MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE DEVIL’S CANDY and BLISS

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Been a long time since the last MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature, but after re-watching Joe Begos’ Bliss, I realized it would make a great double feature with Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy. Both flicks feature tortured artists, supernatural influences on their art, hard core music and neither skimps on blood and gore. So, on to the sex, gore and Rock n’ Roll!…

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THE DEVIL’S CANDY (2015)

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

I’m a huge fan of Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones and was obviously looking forward to seeing another flick from him…and finally, after eight years, it’s here. The Devil’s Candy is Byrne’s newest film, made in 2015, it’s only now getting a proper release on VOD and in select theaters from the cool folks at IFC Midnight.

The story here is of heavy metal loving artist Jesse (Ethan Embry), who moves to an old rural farmhouse with his wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and chip-off-the-old-block teen daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco). While Jesse and Astrid know that the couple that formerly lived there died in the house, what they don’t know is that it is also home to some kind of malevolent influence. If it’s not bad enough that Jesse’s art starts to take a dark and ominous tone soon after moving in, Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince), the child murdering son of the previous owners, wants to come home…and he has set his demented sights on Zooey.

While not quite as intense as The Loved Ones, and lacking it’s twisted sense of humor, this is still an atmospheric, disturbing and sometimes brutally violent horror flick. The mix of heavy metal music and demonic horror, obviously works as the two have been paired up since Black Sabbath took to the airwaves in 1968. While the demonic influence elements are nothing new, they are very effective as used by Bryne, draped in his thick atmosphere of foreboding. The most disturbing elements, though, are obviously Ray’s need to “feed” The Devil his favorite candy…children. He stalks Zooey right out in the open and the distraction the malevolent entity feeds Jesse by way of his art, leaves poor Zooey unprotected. It creates some very unsettling scenes as Ray gets closer to obtaining his goal, including one in Zooey’s bedroom that is absolutely bone chilling. This all leads up to not one but two harrowing sequences with Zooey and the rotund pervert, each more intense than the last. There are some drawbacks. The film comes in at a very tight 79 minutes and it sometimes feels too quickly over for it’s own good. We wish we had a little more time to let certain scenes resonate and be given a little more time to let the disturbing nature of what is transpiring sink in before moving on to the next dramatic moment. It is also never quite clear whether it is this demonic influence that led Ray to kill, or was it his homicidal habit that brought the entity into the house…if not…why is it there? On a technical level the film looks great and while there is some week CGI during the climax, the rest of the FX work is solid and there is a really atmospheric score from Mads Heldtberg, Michael Yezerski and the band Sunn O)))

If anything helps one past some of the flaws, it’s a really good cast. Ethan Embry has become a fixture in some good horror/thrillers lately such as the frustrated son in the awesome Late Phases, or the ill-fated gun dealer in The Guest. He is really good here, not only as metal head/family man Jesse, but in portraying Jesse’s gradual transformation from attentive father into obsessed artist. As his frustrated and scared wife, Shiri Appleby is solid as a woman whose family life is disrupted from both within and without. She has a suddenly moody and unfocused husband at home and a hulking child killer lurking about after her daughter. Appleby makes her a bit more than a damsel in distress, though she isn’t given as much to do when all hell breaks loose as we’d have liked. Kiara Glasco makes a really good impression as Zooey. A teen who walks to the beat of her father influenced drum but is her own person. She’s a tough kid and a little rebellious and the young actress has a great chemistry with Embry, so their father/daughter relationship really works well on screen. She has a couple of tough scenes to portray and does a good job. Making this all come together is a really disturbing performance by veteran actor Pruitt Taylor Vince (recently seen as “Otis” in The Walking Dead). Vince really makes Ray a creepy person who makes you uncomfortable every moment he’s on camera. It really makes you fear for Zooey, especially when he catches up to her…more than once. He makes your skin crawl. A solid cast just as in Byrne’s first flick.

So maybe writer/director Sean Byrne hasn’t quite equaled The Loved Ones in his sophomore feature flick, but he has delivered another disturbing, atmospheric and bloody movie that is of a different sort than his previous twisted love story. This plot may be a bit more commonplace, but he uses the familiar tropes very effectively. The theatrical cut…wikipedia lists a 10 minute longer festival cut…may be a little too short for it’s own good and there are some unanswered questions, but a really strong cast and a director who knows how to turn the screws makes up for a lot of it. Highly recommended. especially if you loved Sean Byrne’s previous work.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and1/2 (out of 4) screaming guitars!

 

 

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BLISS (2019)

Dezzy (Dora Madison) is a down on her luck artist and drug abuser who is having trouble finishing a piece that could turn her life around. She vents her frustration in a night of debauchery, involving alcohol, a new drug from her dealer and a threesome with friend Courtney (Tru Collins) and Courtney’s boyfriend Ronnie (Rhys Wakefield). Not only does this get her working on her painting again, but gives her an insatiable appetite for blood.

Joe Begos writes and directs this sometimes hallucinogenic tale of artistic block, depravity and vampirism. Begos’ first two features Almost Human and The Mind’s Eye were homage heavy flicks, though very entertaining. Here he shows he can do something outside of his influences and do it well, even on a very small budget, which seems to suit Begos. While not a traditional vampire tale, as Dezzy has no fangs and doesn’t turn into any creatures of the night, it has some gory demises once Dezzy’s thirst drives her to kill. Whatever she is, can be killed by a wooden stake, as Courtney demonstrates by finishing off one of Dezzy’s victims, and apparently sunlight can be lethal, too. Vampires or not, this is a tale of excess and Begos sometimes put’s his audience inside Dezzy’s head trips and it gives us a sense of the state of mind the troubled artist is in. It’s a trip and a disturbing one for all the right reasons. The gore is very plentiful and well orchestrated and the film itself has a raw feel to it that works very well, as it revels in the seedier side of Los Angeles nightlife. A contemporary vampire tale substituting ancient curses and cloves of garlic for sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.

While there are quite a few supporting players, it’s very much a one woman show and lead Dora Madison (Exists) rises to the occasion. She dives into the role with a passionate yet very real performance. One doesn’t feel like they are watching a movie character, but a real person whose artistic nature has her living a life of excesses and extreme stimulation, and this is before she is transformed into a creature of the night. Her role requires a lot of nudity, drug use and hedonistic behavior, not to mention outbursts of rage, anger and violence when she realizes something is very wrong with her and her bloodlust takes hold. The actress performs it all very well. The supporting cast, such as Collins as Courtney and Jeremy Gardner as Dezzy’s “friend” Clive all create interesting people who seem to dwell more within the underground lifestyle of L.A. A good cast of interesting characters.

Overall, Begos is once again proving he is a filmmaker to watch. His homages to The Thing (Almost Human) and Scanners (The Mind’s Eye) were solid flicks that paid respectful tribute to their inspirations. Here Begos shows he can operate outside his influences and presents a tale of a young woman’s downward spiral into madness, depravity and murder all in the name of artistic expression. It’s trippy, gory and dirty and sleazy in all the right places. Looking forward to Begos’ upcoming VFW about a group of war veterans under siege at a VFW hall.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) fangs, even if Dezzy doesn’t have any.

 

 

 

 

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S 10 REASONS THE 2010s WAS THE DECADE OF INDIE HORROR!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S 10 REASONS THE 2010s WAS THE DECADE OF INDIE HORROR!

Maika Monroe’s Jay screams at an entity only she can see in It Follows!

The past decade was a very good time for horror fans as there was quite a resurgence of the popularity of fright flicks and thus more movies produced. This and the emergence of some new indie studios and distributors, like A24 and IFC Midnight, as well as, new crowd funding methods to get filmmaker’s films financed, especially impacted independently produced horror. To illustrate this delightful proliferation, here are ten indie horror flicks, each representing the year they were released, that prove the 2010s was the decade of indie horror!

Teen Leah (Nicole Muñoz) unleashes something she can’t control in Pyewacket!

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(To get to the reviews of the titles listed that were covered here at the Movie Madhouse, just type the title in the search engine to find the corresponding critique!)

-MonsterZero NJ

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DEPRAVED (2019)

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DEPRAVED (2019)

Modern day Frankenstein tale has former army medic Henry (David Call) suffering from a traumatic tour in the Middle East and wanting to use his talents for a good purpose. He teams up with pharmaceutical exec Polidori (Joshua Leonard) to combine a new drug and Henry’s medical skills in the creation of a human being from spare body parts. Adam (Alex Breaux) is the result and at first seems like a naive child, but as in all such tales, the combination of the harshness of the world around him and the truth of his existence turns Adam’s curiosity and innocence into anger and rage.

Larry Fessenden is one of the hardest working people in indie horror and here he returns to write, direct, produce and edit this New York set modern day Frankenstein. He does so very well and presents an intriguing and effecting updating of the oft told classic tale. Fessenden has updated the players. His Dr. Frankenstein is now an emotionally disturbed combat veteran, who thinks he can bring his healing talents to the world through Adam. The manipulative Polidori represents big pharma and wants to promote his new healing drug and will go to any lengths, even murder, to do so through Henry’s work. Their “creature” Adam is a bandage for Henry’s emotional wounds, while to Polidori, he is a marketing tool to be exploited. Adam himself, is a conflicted being trying to deal with his “new” and complex emotions, the vague memories of a past life and find his place in this sometimes “depraved” world. His anger and rage over wanting to be loved and treated like a human being sets-up a tragic and violent last act much like in Shelley’s classic. Fessenden tells this new slant on the story well and might be one of the few filmmakers who could successfully transport Mary Shelley’s gothic tale from Victorian England to the warehouse loft apartments and sometimes mean streets of modern day New York City. Fessenden’s script presents Adam as sympathetic and we do feel for him, as he is manipulated and taught about being human by possibly the two worst choices in Henry and his partner. Only Henry’s girlfriend Liz (Ana Kayne) shows any true compassion for Adam as a person and not a thing. It’s an interesting and involving telling and possibly the freshest take on the classic story in quite some time.

The cast are really good here. David Call as Henry, much like his namesake, is also a bit sympathetic as his original intent is good. A skilled combat medic who has discovered ways to revive the very recently dead and Adam represents all the soldiers he couldn’t save. He is sometimes overprotective of Adam till he, like Shelley’s doctor, realizes he may have made a mistake, when Adam starts to grow frustrated and uncooperative. Blair Witch Project’s Joshua Leonard is solid as the scheming and somewhat flamboyant Polidori. He sees Adam as a showpiece to demonstrate a new drug and even somewhat of a toy. His idea of introducing the world to the “creation” is to take him to strip clubs and introduce him to illegal drugs, sleazy women and alcohol. Alex Breaux is very impressive and sympathetic as Adam. Adam must learn to handle his emotions all over again. It’s no surprise he is conflicted with such bad examples to teach him and being haunted by memories and people from another life. Finding out who he really is and how he came to be, pushes him over the edge. We sympathize with him and never see him as a “monster” even when he causes harm. Ana Kayne is good as the sweet and caring Liz, as is Addison Timlin as Shelley, a playful yet ill-fated girl Adam encounters in a bar. A good cast.

Overall, Fessenden has given a very intriguing and sometimes intense update of a time worn classic. He puts a contemporary modern day New York spin on Mary Shelley’s legendary tale. The heart and soul of the original story are here, but woven in with more modern day themes. Adam, the “monster”, is sympathetic and we understand his growing frustration and eventual anger. An intriguing new take on a classic story by filmmaker Larry Fessenden.

-MonsterZero NJ

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

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: I TRAPPED THE DEVIL (2019)

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I TRAPPED THE DEVIL (2019)

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

Spooky flick finds Matt (A.J. Bowen) and his wife Karen (Susan Burke) going to the family house on Christmas night to visit Matt’s emotionally troubled brother Steve (Scott Poythress). They arrive to find the house in disarray and Steve insisting they leave. Matt refuses to go and soon they find out Steve has someone locked behind a door in the cellar…someone he claims is The Devil.

Flick is atmospherically directed by Josh Lobo from his own script. There are some very spooky moments here, especially when we are in the cellar and near that door. He uses Bryce Holden’s lighting and Ben Lovett’s really unsettling score to maximum effect in building a mood of dread and foreboding. The voice on the other side of the door sounds human, but there is something about it that makes Matt and Karen…and us…unsure. Does Steve really have Old Scratch trapped behind the cellar door? If anything holds this flick back a bit is that the dialogue sequences can get a bit tedious even for a film well under 90 minutes. The premise provides very little opportunity for action, so there is a lot of talk between the chilling moments, and it needed to be more involving. Steve’s babbling does indeed lay down doubt of his sanity, but also can get a bit annoying at times. It’s when things get creepy, like with Steve’s oddly behaving TV, that this film really works. The cast are fine, though Scott Poythress’ Steve could have been more intense, and there is a really unsettling and blood-spattered finale.

Overall, this was a really unnerving flick at times, though not consistently. Writer/director Josh Lobo knows how to build atmosphere and tension, but could make his dialogue sequences more gripping. An original idea that is certainly worth a look. May not be perfect, but is really effective when it is working.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 (out of 4) Christmas trees…it is a Christmas film after all.

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: THE WIND (2019)

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THE WIND (2019)

Old West set horror finds frontier wife Lizzy (Smiley’s Caitlin Gerard) left by herself after the tragic death of her neighbor Emma (Jukia Goldani Telles) during childbirth. While her husband (Ashley Zuckerman) is away and she’s secluded in their home, Lizzy reflects on recent events and the loss of her own child as a sinister supernatural force closes in on her.

Moody supernatural horror is directed by Emma Tammi from a script by Theresa Sutherland and focuses more on Lizzy’s decaying state of mind than supernatural events. There are scenes of paranormal activity, especially in the last act, when it appears Lizzy is unraveling, but there is a greater focus on telling the story in flashbacks as we learn this “presence” may have been haunting Lizzy for some time. It’s far more somber than scary, but worth a look for Caitlin Gerard’s performance of a woman isolated, slowly coming apart and possibly haunted by a sinister force. The film does try to keep you guessing if Lizzy is simply cracking under the pressures of frontier life, or is there actually a demonic force roaming these lands. The pace is deliberately moderate and the last act has some disturbing events and reveals. Not for everyone, but a bit of a different perspective on the traditional supernatural/demonic haunting flick. Also stars Miles Anderson as a traveling preacher and Dylan McTee (Midnighters) as Emma’s devastated husband Gideon.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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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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