a Canadian actor and filmmaker who has written and directed two features, thus far, that have made quite an impression. His first film Backcountry is a survival thriller that followed a couple (Jeff Roop and Missy Peregrym) who go camping in the woods. Jealous of his girlfriend’s success, her beau chooses a lesser traveled route to prove himself to her. This puts them within the feeding ground of a massive and very hungry grizzly bear and thus sets up an intense and sometimes brutal last act. His second film Pyewacket is a supernatural thriller which finds a mother and daughter (Laurie Holden and Nicole Muñoz) in conflict over their methods of mourning the death of their husband/father. This propels the occult fascinated teen Leah (Muñoz) to evoke the dark entity Pyewacket to kill her mother. Leah soon learns to be careful what you wish for. Both films use troubled relationships as a catalyst for their stories and Pyewacket especially has some good old fashion scares and chills supported by a strong emotional center. MacDonald is showing a versatility and a depth to his filmmaking. Adam currently wrapped filming on Slasher season 3, so look out for more from this talented new voice in horror!

Nicole Muñoz conjures the wrong spirit in Adam MacDonald’s Pyewacket

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Stevan Mena

 

Stevan Mena is a New York born filmmaker who is a one man production company, writing ,editing, directing, producing and even scoring his own films. He made a splash in 2003 with his low budget slasher Malevolence, which was an old-fashioned horror throwback that echoed both Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Set in and around an abandoned slaughterhouse, it told the chilling story of some bank robbers and their hostages meeting up with serial killer Martin Bristol (Jay Cohen). He followed that up with a horror icon filled horror/comedy called Brutal Massacre, before returning to the saga of Bristol in 2010 with the brutal and intense Bereavement. The second Malevolence film was a prequel telling the story of how serial killer Graham Sutter (Brett Rickaby) kidnapped Martin (Spencer List ) as a child and trained him to be his successor. It’s one of the best horrors of the decade IMO. Recently Mena overcame some tragic events to complete his Malevolence trilogy with the independently financed Malevolence 3: Killer. Sequel has an adult Martin (a returning Jay Cohen) leaving a blood soaked trail on the way back to his home town. Mena’s work evokes that of John Carpenter himself and one hopes he returns to the director’s chair sooner than later.

A killer (Jay Cohen) returns home in Stevan Mena’s Malevolence 3: Killer

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Colin Minihan

 

Colin Minihan started out as part of the writing/directing duo known as The Vicious Brothers along with collaborator Stuart Ortiz. Their first film was the fun and spooky found footage paranormal show send up Grave Encounters in 2011. They followed that up with the entertaining and chilling cabin in the woods/alien invasion hybrid Extraterrestrial in 2014. Though co-written with Ortiz, Minihan took the director’s chair solo for the next film It Stains The Sands Red. This was an amusing, bloody and offbeat tale of a lone woman (Brittany Allen) being followed across the desert by a lone zombie. An interesting relationship forms as she fights brutal heat, dehydration and her relentless undead pursuer. Minihan wrote and directed his fourth film on his own with the brutal and intense What Keeps You Alive. One of the years best, it finds a married lesbian couple (Brittany Allen and Hanna Emily Anderson) celebrating their anniversary in a remote cabin in the woods. Soon romantic bliss becomes a battle for survival as one of the women is not who she seems. This flick proves Minihan is a force to be reckoned with, armed with a great script, taunt direction and brilliant work by his lead actresses. Minihan is a filmmaker fans need to be talking more about.

Lover vs lover in Colin Minihan’s brutal and intense What Keeps You Alive

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Anthony Diblasi

 

Boston born Anthony Diblasi is another filmmaker showing great versatility and a mastery of horror while also providing some emotional depth to his films. His first film Dread was a chilling tale of a college documentary project about fear, spinning horribly out of control. His next film Cassadaga, found deaf art teacher Lily (Kelen Coleman) being haunted by the spirit of a murdered young woman whose killer may have his sights set next on the pretty teacher. Diblasi worked on some non-genre projects and the horror anthology The Profane Exhibit before co-writing and directing The Last Shift in 2014. One of his scariest flicks, the story found a young policewoman being given the final shift in a haunted police precinct closing it’s doors in the morning…but can she survive the night? Diblasi returned to horror again in 2015 with Most Likely To Die, an old fashioned slasher about a high school reunion turned deadly, and again in 2018 with Extremity. His latest finds an emotionally troubled woman turning to an extreme haunt to make her face her fears…bad idea. The film was not only disturbing and scary, but had a strong emotional lining with multi-dimensional characters and commentary about abuse and the lives it effects. Another filmmaker that is bringing a distinct voice to the horror genre.

Emotionally troubled Allison (Dana Christina) turns to an extreme haunt to face her fears in Anthony Diblasi’s Extremity

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Oz Perkins

 

Just because one is the son of legendary actor Anthony (Psycho) Perkins, one should not assume actor/director Oz Perkins knows horror…but he does! One of the most interesting filmmakers out there, Perkins has a unique vision and a strong ability to chill to the bone. His first film The Blackcoat’s Daughter finds Rose (Lucy Boynton), a student at a Catholic girls school, given charge of new student Kat (Kiernan Shipka) at break. With almost everyone else gone, Rose starts to realize there is something very wrong with Kat and that she may be in danger. Perkins followed that up with a very atmospheric ghost story I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House. Perkins writes and directs a subtle, yet chilling tale of care nurse Lily (Ruth Wilson) coming to live with ailing horror novelist Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss). Soon timid Lily starts to find out that Iris Blum’s inspirations may be far more real than she’d like. It’s a creepy and very effective film. Word has it his next film may be entitled A Head Full Of Ghosts and as he is bringing a very unique style to the genre, he sounds like the right man for the job!

Care nurse Lily (Ruth Wilson) finds her charge may have had all too real inspiration for her horror novels in Oz Perkins’ I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House

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So these are five creative forces bringing new blood to horror. Each one is worth screaming about and their films are certainly worth checking out!

…and stay tuned for our second installment taking a look at the creative ladies bringing their unique voices to the genre!

-MonsterZero NJ

 

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2018: THE YEAR HORROR REGAINED SUBSTANCE and RESONANCE!

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SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly discuss these films in context with this article, some important details that may be considered SPOILERS had to be included. If you haven’t seen one or any of these films, you may want to watch them first before reading this discussion. You have been warned!- MZNJ

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2018: THE YEAR HORROR REGAINED SUBSTANCE and RESONANCE!

 

Those who think horror movies are just an excuse for blood, boobs and boogie men are sadly mistaken and there is no more proof that horror flicks are capable of substance and emotional resonance than some of this year’s genre offerings. To prove these aren’t just the words of an overprotective horror fan, here are a few recent examples of how horror has returned to telling stories with strong emotional centers…

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to the full reviews for the movies discussed below)

Pyewacket’s story is triggered by the fractured relationship between a mother (Laurie Holden) and daughter (Nicole Muñoz) who are both mourning the death of their husband/father in completely different ways. Teen Leah has turned to an interest in death and the occult and her mother wants to start a new life in a new house, taking Leah away from her friends and school. The resulting turmoil has Leah evoking a dark entity, Pyewacket, to kill her mother and learning the harsh lesson…be careful what you wish for. The dysfunctional relationship between mother and daughter is strongly presented by writer/director Adam MacDonald and wonderfully acted by the lead actresses. The conflict between Leah and her mom is the catalyst for the horror that results and gives this spooky chiller a resonance that enhances it’s supernatural element, by giving it subjects to prey upon that are already emotionally vulnerable.

 

What Keeps You Alive tells the story of Jules (Brittany Allen) and Jackie (Hanna Emily Anderson), a married, lesbian couple going to Jackie’s family cabin deep in the woods to celebrate their first anniversary. There, Jules finds out Jackie is not who she thought she was and that she may have married a psychopath. Jules is forced to fight for her life against the one person in the world she loves the most. Colin Minihan’s thriller works so well because it skillfully presents a loving relationship between two women and then tears the relationship apart in the most painful way as one woman finds the love of her life is a vicious and cruel person. Both actresses give fantastic performances as the cold and cunning Jackie and the heartbroken and terrified Jules. The film may be intense and brutal, but even more so because Jules’ betrayal and the torment she endures as a result, are portrayed so well and give the story impact beyond the violence we witness.

 

Feral is another film this year to present a lesbian couple as the character focus for it’s story. Here Alice (Scout Taylor-Compton) comes out to her friends on a camping trip by bringing her girlfriend Jules (Olivia Luccardi) along. It’s met with mixed emotions from her friends and adds conflict before our infected even appear. Once our creatures are introduced and the bloodshed and carnage begin, we watch a strong-willed young woman fight to save the ones she loves and even finding conflict with her new partner over how to handled those of the group who become infected themselves. Director and co-writer Mark Young elevates this cabin in the woods/zombie horror by having a strong and topical human interest story at it’s center with three dimensional characters well played by the cast, especially Taylor-Compton’s strong-willed but compassionate Alice.

 

Our House is a haunted house story that tugs at our hearts as well as chills us to the bone. Here, college student Ethan (Thomas Mann) is forced to leave school and abandon his dreams as the accidental death of his parents takes him from sibling to parent to his younger brother Matt (Percy Hynes-White) and his little sister Becca (Kate Moyer). Director Anthony Scott Burns gives us time to become endeared to this young, emotionally wounded family before introducing the supernatural elements brought into the house by Ethan’s experiments. Even if the basic haunting story is routine, it becomes very effective as the audience has a strong emotional investment in the characters from early on. We like them and fear for them. This could have been just a routine ghost story had Burns not given it such a very human heart and elevated it in a crowded sub-genre.

 

Hereditary may have split fans with it’s slow pace and extremely eccentric characters, but it was a story of mental illness as much as the supernatural. It had a very strong performance by Toni Collette as Annie, a woman dealing with her own mental health issues, as well as, those of her very offbeat family. Filmmaker Ari Aster could have left out the demonic portion of the story and still had a disturbing portrait of an unbalanced family created by some sadly damaged DNA. By giving us a strong picture of possibly mentally unstable characters, it kept us guessing till the final moments if it was the demonic or the psychotic that was to blame for this family’s woes. Again, basing the story in a strong human element that we can identify with and invest in, makes the supernatural elements plaguing our subjects all the more effective and believable…and thus more frightening.

These are just some examples, but one could site a few more illustrating how horror has refocused from blood, gore and things that go bump in the night to the matters of the mind and heart of some very human characters. It gives the films in question resonance and when we identify and care about characters, it makes their respective predicaments all the more effective. This year’s horrors also had something to say about some very topical human issues, while telling their stories of ghosts, ghouls and malevolent specters…and the genre is all the better for it.

…And obviously, I recommend you catch up with all these flicks if you haven’t already!

-MonsterZero NJ

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE (2018)

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WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE (2018)

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

Jules (Brittany Allen) and Jackie (Hanna Emily Anderson) are a married couple going up to Jackie’s lakeside family cabin in the woods to celebrate their one year anniversary. Once there, Jules starts to find out that Jackie is not the person she thought she married. In fact, Jules has married a monster and will soon be fighting for her life against the person she loves most.

Intense and brutal flick is written and directed by Colin Minihan, who from Grave Encounters to Extraterrestrial to It Stains The Sands Red to this, is getting better and better as a filmmaker and it’s a mystery why more people aren’t talking about him. Minihan weaves a disturbing tale of lies, betrayal and murder as a young woman finds out her wife is a dangerous psychopath who delights in killing her lovers…among others. What makes this work so well is that Minihan builds a nice and believable relationship between Jules and Jackie in a short time and then has it painfully unravel and turn into a fight for survival between the two wives. The script is clever and Minihan gives it some nice artistic touches which elevate it from a simple horror flick to a movie with substance, style and some shocking moments, too. There is brutal violence and as it’s used sparingly and at the right moments, we feel it when it comes and it’s effective throughout. The cat and mouse game between Jackie and Jules is tense and suspenseful and we are riveted when Jules is forced to watch her lover engage in some horrible acts against innocents. It’s a rough ride for the audience, yet never exploitative…which makes it all the more effective. Minihan knows how to build suspense and how to use his camera and shots to create atmosphere and tension. That camera work is captured excellently by David Schuurman’s cinematography and there’s a really great score by star Brittany Allen. Having seen all of Minihan’s films, this is his most confident and daring movie yet. It’s the film where a filmmaker moves out from under his influences and finds his own voice.

What also makes it work so well is borderline brilliant performances by it’s leading ladies. Brittany Allen, in her third film for Minihan, gives a powerful portrayal of a woman who is torn apart by betrayal and finding that her wife is a psychotic monster. We watch a gentle woman shattered by the pain and torment of these horrific revelations and then slowly finding the strength to fight back against someone she loved more than anything. Hanna Emily Anderson at first fools us into believing, as does Jules, that this is a sweet and caring woman in love with her soulmate. We then watch her slowly turn into the calculated and cunning psychopath she really is and one with disturbing depth, making her unnervingly real. She’s not a stereotype and the fact that Anderson avoids over-the-top and stays chillingly calm, makes her even more frightening. Wonderful work by both actresses. Martha MacIsaac and Joey Klein also appear as a couple that live across the lake, but we know their purpose from the start and they serve it well.

Simply one of the best horror films of the year, so far and the best film yet from a writer/director who gets better and better with each film. It’s clever, intelligent and brutal and intense. It’s a disturbing portrayal of love and betrayal. It’s two former lovers in a battle of wills and survival that is as provocative as it is unnerving. The leading ladies give really powerful performances and Colin Minihan proves he is a filmmaker that genre fans should be talking far more about.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 hunting knives.

 

 

 

 

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COOL STUFF: PYEWACKET on BLU-RAY!

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PYEWACKET (2017) Blu-Ray

Pyewacket (full review HERE) is a creepy supernatural thriller, from Adam MacDonald, that finds teen Leah (Nicole Muñoz) drawn into the occult after the death of her father. She and her mom (Laurie Holden) aren’t getting along, especially when her mother decides to sell the family house and move them out and away from Leah’s school and friends. An angry Leah conducts an occult ritual evoking the dark spirit, Pyewacket, to kill her mother. Soon a regretful Leah learns the meaning of “be careful what you wish for” as something dark and evil has entered their fractured home. This IFC Midnight title is now available on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory as part of their home media release deal.

As for the feature…

The picture is a crisp and beautiful HD 1080p mastering that is presented in the original 2.40:1 aspect ratio. It maintains Christian Bielz’s moody cinematography with blues and greys being predominate, while not overwhelming other colors, such as the yellows and greens of the woods and cabin interior, or the vibrant red yarn Leah uses in her ritual. Director Adam MacDonald has a nice visual style and his shots look great as represented on this disc, which adds to the film’s atmosphere. The audio is a 5.1 DTS HD master and should sound appropriately spooky on any home theater system and for those without, there is a nice 2.0 HD stereo track, too.

Now on to the extras…

The extras are fairly simple as seems to be the case with the IFC Midnight releases. We do get a 17 minute making of featurette that focuses first on interviews with stars Nicole Muñoz and Laurie Holden, which really give some nice insight into their performances and characters, as well as, with writer/director Adam MacDonald which paint the portrait of a very animated and passionate filmmaker. Nicole Muñoz’s powerful audition especially makes an impression here. No wonder she got the part. Second half of the documentary focuses on a stunt sequence and is a fun look at the film making process in general. There is also the theatrical trailer, too and while that is it for the extras, they are still a nice addition to a really effective movie.

IMO, this is one of the best horrors of the year and this is a great way to see it, if it’s limited theatrical release never hit your area. It’s spooky and creepy and Scream Factory’s disc is worth having if you are a fan of the film or supernatural chillers in general.

-MonsterZero NJ

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: OUR HOUSE (2018)

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OUR HOUSE (2018)

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

Brilliant college student Ethan (Thomas Mann) is forced to drop out of school to care for his younger brother Matt (Percy Hynes-White) and his little sister Becca (Kate Moyer) when his parents are killed in a car accident. He keeps working on his experiment, though, a device to create wireless energy. While the device has yet to accomplish it’s purpose, unknown to Ethan, it is opening a doorway to the afterlife. At first Matt and Becca think they are being visited by their parents, but soon it is apparent someone else has crossed over, someone malevolent and with bad intentions.

Film is well directed by Anthony Scott Burns (the Father’s Day segment from Holidays) from a screenplay by Nathan Parker, which is based on Matt Osterman’s indie film Ghost From The Machine. Our House starts out with an interesting way of getting the supernatural ball rolling by having Ethan’s machine accidentally opening a door to the spirit world and letting something into the house. Eventually, though, it does settle into becoming a more routine haunting flick with both a benign and a more malevolent spirit focusing attention on little Becca. It also follows the traditional formula with a skeptical adult…here, Ethan…thinking Becca and Matt are just working through their grief. What elevates the film from the routine, is that at it’s center it is a very poignant story of children of various ages dealing with the sudden death of their parents. Anthony Scott Burns does use the familiar haunting tropes and very well, but it is his portrayal of a family in mourning and how each member deals with it, that makes the movie a supernatural horror with a heart and soul. These kids are on their own and Ethan is trying to raise them and it gives us a strong emotional investment in the young family. Even if we’ve seen the supernatural elements before, they are all the more effective because we care about the characters. Nathan Parker’s screenplay also includes a neighbor, Tom (Robert B. Kennedy) who is suffering from the loss of his wife and whose house is also falling under the machine’s influence. It creates a wild card character whose emotional instability adds some uncertainty, because we know he’ll enter the mix at the worse possible time. It adds to the supernatural elements which are already atmospheric and spooky, despite the familiarity. It was also refreshing that Anthony Scott Burns keeps things subtle, until the very end and even then avoids going over the top, keeping the story grounded. Only a brief scene with a floating doll came across as a bit silly and the rest of the flick is more accessible as it avoids getting too theatrical for it’s own good.

There is a very effective cast here. Lead Thomas Mann is very good as Ethan. He gives us a brilliant student who is a bit self-absorbed concerning his project and his attention is torn away and back to his family as he must now be guardian and provider for Matt and Becca. The actor portrays well both the frustration and the sacrifice as Ethan must put aside his life and be a dad to his siblings. He tries to find time for them and follow his dream and Mann essays the awkward juggling of responsibilities well. Percy Hynes-White is solid as Matt. He’s in high school and his way of handling things is to withdraw, until he thinks there is a chance his parents have returned to the house. He also blames Ethan for their deaths and that adds tension and conflict to an already tense situation. Kate Moyer was really good as little Becca. The young actress portrays a little girl who has her parents ripped away and now seeks solace from what family she has left. When she thinks her parents have returned, she embraces the spirits without realizing they may not be who they seem. She also finds a friend in the spirit of a little girl, Alice who is followed by a far more malevolent entity. In support is Robert B. Kennedy as the emotionally troubled Tom, who has lost his wife and Nicola Peltz as Ethan’s concerned girlfriend Hannah. Sadly Hannah is left on the sidelines for a lot of the movie, until resurfacing at the end. She was a sweet and caring character and her presence is missed when Ethan is sorting out his life.

Overall, this was an effective and enjoyable supernatural thriller. The basic story may have been routine, but the director and script start things off in an intriguing way and keep us interested with a very strong emotional center. The familiar supernatural elements are used well and are more effective as we care about the characters. Anthony Scott Burns keeps things from getting too theatrical which serves the overall story. It’s a refreshingly subtle spook fest with a good cast and a very likable bunch of characters to fear for. As he also had the best segment in Holidays, Burns proves to be a filmmaker to keep an eye on. Another solid release from the folks at IFC Midnight.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 rag dolls.

 

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