BARE BONES: WATCHER (2022)

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WATCHER (2022)

Suspense thriller finds Julia (Maika Monroe) moving to Romania with her husband Francis (Karl Glusman). Bored and alone, Julia is looking out the window one night and sees a neighbor (Burn Gorman) staring back. As her feelings of loneliness and isolation grow, and reports of a serial killer on the loose spread through the city, Julia begins to believe the man staring back at her might be the killer. Is it her imagination getting the better of her, or is she really in grave danger?
 
Flick is written and directed by Chloe Okuno and is a sadly underwhelming thriller. This type of story with a fish out of water in a strange land believing they are being watched and followed by someone dangerous has been done many times before. That would be fine if this flick did something innovative with the scenario, but Okuno doesn’t. It plays out just as we expect, follows the formula to the letter, and even ends exactly as we knew it would. Aside from a solid performance by Monroe as Julia and some nice cinematography of Bucharest from Benjamin Kirk Nielsen, there is very little to recommend from this mundane and very routine thriller.
 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: HATCHING (2022)

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HATCHING (2022)

Finnish horror finds young Tinja (a wonderful Siiri Solalinna) caring for a bird’s egg after she is forced to put its wounded mother out of her misery. The egg starts to grow to an unnatural size and soon hatches into bird-like creature. The animal endears to Tinja and she to it, until it becomes obvious it’s means of pleasing and protecting Tinja are quite lethal.

Creature feature from Finland is directed by Hanna Bergholm from a script and story by she and Ilja Rautsi. By giving Tinja a pair of self-absorbed parents (Sophia Heikkilä and Jani Volanen) it makes the girl sympathetic, and also believable that the child could keep such a creature in her room unnoticed, except by her brat of a little brother (Oiva Ollila). The creature is an interesting design and portrayed by some nice old-fashioned prosthetics and proves to be very intelligent, as well as, quite dangerous. There is also an unnerving caveat of Tinja having a mental connection with her surrogate child and having seizures and visions when it kills. They also feel each other’s pain. The creature she dubs “Alli” becomes a conduit to releasing Tinja’s inner turmoil. It makes for a tense and sometimes disturbing monster movie with some effective gore once “Alli” starts to viciously protect Tinja and also begins to transform into something quite startling. Altogether an impressive horror feature debut from Hanna Bergholm.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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IT FOLLOWS’ MAIKA MONROE RETURNS TO THEATERS IN IFC MIDNIGHT’S THE WATCHER!

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IT FOLLOWS’ MAIKA MONROE RETURNS TO THEATERS IN IFC MIDNIGHT’S THE WATCHER!

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“Evil wants to be seen!”
From IFC Midnight:
 
“Opening in theaters June 3
 
Director: Chloe Okuno
 
Starring: Maika Monroe, Karl Glusman, Burn Gorman
 
As a serial killer stalks the city, Julia – a young actress who just moved to town with her boyfriend – notices a mysterious stranger watching her from across the street in this terrifying thriller.”
 

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-MonsterZero NJ

Source: IFC Midnight

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BARE BONES: SEE FOR ME (2022)

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SEE FOR ME (2022)

IFC Midnight flick finds blind Sophie (Skyler Davenport) cat sitting in a luxurious house and planning a little thievery while she’s there. The tables are turned, however, when professional thieves break into the home. Now Sophie’s only ally is an app called See for Me where an operator visually guides her via her smart phone. Lucky for Sophie, her guide is Kelly (Jessica Parker Kennedy) an armed forces veteran who acts as her eyes and helps her go on the offensive.

Crime thriller is directed by Randall Okita from a script by Matthew Gouveia and Drew Tyce. It’s a moderately engaging movie that never really feels like it takes full advantage of a clever premise. There are some tense moments and a few violent ones, too, but the film never really gets the firm grip on the viewer that it needs to. Maybe it’s because it’s heroine isn’t the most likable person to endear to, or that home invasion flicks are fairly one-note to begin with, and the Sophie/Kelly app gimmick is the only new wrinkle here. Other than that, it’s fairly routine with a very predictable outcome. Performances are good with Jessica Parker Kennedy being a standout as the tough but caring Kelly. Also stars Sons of Anarchy veteran Kim Coates as one of the invaders.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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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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