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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BARE BONES: WEREWOLVES WITHIN (2021)

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WEREWOLVES WITHIN (2021)

Flick finds new forest ranger Finn (Sam Richardson) entering the small mountain town of Beaverfield at the same time when someone—or something—is attacking local residents. Along with pretty mailperson Cecily (Milana Vayntrub), Finn becomes trapped in a lodge during a storm with a bunch of the other citizens. The attacks continue and the occupants start to believe that one of them is a werewolf.

Silly flick is directed by Josh Ruben from a script by the ironically named Mishna Wolff, based on a video game. It’s basically an episode of Northern Exposure with a werewolf added—maybe—with a large helping of John Carpenter’s The Thing tossed in, as the paranoia between locals grows and accusations fly along with the fur. It’s silly and loses ones attention quickly, as there is a lot of finger pointing, mostly all for laughs, amongst the eccentric locals with Finn and Cecily caught in the middle. When we finally get our reveal, it’s no surprise as it’s simply the least obvious person, so they were obviously the killer all along. Sure, it’s harmless, but it’s also a bit tedious and tries way too hard to be off-beat. Vayntrub is cute and energetic and RIchardson is likable as the forest ranger in over his head, but the film stretches it’s sitcom length story over 97 minutes and is cliché and silly, overall. Not sure what all the fuss online is about.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: THE DJINN (2021)

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THE DJINN (2021)

Story takes place in 1989, with asthmatic and mute Dylan (Ezra Dewey) moving into a new house with his father (Rob Brownstein). In the house, he discovers an old book called The Book of Shadows. Upon reading the tome, he discovers a summoning spell that can call upon a Djinn, a being that can grant wishes. When his father goes to work and leaves him all alone, he does exactly that and now must face the fiendish creature (John Erickson) all by himself, as his wish will only be granted if he can stay alive against the Djinn till past midnight.

IFC Midnight release is written and directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell. It’s a well done and spooky flick, as the malevolent supernatural entity pursues the boy throughout the house in different forms, including Dylan’s deceased mother Michelle (Tevy Poe). The film is all the more effective thanks to the strong work by young Ezra Dewey in what is basically a one man/boy show. Dylan is a likable kid and his affliction makes him even more sympathetic, as is the use of his feelings of guilt over his mother’s suicide being used by the Djinn to wear the boy down. The story may not be all that original, with its cautionary tale of be careful what you wish for, but it’s suspenseful and spooky and establishes well the rules surrounding it’s deceptive, supernatural villain. While the Djinn itself reminds one of It Follow’s shape-shifting fiend, it is an effective and scary creature. There is also some nice atmospheric cinematography by Julian Estrada, an 80s-esque electronic score by Matthew James and it wastes little time at only 81 minutes in length. A solid and spooky flick with a great, young lead actor and some nice legitimate scares overcoming a familiar story. Available in both limited theatrical release and on Amazon Prime and other VOD platforms.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE DARK AND THE WICKED and THE VIGIL

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This installment of MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature pairs two of the spookiest flicks to come out in recent months. Both features present persons who are either non-believers, or of lost faith, who are faced with a malevolent demonic presence. Both are extremely spooky and make for quite a scary MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature!

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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. Now streaming on Shudder!

-MonsterZero NJ

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

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THE VIGIL (2019)

Supernatural horror steeped in Orthodox Jewish culture comes from Blumhouse Productions and is released by IFC Midnight. The story tells of Yakov (Dave Davis), an emotionally troubled young man, who has left his Orthodox Jewish background and is out of work, in therapy and on medication. He is offered much needed money to be a Shomer for the night, someone who, in Jewish tradition, watches over and prays for the recently deceased till dawn. As he watches the body of a man called Litvak, he starts to realize there may be something malevolent in the house with him.

Yes, this story does evoke the classic flick The Viy, but is most definitely it’s own thing. The film is written and directed by Keith Thomas and is a very impressive feature debut. Thomas creates tension from almost the first scene by first establishing Yakov’s emotional and financial duress, but also then the tension between he and the members of the Orthodox Jewish community that want him back. Once Yakov enters the house, he finds out the first Shomer left in fear and the widow, Mrs. Litvak (Lynn Cohen from Feast of the Seven Fishes), doesn’t want him there, either. As the spooky goings on in the house begin to escalate, Thomas lets us know that not only did Yakov witness the death of his little brother as a result of a hate crime, a death he feels responsible for, but that the recently deceased Mr. Litvak (Ronald Cohen) was obsessed with combating a demon called a Mazzik (Rob Tunstall). Thomas knows how to create an atmosphere of dread and knows how to generate chills simply with his camera. The combination of lighting, spooky sets and shot composition, go a long way in making this flick very spooky all in itself. There are some familiar tropes that come with these type of demonic haunting flicks, but Thomas knows how to use them very well and knows when to mix in some new twists, such as demonic manipulation of Yakov’s cellphone. The entity uses Yakov’s past trauma and the voices of those he trusts against him and it is scary stuff. Add to all that a really effective score by Michael Yezerski (The Devil’s Candy) and some very unsettling cinematography by Zach Kuperstein (The Eyes of My Mother) and you have a legitimately scary movie.

The small cast is also very good, with Dave Davis pulling out a very strong, emotional performance of a man already on the edge, being pushed by something unearthly. He makes Yakov sympathetic, so we connect with him and feel badly as the demonic presence really puts him through the ringer. We also are behind him when he digs deep into his abandoned faith to fight back. Solid work! Lynn Cohen can be very spooky as Mrs. Litvak, a woman suffering from loss and a touch of Alzheimer’s, but also somewhat likable as we get to know her. Menashe Lustig is also good as Reb Shulem, an Orthodox Jewish community leader who wants Yakov to return to them and gives him this job as a way of coercing him back. A very good cast.

Keith Thomas delivers what might be the first truly scary horror flick of 2021. Despite the flick playing festivals and internationally since 2019, it is only now being released here in the U.S by the awesome folks at IFC Midnight. It is simply a good, old fashioned, scary movie that uses atmosphere, tension and some super creepy camera work to scare you. Thomas builds a lot of tension before the scares even begin and gives us an emotionally troubled main character to get put through a truly hellish night. All his characters have some history and depth to them, that the telling of which is woven cleverly into his simple, but layered story. A very spooky, scary horror with some nice emotional depth behind the proceedings, a refreshingly different cultural perspective and some really effective use of the familiar tropes and trappings. Keith Thomas is definitely a filmmaker to keep an eye on. The Vigil is available to stream on Amazon Prime and other streaming outlets, while also in a limited theatrical release.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) candles.

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE VIGIL (2019)

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THE VIGIL (2019)

Supernatural horror steeped in Orthodox Jewish culture comes from Blumhouse Productions and is released by IFC Midnight. The story tells of Yakov (Dave Davis), an emotionally troubled young man, who has left his Orthodox Jewish background and is out of work, in therapy and on medication. He is offered much needed money to be a Shomer for the night, someone who, in Jewish tradition, watches over and prays for the recently deceased till dawn. As he watches the body of a man called Litvak, he starts to realize there may be something malevolent in the house with him.

Yes, this story does evoke the classic flick The Viy, but is most definitely it’s own thing. The film is written and directed by Keith Thomas and is a very impressive feature debut. Thomas creates tension from almost the first scene by first establishing Yakov’s emotional and financial duress, but also then the tension between he and the members of the Orthodox Jewish community that want him back. Once Yakov enters the house, he finds out the first Shomer left in fear and the widow, Mrs. Litvak (Lynn Cohen from Feast of the Seven Fishes), doesn’t want him there, either. As the spooky goings on in the house begin to escalate, Thomas lets us know that not only did Yakov witness the death of his little brother as a result of a hate crime, a death he feels responsible for, but that the recently deceased Mr. Litvak (Ronald Cohen) was obsessed with combating a demon called a Mazzik (Rob Tunstall). Thomas knows how to create an atmosphere of dread and knows how to generate chills simply with his camera. The combination of lighting, spooky sets and shot composition, go a long way in making this flick very spooky all in itself. There are some familiar tropes that come with these type of demonic haunting flicks, but Thomas knows how to use them very well and knows when to mix in some new twists, such as demonic manipulation of Yakov’s cellphone. The entity uses Yakov’s past trauma and the voices of those he trusts against him and it is scary stuff. Add to all that a really effective score by Michael Yezerski (The Devil’s Candy) and some very unsettling cinematography by Zach Kuperstein (The Eyes of My Mother) and you have a legitimately scary movie.

The small cast is also very good, with Dave Davis pulling out a very strong, emotional performance of a man already on the edge, being pushed by something unearthly. He makes Yakov sympathetic, so we connect with him and feel badly as the demonic presence really puts him through the ringer. We also are behind him when he digs deep into his abandoned faith to fight back. Solid work! Lynn Cohen can be very spooky as Mrs. Litvak, a woman suffering from loss and a touch of Alzheimer’s, but also somewhat likable as we get to know her. Menashe Lustig is also good as Reb Shulem, an Orthodox Jewish community leader who wants Yakov to return to them and gives him this job as a way of coercing him back. A very good cast.

Keith Thomas delivers what might be the first truly scary horror flick of 2021. Despite the flick playing festivals and internationally since 2019, it is only now being released here in the U.S by the awesome folks at IFC Midnight. It is simply a good, old fashioned, scary movie that uses atmosphere, tension and some super creepy camera work to scare you. Thomas builds a lot of tension before the scares even begin and gives us an emotionally troubled main character to get put through a truly hellish night. All his characters have some history and depth to them, that the telling of which is woven cleverly into his simple, but layered story. A very spooky, scary horror with some nice emotional depth behind the proceedings, a refreshingly different cultural perspective and some really effective use of the familiar tropes and trappings. Keith Thomas is definitely a filmmaker to keep an eye on. The Vigil is available to stream on Amazon Prime and other streaming outlets, while also in a limited theatrical release.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) candles.

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: HUNTER HUNTER (2020)

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HUNTER HUNTER (2020)

Joseph Mersault (Devon Sawa) lives deep in the wilderness as a fur trapper with his wife Anne (Camille Sullivan) and tween daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell). They are down on their luck at the moment and Anne wants to leave the harsh wilderness life for less rural surroundings. The coming of winter is the least of their problems, though, as they begin to believe a wolf is raiding their traps and might soon set it’s sights on them. Determined not to be driven from his home and way of life, Joe sets out to hunt the canine predator down. While he is away, Anne and Renee encounter a predator of a different kind.

Survival thriller is written and directed by Shawn Linden. It has a smoldering intensity and is a slow burn leading to an explosion of violence. Linden gives the film atmosphere and the wilderness locations a very bleak and desolate look. it suits the overall mood of the film, as this is a dark and unapologetic thriller and will be most talked about for it’s savage and violent finale. The last minutes of the film dips into horror movie territory as characters are driven to brutal acts. It segues from survival thriller to revenge thriller in it’s last moments and it’s unpleasant and will stick with you. Once all is said and done and the credits roll, one might ask what the point of it all was, but skilled direction makes this a fairly effective piece, even if such questions arise as you uncomfortably ponder what you just saw. There is some brutal violence and some very effectively done horror flick level gore to accentuate the gruesome finale.

The small cast perform well. Devon Sawa is good as Joseph. He’s a simple man wanting to protect his family and his way of life. Camille Sullivan is very good as his wife Anne, who dreams of maybe moving on from this hard life and must become a fighter and protector when predators, both four legged and two legged, come knocking at their cabin door. Summer H. Howell is also likable as their twelve year-old daughter, who is learning her dad’s trade and Nick Stahl is also effective as a stranger who they find injured in the woods. Supporting cast includes Gabriel Daniels and Lauren Cochrane as local law enforcement officials. A good cast!

This is a bleak movie with a very grim and vicious finale. Writer/director Shawn Linden crafts an intense slow burn that has a mean punch of a pay-off. It also pulls no punches, and doesn’t sacrifice impact to wrap things up with a happy little bow. It’s not a pleasant movie and there is no Hollywood ending. One may wonder what the point of it all was, but it could just be to tell a story of folks driven to desperate acts and that the worst and most dangerous predators on the planet walk on two legs. Currently streaming from IFC Midnight.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) traps!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: PYEWACKET and THE WRETCHED

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This installment of MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature pairs two flicks which tell spooky stories about troubled teens up against malevolent supernatural entities in rural settings. These two films were also lensed not too far apart from each other with Pyewacket in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada and The Wretched about 115 miles across the border in Omena and Northport Village, Michigan! Grab some brews and enjoy this spooky double bill!

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PYEWACKET (2017)

Creepy supernatural thriller 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 Goth friends. When at their new woods-set home, her mother lashes out at her during an argument and an angry Leah conducts an occult ritual evoking the dark spirit, Pyewacket, to kill her mom. Soon a regretful Leah learns the meaning of “be careful what you wish for” as something dark and evil has entered their home with malevolent intent.

This is a subtle and spooky as hell flick and certainly one of the best horrors of the year. Written and directed by Adam MacDonald (Backcountry) this is a chilling tale that shows that you don’t need jump scares or over-the-top gore to make an effective horror film. MacDonald bathes his film in atmosphere and uses his camera to evoke a pervading sense of dread, even in broad daylight. He creates an already tense situation as both Leah and her mom, are each handling the death of Leah’s dad in different ways and not very well. There is friction and while Leah turns to dark music and an interest in the occult, her mom wants to have a ‘fresh start’ away from anything connected to him. This leads to some harsh words in their remote new home and Leah to dabble in something she isn’t prepared to deal with. Soon there are dark shadows lurking about the house and a visit from Leah’s tough, Goth girlfriend, Janice (Hellion’s Chloe Rose) has the girl leaving the house a terrified mess. As creepy as it is thus far, MacDonald saves the best for last with a truly unnerving final act as Leah attempts to send back what she’s conjured and let’s just say the malevolent spirit has other plans. MacDonald doesn’t resort to hokey FX or overused tropes, he simply serves up some nerve wracking moments with simple skilled camera work and some wonderful emoting from leading lady Muñoz. MacDonald, as with Backcountry , also knows how to make woods look ominous which adds to the atmosphere. And while ultimately we know where this story is headed, it’s still a shocking and unsettling finale that perfectly punctuates a very creepy film.

The small cast is very effective. As stated, Nicole Muñoz is very good as the emotionally wounded Leah. She creates a likable yet, troubled young woman who tries to sate her grief with death related interests. The only person she should be able to turn to for support is the one she is having the most problems with. Once she performs the ritual and awakens something, she gives us a very scared young girl with nowhere to run. Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead) is excellent as her equally troubled mom. She lashes out at Leah one minute, for simply reminding her of her husband and tries to be there for her daughter the next. The two actresses work well together creating a very dysfunctional dynamic between the two that makes this flick work. Rounding out the small cast is Chloe Rose as her friend Janice who has a traumatic sleepover at Leah’s new home and Eric Osbourne as Aaron, a boy interested in Leah.

Adam MacDonald has gone back to basics and made a very spooky, unnerving, yet down to earth horror movie. He wisely makes his scares very grounded and the fact that they are not presented in a theatrical and over-the-top manner makes them more realistic and thus more frightening. His leading ladies work well together in creating a fractured and troubled relationship between the mother and daughter, based on two completely different methods of mourning. Add to that a young girl delving into dark forces she doesn’t completely understand and certainly can’t control and you have a supernatural bone chiller that is refreshingly driven on what really makes a true horror film work…fear. This one will be on my best of the year list for sure.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) balls of red yarn.

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THE WRETCHED (2020)

Latest horror from IFC Midnight opens 35 year in the past, where a babysitter (Sydne Mikelle) walks into something horrible, thus setting the mood for what is to come. The film then brings us to the present where teen Ben (John-Paul Howard from 14 Cameras and Snatchers) is going to live with his father Liam (Jamison Jones) in a remote lakeside town for the summer. His parents are separated and dad even has a new girlfriend, Sara (Azie Tesfai). His parent’s impending divorce is the least of his problems, though, as a witch has taken the form of the neighbor next door (Zarah Mahler) and she is not happy that she’s gotten Ben’s attention…but, who’ll believe him?

The Wretched is written and directed by The Pierce Brothers, Drew and Brett, and if it sounds like Fright Night meets The Witch, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As with Charlie Brewster’s situation, we know from the start that there really is a witch, or Wretch (Madelynn Stuenkel) as she is listed in the credits, and a creepy wretch she is. Her true form is unsettling and much like her fairy tale counterparts, she likes to eat children and influences those around her to hide her creepy activities. Obviously, Ben is having a hard time convincing anyone his neighbor is a supernatural creature, even cute teen Mallory (Piper Curda), who has caught his eye, is highly skeptical. Ben’s behavior, as of late, hasn’t been exemplary and this is just seen as another bad reaction to his parents separation. There are some spooky moments, as The Wretch stalks her prey and closes in on Ben, and there is some very effective gore and make-up FX throughout. If there is anything on the downside here, it’s that the film never gets really scary or intense till the last act, when Ben is forced to confront his nemesis head on. It’s still a fun horror movie and not without some chills in the meantime. It also has a couple of nice twists, some unselling atmosphere and the Pierce’s have a great visual eye for horror aesthetics. We may have seen the twig and bone sculptures before, but they are still effective here. The occasional violence is equally effective, because it is used sparingly and has impact when it does occur. The film looks great. The Pierces are Michigan natives and utilize the Omena and Northport Village, Michigan locations very well to give the film a refreshing look as to it’s settings. The cinematography by Conor Murphy is excellent, especially in the supernatural scenes and the score by Devin Burrows suits the film very well.

The film is very well cast. John-Paul Howard is really good as our lead. He’s a likable teen and even if he is troubled and his parents separation is getting the best of him, we sympathize and still like him. A good performance, as Howard carries a lot of the film. Piper Curda is cute and spunky as Mallory. She’s sweet, but has a nice sarcastic sense of humor. Jamison Jones is solid as Ben’s dad. He’s trying to be understanding to Ben’s behavior, but at the same time, wants him to accept the way things are and adjust. Zarah Mahler is very good as hot mom next door turned witch Abbie. She’s sexy and and a little eccentric before The Wretch wears her skin, and can crank up the spooky once she does. Rounding out the main players, Azie Tesfai is good as the girlfriend caught in the middle of family drama, Sara, and one must mention Madelynn Stuenkel, who effectively performs under SPFX make-up as The Wretch in true form. The supporting cast including the kids are all good, here. A good cast.

This flick may not be quite as scary as we wanted and we have seen this story before, but there is still a lot to entertain here. It’s a fun horror, has some very spooky sequences and The Pierces know the tropes and aesthetics of this type of flick and use them well. The make-up and gore FX are very effective and the cast all perform their parts nicely. Add to that a spooky visual style and some great, fresh locations and The Wretched is a fun and recommended horror flick from directors to keep an eye on.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) candles, which no witch alter would be complete without.

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SPUTNIK (2020)

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SPUTNIK (2020)

Russian sci-fi/horror takes place in 1983 with a Soviet spacecraft finishing it’s mission and about to begin re-entry to Earth. Something impacts the ship and when it does land, one of the cosmonauts is dead and the other taken to a military instillation. Neurophysiologist Tatyana Yuryevna Klimova (Oksana Akinshina) is called in to examine the surviving Cosmonaut Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov), who is suffering from amnesia about the incident. To her horror, Tatyana soon discovers that Konstantin did not return alone. There is an alien creature living inside him that comes out once a night to feed…and what it is being fed is the worst nightmare of all.

Film is very effectively directed by Egor Abramenko from a script by Oleg Malovichko and Andrei Zolotarev. There will be comparisons to Alien, but they aren’t as many as one might initially expect. The creature here is using Konstantin as a space suit, technically and has formed a symbiotic relationship with the cosmonaut, who is at first thought to be oblivious to his internal guest. There are some clever explanations as to how the creature exits his body without causing harm and goes back in when done with it’s meals. There are some disturbing reveals about just how much Konstantin knows about what his symbiote is up to when it exits and just what their “relationship” is exactly. The most Alien of Sputnik’s plot elements is what the villainous Colonel Semiradov (Fyodor Bondarchuk) is planning to do with the creature and Konstantin. No spoiler there, as what else do these guys plan to do with dangerous biological entities in these movies. There are some subplots which give Tatyana and Konstantin some emotional depth, though Semiradov remains a stereotypical military bad guy with opportunistic and power hungry plans. There is a lot of blood and gore spilled to satisfy the horror crowd, some nice tension and suspense and the Russian locations are very atmospheric. The creature’s design is a little different and comes across more Cloverfield than H.R. Giger, which helps distance it from the 1979 Ridley Scott classic even more. The creature is given a lethality and a viciousness, yet there are hints of an intelligence beyond what it shares with it’s cosmonaut sleeping bag. An effective beastie!

The cast is small in terms of leads but good. Oksana Akinshina is a very likable heroine as Tatyana. She strong and clever and sympathetic to Konstantin’s plight. Add to that, her horror over what Semiradov is doing and planning, is enough for her to risk her own life to stop him. She’s also not perfect, as the opening moments reveal. Pyotr Fyodorov is solid as Konstantin. The character is interesting and not completely portrayed as a victim, so much, but possibly someone accepting this as his fate for some selfish decisions. Some nice depth here for the character. Rounding out is Fyodor Bondarchuk as a classic military bad guy. He’s very effective in the part, even if it is a bit two-dimensional and familiar. Lastly is Anton Vasiliev as Yan Rigel, a scientist too afraid to speak out against what he’s seen, though he does have a nice…and not all that surprising…change of heart in the last act.

All in all, Sputnik was an entertaining science fiction/horror that evokes the classic Alien, but not as much as one might expect. There are some similar plot elements, but Sputnik is it’s own thing and tells it’s own story. There are the classic tropes of military bad guys, sympathetic scientists and of course, a person caught in-between. We have an interesting and threatening alien creature and there is plenty of blood and body parts spread about when the beast is on the loose from his human host. A solid and entertaining flick that may evoke Alien, but never feels like it’s copying or ripping it off. Available on streaming formats from IFC Midnight!

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 (out of 4) Sputniks!

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE RENTAL (2020)

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THE RENTAL (2020)

Flick has two couples, Charlie and his wife Michelle (Dan Stevens and Alison Brie) and his brother Josh and girlfriend Mina (Jeremy Allen White and Sheila Vand) renting a remote oceanside house for the weekend. Things get off to a tense start when Mina accuses handyman/house owner Taylor (Toby Huss) of being a racist and as Mina and Charlie are business partners, there is tension between them of the sexual kind. Add to that, a mysterious individual is watching the couples from without and within the house and it’s a recipe for a weekend of infidelity, betrayal, violence and murder.

Flick is the debut feature from actor/director Dave Franco from his script with Joe Swanberg. It’s an atmospheric but bland mix of genres and sub-genres that never really grabs hold of you. We get a slasher flick, mixed with a stalker/voyeur flick, mixed with a ‘self-centered yuppies try to cover up a death to save their selfish asses’ flick and none of these elements are engrossing, nor is the mash-up itself one that is put together with much cleverness. Taken as a whole, or in it’s genre/sub-genre parts, it’s all very flat and routine. Mix in the fact that none of the characters are particularly likable and there is no one to care about or root for, either. They are all self-absorbed and seem to have little problem cheating on, lying to and backstabbing each other. Once the stalker and slasher element kicks in, we really don’t care if any of them fall victim to his hammer. We don’t care if he uses his acquired footage to turn them against each other, either. Besides, why go through all trouble manipulating them if you’re just going to hunt them down and try to kill them regardless? Even the victim whose death the four are trying to cover up…in a sub-plot that adds nothing and doesn’t further the story any…isn’t particularly likable. The dog Reggie (Chunk) is the only character we do like and even he conveniently disappears for most of the last act. There is some graphic violence and some bland shower sex and overall, this is simply a very routine and forgettable flick beneath the sumptuous cinematography and a bit of atmosphere in the last act.

The cast are solid enough in their parts, but, again, none of the characters are particularly likable. Stevens’ Charlie is a bit full of himself and is apparently a cheater and does so as Michelle sleeps in the next room. Alison Brie’s Michelle is a bit of a prissy whiner, even before she has to deal with infidelity and a dead body. Josh seems like a stereotypical hotheaded punk and while White is fine in the role, he comes across as a jerk, especially when he outs Charlie to Michelle about his cheating ways. Vand is possibly the most likable, as the feisty Mina, but she looses any sympathy when she cheats on Josh with Charlie. Even Toby Huss’ homeowner Taylor is accused of being a creep and a racist, so we don’t endear to him either, even when he gets caught in the middle of couples and killer…which is no spoiler, as it is obvious from the start that Taylor isn’t our stalker. No strong suspicion is ever set up. As for the killer, he doesn’t generate enough menace to make an impression and is given no personality. Even the climactic coda has been done before and is nowhere near as unsettling as it’s meant to be. Again, bland.

Franco shows he can give a flick a little mood and atmosphere and has a good visual eye, but needs to come up with a better script and story to put that to good use. This flick is a ho-hum mash-up of routine elements, some that don’t even really seem to serve the story much. Why pit the couples against one another with infidelity and the murder cover-up, only to have them stalked indeterminately by the killer anyway? It seems like filler and a waste of time. Overall a very flat and routine thriller from Dave Franco and IFC Midnight.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) shower heads complete with spy camera.

 

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BARE BONES: RELIC (2020)

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RELIC (2020)

Australian flick finds Kay (Emily Mortimer) journeying to see her elderly mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) in her large, decrepit, old house in the countryside. Along with Kay is her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) and when they arrive, Edna is nowhere to be found. The house is a mold-filled mess and filled with ominous notes. When Edna does turn up, she can’t rememeber where she was and appears to be suffering from dementia. The longer the women stay with her, though, the more it seems there may be something else effecting Edna, as this house has a past that may still be haunting it.

As directed by Natalie Erika James from her script with Christian White, this is a very atmospheric, creepy and sometimes sad movie that may be a horror on the outside, but is also a tale about watching a loved one age and their health deteriorate. Sure there is something supernatural going on, with the tales of a cabin that once stood on the property and the ominous fate of past relatives, but it’s also a heart-touching drama about having to deal with watching someone you love approaching death. It works well as both and while it starts out as a slow burn, Relic turns up the scares and horror elements full blast for it’s intense and chilling last act. Maybe not everything is explained outright and it does evoke The Taking of Deborah Logan at times, but it works with some details kept ambiguous and it successfully spooks and scares, while also telling of a very real part of life we all must face. A very effective feature debut from Natalie Erika James, a talented filmmaker to keep an eye on. Flick is available on streaming networks from IFC Midnight.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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