BARE BONES: THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE CHILDREN (2023)

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THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE CHILDREN (2023)

Couple Margaret (Alisha Wainwright) and Ben (Zach Gilford) go on a camping trip with their friends Ellie (Amanda Crew) and Thomas (Carlos Santos) who bring their children Lucy (Briella Guiza) and Spencer (David Mattle). While hiking, the couples and kids discover some ruins. Within the ruins is a deep pit, one that seems to immediately get the kid’s attention. Soon the children begin to behave strangely and more aggressively and Ben, who is on medication, claims he saw the two of them fall into the pit and are now not who they appear to be. Tensions rise between the couples as the children manipulate them and pit them against each other. Is Ben right and are the children something other than they appear?

Bad kids horror is well directed by Roxanne Benjamin from a script by T. J. Cimfel and David White. She gives the familiar story a very strong atmosphere of dread and foreboding, as well as some nice tension and suspense. The story of kids turned evil and of folks being replaced as sinister doppelgangers has been done many times, but Benjamin makes it entertaining even if we already know that There’s Something Wrong with The Children long before the adults do. Once all is revealed…or heavily implied…it’s a bloody cat and mouse game with creepy kids vs the remaining adults. The cast all do good work, including young Briella Guiza and David Mattle…and the film does an efficient job of setting up potential conflicts between the adults that the kids later exploit. There is some bloody violence and not everything is spelled out so there is some spooky ambiguity to the proceedings. Like M3gan it is another example of a director and writers making good use of a familiar concept. The cool and atmospheric score by The Gifted is also worth mentioning.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: M3GAN (2023)

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M3GAN (2023)

Young Cady (Violet McGraw) has lost both her parents in a tragic car accident. Her Aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) gets custody and is overwhelmed by the prospect of being a parent to the emotionally wounded little girl. Gemma works for the Funki toy company that makes high tech toys. She is currently working on the Model 3 Generative Android…or M3gan for short…and thinks the artificial intelligence equipped doll would be the perfect companion for Cady. At first, she is, but soon M3gan (played by Amie Donald; voiced by Jenna Davis) starts to take her programming to protect Cady a bit too seriously and people start dying. Now Gemma needs to find a way to stop her, but the android’s ability to learn and adapt may have created a very intelligent and quite devious opponent.

Robot run amok flick is well directed by Gerard Johnstone from a script and story by Akela Cooper and James Wan. There is nothing original here. We have seen the killer toy or domestic robot gone awry many times before. M3gan, however, is not trying to reinvent the wheel, just have a little fun with it, and fun it is. The film takes itself seriously, but with tongue planted firmly in cheek, as the overprotective and self-aware android turns to deadly methods to protect Cady and then herself, when Gemma’s Dr. Frankenstein realizes she has created a monster. There are some violent scenes, and the last act in particular really delivers as Me3an goes all Terminator after they try to pull the plug on her. The cast here are good, especially young Violet McGraw whose onscreen bond with the android comes across as sincere. Sure, it’s predictable, but it’s an entertaining enough flick and utilizes the clichés and tropes quite well. A good example of a filmmaker using an oft told tale and all its familiar accoutrements and using them to good effect. A fun and sometimes twistedly entertaining flick.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: UNKNOWN DIMENSION: THE STORY OF PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2021)

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UNKNOWN DIMENSION: THE STORY OF PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2021)

Documentary written and directed by Joe Bandelli starts us off with a brief history of found footage horrors from Cannibal Holocaust to The Mcpherson Tape, to The Blair Witch Project. We then meet Oren Peli who details how he got the idea for the first film, in this now classic franchise, from his own experiences hearing strange noises in his new home. He details the casting of Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, who then join the documentary to give anecdotes of their own, on filming the first Paranormal Activity on a shoestring budget and with what barely could be called a script. The film then takes us on the long road to its eventual theatrical release, with interviews from various producers and horror journalists, as the film becomes a box office smash, and a franchise is born. Bandelli then brings in a host of actors and filmmakers as he takes us on the journey of the making of the film’s sequels, leading up to the recent seventh film that was still filming when this documentary was completed.

Bandelli crafts a fun and informative look at the history of one of modern horror’s most famous and successful movie franchises from the perspective of those involved. The writer/director brings in a host of talent from behind and in front of the cameras, to give a detailed and entertaining look at how what was basically little more than a home movie, turned into a near billion-dollar movie franchise. If you are a fan of this series, it is fun to see the stars from the original film, and all the sequels, return these many years later to describe their time working on the flicks, and even some honest commentary from the people involved on what led the series into its decline in the later installments. If you are a fan of the Paranormal Activity films and are curious about how it all came together, this is definitely a recommended watch on Paramount+.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: HALLOWEEN ENDS (2022)

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HALLOWEEN ENDS (2022)

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

Sequel to Halloween 2018 and Halloween Kills picks up a year later with the specter of the now vanished Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney) still hovering over Haddonfield. An unfortunate series of events on Halloween night leads to a babysitter named Cory (Rohan Campbell) being involved in the death of the little boy he is watching. The film then jumps three years later with Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) now having bought a house, writing a book and trying to move on. Granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) lives with her now and works at Haddonfield Hospital. Allyson meets and becomes involved with the emotionally troubled Cory, while Cory’s increasing inner turmoil catches the attention of a certain someone who has been lurking in Haddonfield’s sewer system waiting to make his return. Somehow this convoluted mess leads to Michael and Laurie having their final showdown.

Halloween Ends is again directed by David Gordon Green from a nonsensical script by he along with Paul Brad Logan, Danny McBride and Chris Bernier. It is a mess that basically makes Michael Myers an extended guest appearance in his own franchise finale, as the film chooses to focus on Allyson and Cory, who appears to be willing to take the torch. Laurie, meanwhile, sees his serial killer potential and tries to warn Allyson who refuses to listen. Cory is so creepy and weird it’s hard to understand why it seems like love at first sight with Allyson, and all this melodrama turns the whole Laurie vs Michael round three into almost an afterthought. When Myers does resurface, he is seen sporadically and even seems to accept Cory as an equal or protégée. If the math is correct, Cory even has the bigger body count here. WTF? The flick doesn’t even feel like it’s part of the last two movies and seems like ninety minutes of filler till all this psycho love story drama finally brings Laurie and Michael together for their last match. That in itself is over far too quickly and how it resolves will piss off a lot of fans. There are a few good kills…again, most of them Cory’s…and Carpenter provides this trilogy’s best score along with son Cody and Daniel Davies. Otherwise there really is little to recommend with this vastly disappointing “final” meeting of Laurie Strode and Michael Myers that will have you scratching your head at some of the awful dialogue, more than anything else.

The cast are a bit disappointing too. Curtis seems like she’s phoning it in this time and it’s sad to see the character go out in such a disappointing manner. Matichak seems to be playing a different person here. The death of Allyson’s parents has affected her, true, but it’s simply not written well. Rohan Campbell is actually good as Cory. The actor makes him sympathetic at first, as someone the town reviles, and then very creepy as he spirals to the dark side and gives in to his inner rage. Returning is Omar J Dorsey as Sheriff Barker, Will Patton as Hawkins, Kyle Richards returning in a do-nothing part as Lindsey and James Jude Courtney is once again imposing as Michael Myers, in what little screen time he has.

Overall, this is a really disappointing finale to one of the most celebrated and long running horror franchises. It has iconic serial killer Michael Myers take a back seat to a newcomer in a film that should have focused on him more than ever. The whole Laurie/Michael final confrontation build-up seems to be more of a subplot and the plot contrivances that bring them together in the last act barely work or make sense. The film focuses on the relationship between Allyson and Cory, and once Cory goes off the rails and starts racking up a body count, it’s almost laughable that Allyson is so oblivious to what he is turning into. A messy, bewildering and basically heartbreaking end to one of the greatest horror franchises of all-time and its iconic characters.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 (out of 4) carving knives. Happy Halloween 🎃!

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HALLOWEEN ENDS GETS A TEASER TRAILER!

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HALLOWEEN ENDS GETS A TEASER TRAILER!

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From the official Universal Pictures Youtube page synopsis…

“This is Laurie Strode’s last stand.

After 45 years, the most acclaimed, revered horror franchise in film history reaches its epic, terrifying conclusion as Laurie Strode faces off for the last time against the embodiment of evil, Michael Myers, in a final confrontation unlike any captured on-screen before. Only one of them will survive.

Icon Jamie Lee Curtis returns for the last time as Laurie Strode, horror’s first “final girl” and the role that launched Curtis’ career. Curtis has portrayed Laurie for more than four decades now, one of the longest actor-character pairings in cinema history. When the franchise relaunched in 2018, Halloween shattered box office records, becoming the franchise’s highest-grossing chapter and set a new record for the biggest opening weekend for a horror film starring a woman.

Four years after the events of last year’s Halloween Kills, Laurie is living with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) and is finishing writing her memoir. Michael Myers hasn’t been seen since. Laurie, after allowing the specter of Michael to determine and drive her reality for decades, has decided to liberate herself from fear and rage and embrace life. But when a young man, Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell; The Hardy Boys, Virgin River), is accused of killing a boy he was babysitting, it ignites a cascade of violence and terror that will force Laurie to finally confront the evil she can’t control, once and for all.

Halloween Ends co-stars returning cast Will Patton as Officer Frank Hawkins, Kyle Richards as Lindsey Wallace and James Jude Courtney as The Shape.

From the creative team that relaunched the franchise with 2018’s Halloween and Halloween Kills, the film is directed by David Gordon Green from a screenplay by Paul Brad Logan (Manglehorn), Chris Bernier (The Driver series), Danny McBride and David Gordon Green, based on characters created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill. Halloween Ends is produced by Malek Akkad, Jason Blum and Bill Block. The executive producers are John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis, Danny McBride, David Gordon Green, Ryan Freimann, Ryan Turek, Andrew Golov, Thom Zadra and Christopher H. Warner.

Universal Pictures, Miramax and Blumhouse present a Malek Akkad production, in association with Rough House Pictures.”

Much anticipated final chapter in the Halloween franchise opens 10/14/22.

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-MonsterZero NJ

Source/photos: Universal Pictures

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BARE BONES: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY- NEXT OF KIN (2021)

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PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: NEXT OF KIN (2021)

Margot (Emily Bader) is a young filmmaker who was abandoned at birth, but now has found some blood relatives. They are Amish and Margot decides to document reuniting with her family and travels to Amish country with her two friends/crew Chris and Dale (Roland Buck III and Dan LIppert). When she gets to the community village, she finds there is something strange going on, both in the farmhouse and concerning her long-lost mother. The longer they stay, the more escalated the strange activity gets and the more Margot starts to feel something sinister is happening there.

Found footage flick is directed by William Eubank (Underwater) from a script by Paranormal Activity series veteran Christopher Landon. There is no connection to the original series and will probably disappoint those looking for a closing chapter on Katie’s story, or some sort of tie-in. No Toby either. It’s the most visually interesting of the series, with its snowy Amish countryside settings, old farmhouses and creepy churches giving atmosphere. The first half is more of the same with things going bump in the night, the traditional jump scares, ominous footsteps and doors opening by themselves. It switches gears and really ramps up in the second half, taking the action to different spooky locations and leading up to a creepy, disturbing last act that culminates in a bloody and bonkers finale. There are some actual scares here and the stuff set in the caverns under the abandoned church is quite creepy, though reminiscent of the finales of Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch and The Taking of Deborah Logan. It might be the bloodiest of the seven flicks, so far, with a lot of violent moments and some gore. The cast are fine, with Emily Bader making a solid heroine and Tom Nowicki giving a spooky performance as Jacob, the family patriarch. If you are a fan of the original films, it rates among one of the better sequels and you’ll probably like the mix of familiar and new. If you are not a fan of this franchise, it probably won’t win you over. Definitely worth catching if you like this series or found footage flicks in general. Available for streaming on Paramount+.
 

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: HALLOWEEN KILLS (2021)

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HALLOWEEN KILLS (2021)

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

Sequel to Halloween 2018 starts out with a pre-credits flashback to 1978 and after the fiery jack-o-lantern filled credits sequence, picks up were the last flick left off. While the citizens of sleepy Haddonfield have yet to realize who’s back and a wounded Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) heads to the hospital with Karen (Judy Greer) and Allyson (Andi Matichak), an ill-fated group of firemen unleash Myers (James Jude Courtney) from his burning prison. Now, as an angry Michael starts carving up the town, locals, including 1978 survivors Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) and Lonnie Elam (Robert Longstreet), decide it’s time to hunt him down and put an end to his reign of terror.

Halloween Kills is again directed by David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) who co-wrote with Danny McBride and Scott Teems. The result is an incredibly polarized mixed bag with some really great scenes and scenes that borderline suck. The good stuff is anything involving Michael. The opening flashback to his capture in 1978 is one of the best Halloween sequences outside of the 1978 original and has a really shocking surprise cameo. The scene of Michael decimating his first responder rescue team is not only already controversial, but quite intense and bloody. The Michael Myers here is angry and his stalk and kill scenes are intense, very graphically violent and sometimes outright scary. They have impact and we see one of the most vicious portrayals of Michael Myers since Rob Zombie’s flicks. Unfortunately, the scenes featuring Tommy Doyle and his mob of frenzied townies at the hospital are downright terrible. The dialogue spoken by Doyle and the hospital security chief, former sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers), is awful and hearing an angry mob shouting “Evil dies tonight!” in the hospital lobby is almost laughable, if one wasn’t busy cringing. Add in the silly mob pursuit of another escaped mental patient mistaken for Michael and hilarity not intensity ensues. How could Green nail the scenes with Michael so well and completely bungle everything else? Laurie is sidelined for pretty much the entire movie, with Karen and Allyson taking up the mantle of Myers hunters and their confrontation with him at the old Myers house is thankfully one of the things Green gets right. The gore is plentiful and quite gruesome and the violence is quite brutal, but it’s sadly the stuff that should have given this dramatic weight that fails so badly here. At least Carpenter, his son Cody and Daniel Davies provide a really good score and David Gordon Green still has a good eye for visuals. The film looks great and the score really punches up the kill scenes. Everything else just induces a lot of intense eye rolling and mumblings of “WTF” were they thinking.

The cast are a mixed bag, too. Curtis does the best with what little she has to work with and it’s Greer and Matichak that shine here, as they go on the offensive with mom Laurie in the hospital. Anthony Michael Hall just doesn’t click as Tommy Doyle, who, for some reason, is given the Dr. Loomis role here. It doesn’t work and his Loomis-esque dialogue is terrible. Dylan Arnold is good again as Cameron and Robert Longstreet is fine as his dad Lonnie. Rounding out the original character returns is Kyle Richards returning to her original role as Lindsey, Cyphers as Brackett and Nancy Stephens returning as Nurse Marion. Nice to see these original faces, but they could have been better used. Also returning is Omar J Dorsey as Sheriff Barker and Will Patton as Hawkins. James Jude Courtney is once again imposing as Michael Myers.

What can one say. After a fantastic opening sequence and an intense and brutal escape by Michael Myers, the film turns into a silly pitchfork and torch mob movie—and yes, there is actually a pitchfork at one point—with some scenes that feature awful dialogue and completely misfire, killing any intensity the Myers stalk and kill scenes have. With those at least, the film lives up to it’s promise with David Gordon Green really nailing these scenes and giving us the vicious, brutal and scary Michael Myers that we came to see. We can only hope Halloween Ends is exactly that and this incarnation of  Myers can finally rest in peace.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated a generous 3 (out of 4) carving knives, because the Michael scenes rocked. Happy Halloween 🎃!

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BARE BONES: BLACK AS NIGHT (2021)

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BLACK AS NIGHT (2021)

Vampire flick premiered on Amazon Prime this past weekend as part of the new Welcome to the Blumhouse series. It takes place in New Orleans in the rundown housing project of Ombreux, where folks are suddenly disappearing. When teenager Shawna (Asjha Cooper) is attacked and bitten and her mother is turned, Shawna realizes vampires are preying on the locals. Determined to save the Ombreux and those who live there, Shawna and best bud Pedro (Fabrizio Guido) set out to hunt down and destroy the master vampire (Keith David).

Flick is directed by Maritte Lee Go from a script by Sherman Payne. It has it’s heart in the right place, covering some socially relevant topics such as gentrification of urban neighborhoods and the effects of Hurricane Katrina on people of color, fifteen years later. The film makes good use of the New Orleans locations, and has some fun moments and entertaining action sequences as Shawna and friends turn vampire killers. Where the film falters, is as a vampire movie it’s very routine and could have been more energetic. The similar Vampires vs, The Bronx handled similar socially relevant themes, but was much more fun and effective as a vampire flick, too. Sure it’s great to see Keith David as a master vampire and his purpose fits in with the film’s themes, but it’s all very 90s Buffy—not that there’s anything wrong with that—but without the pop culture wit. Bronx’s gentrifying vampires were more fun, as were it’s spunky vampire fighting kids. Cooper and the cast all perform well, but well-intended social messages aside, we just wish Black as Night was simply more bloody fun.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 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 allude 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 lets 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 stays 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 its 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 horrors 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 its 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 types 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 its 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 types 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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