BARE BONES: DON’T LISTEN (2020)

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DON’T LISTEN aka VOCES (2020)

Spanish supernatural thriller finds house flipper Daniel (Rodolfo Sancho) moving into a new project with his wife Sara (Belén Fabra) and his young son Eric (Lucas Blas). Eric claims to be hearing voices, but his parents and psychologist (Beatriz Arjona) think it is simply the effect of moving so much on a lonely boy. When Eric dies tragically, Daniel begins to hear voices too and seeks the help of a paranormal investigator (Ramón Barea) and his daughter (Ana Fernández). What they find is Daniel’s worst nightmare as there is an evil entity in this new house and it wants vengeance on any who enter.

Haunted house flick is directed well by Ángel Gómez Hernández from a script and story by he, Santiago Díaz, Víctor Gado and Juan Moreno. Hernández creates an atmospheric and spooky story, as the grieving Daniel finds out there is a horrible history attached to this new house and the spirit of a vengeful witch on top of that. He and his fellow writers create some likable and sympathetic characters, in the grieving Daniel, the sweet and scared Eric, and the paranormal investigators with a personal loss of their own. It gives the film some nice emotional depth and the audience becomes emotionally invested in the characters. Hernández keeps the spooky stuff in-camera, with no CGI and the flick presents it’s subject with a subtle hand, until the chilling last act. What little blood or gore there is, is very effective when it comes. The cast are all good and the make-up FX, portraying our witch, are very well rendered, but used sparingly, so as not to loose their potency. It also has a chilling ending that will stick with you after it’s over. Hernández knows the tropes well and how to use them effectively. A very entertaining and spooky haunted house tale that will keep you looking at all parts of the picture frame for lurking spooks, just like The Haunting of Hill House. Watch through the credits for an additional scene and look out for a fun cameo from frequent creature performer Javier Botet as himself at a book signing. Flick is currently streaming on Netflix.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: HIS HOUSE (2020)

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HIS HOUSE (2020)

Supernatural chiller finds Sudanese refugees Boi (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) seeking asylum in England. They are put on probation and sent to live in a small, decrepit house in a London ghetto. Still grieving over loosing their daughter (Malaika Abigaba) durning their harrowing escape, the couple now face harsh guidelines set by the British government, racism, prejudice and the struggle of assimilating without loosing their culture. Worse still, there is a malevolent entity in the house with them and Boi is determined to keep his new home at any cost.   

Film is written and directed by Remi Weekes and while the tropes are familiar, the perspective is not. The supernatural elements are steeped in Sudanese culture and are quite effective. It can be spooky at times and it’s messages about racism and the plight of refugees is subtly woven into the story. We also get some surprising reveals as to what this African spirit, called an apeth, wants and why it is there, along with some solid drama with the conflict between the eager to assimilate Boi and the reluctant Rial. The cast, which also includes Matt Smith (Dr. Who) as their case worker, are all very good and the visuals and FX are effective, with Javier Botet performing one of the entities. Flick is currently streaming on Netflix.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: POLAROID (2019)

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POLAROID (2019)

Teen centric horror was filmed in 2017 and due to Dimension Pictures’ financial woes, had not found release until recently on VOD and streaming formats. Plot finds high school student and photographer Bird (Kathryn Prescott) getting an old polaroid camera from friend Tyler (Davi Santos), who works with her at a local antique shop. Later that night at a costume party, Bird takes pictures of her friends with the old camera. Soon her friends start dying and it seems anyone who she takes a picture of, falls victim to some kind of supernatural entity. Can Bird find out who, or what, this thing is and how to stop it.

Flick is directed by Lars Klevberg based on his short film, which has been adapted to feature length by Blair Butler. It’s a fairly generic teen horror that closely follows the pattern of today’s PG-13 horror trend targeting teenage audiences. As such, it’s not all that bad. It has a few spooky moments, the young cast are likable enough and it plays well the Scooby Doo mystery solving element. It actually has a few interesting twists. There is very little gore and when the specter is portrayed with CGI, it can be quite cheesy looking at times. Not the best of this recent horror-lite trend, but far from the worst. Also stars Haunt’s Katie Stevens, Galaxy of Terror’s Grace Zabriskie, X-Files’ Mitch Pileggi and prolific creature performer Javier Botet, for the none CGI entity segments.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: SLENDER MAN (2018) and WEBCAST (2018)

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SLENDER MAN (2018)

Flick is based on the popular urban legend and finds four friends, Hallie, Wren, Katie and Chloe (Julia Goldani Telles, Joey King, Annalise Basso and Jaz Sinclair) trying to conjure up the boogie man-like specter during a get-together one night. Soon after, one of their number disappears and the rest start to fear they’ve actually succeeded. Is the Slender Man real and now out to get them?

Teen centric horror is not the best of the recent trend, though certainly not the worst. Director Sylvain White does create some spooky scenes from David Birke’s generic script and has a very effective visual style to give the film some atmosphere. His cast of young actors try hard and are likable enough, even if we have seen the “urban legend-based boogie man” flick a few too many times recently. Not a waste of time, but nothing new either. Also stars veteran horror creature performer Javier Botet (The REC series, Mama, Insidious: The Last Key ) as The Slender Man.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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WEBCAST (2018)

Chloe Webber (Samantha Redford) is making a webcast documentary about the disappearance of her aunt during the 80s. While filming, she captures footage which leads her to believe her neighbors are holding a young girl against her will. With only her boyfriend Ed (Joseph Tremain) believing her, they begin to investigate. As they observe and record their neighbors’ activities, Chloe starts to experience some strange occurrences of her own. Is there something evil in their midst and are they getting too close?

British found footage flick is basically The Blair Witch Project meets The Wicker Man as written and directed by Paul McGhie. It’s nothing really new, once you get past the initial premise, though has some spooky sequences towards the climax. As for that climax, it blows the opportunity to end on an unsettling note by taking it to an extra step which is unnecessary and confusing. For the most part this is another forgettable entry in the found footage arena, save for pretty lead Samantha Redford being quite charming and endearing with a movie star smile. Hope to see more of her in other, better things.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: MARA (2018)

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MARA (2018)

Police psychologist Kate (Olga Kurylenko) is trying to determine if a woman named Helena (Rosie Fellner) brutally murdered her husband in their own bed. Helena claims her husband was being stalked by a demonic entity, but police detective McCarthy (Lance E. Nichols) thinks she should be locked up one way or the other. Kate’s investigation starts to reveal a series of similar deaths that may be linked to a sleep demon called Mara (Javier Botet) and worse yet…Kate might be next.

Very similar to the 2016 Dead Awake with Jocelin Donahue, which also involved sleep paralysis and a dream stalker, but this flick does right a lot of what that movie did wrong. Mara is a good example of how a skilled director, in this case Clive Tonge, can take very familiar story elements and make an entertaining and effective movie out of them. Jonathan Frank’s script offers nothing we haven’t seen before in films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Mama (ironically also played by Javier Botet), but the film is atmospheric and gives us some nice chills thanks to Tonge’s good use of these familiar dream demon tropes. Olga Kurylenko portrays a strong and likeable heroine to emotionally invest us and there is also a sympathetic turn by Doomsday’s Craig Conway as a war vet who’s crossed paths with Mara and is desperately wanting to be believed. Mara herself is a bit of a routine boogie man (boogie woman?), but she is utilized well enough. There is nothing new or inventive here, but there is some effective direction and good performances to turn the familiar into spooky entertainment.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (2017)

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INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (2017)

Fourth installment in this franchise is again a prequel, this one taking place just before the events of the first film. First, it opens in 1953 and shows us a young Elise (Ava Kolker) in her childhood home showing her psychic abilities much to the anger of her abusive father (Josh Stewart). We relive a horrifying event and then are taken forward to 2010 where an adult Elise (Lin Shaye) is called by the current occupant of her old childhood house to investigate some paranormal activity. Now Elise must overcome her inner fear and go back to that house and not only relive those awful memories, but find out some horrifying truths as well.

Flick is again written by Leigh Whannell, who also appears as “Specs”, but this time directed by Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan). Robitel brings atmosphere and provides some spooky moments, though the series is starting to show signs of loosing steam. It is interesting to go into Elise’s past and see where this all began, but even so, the backstory isn’t enough to freshen things up completely. The story is well presented and we get the tension between Elise and the estranged brother (Bruce Davison) she left behind when she walked away from her father and that house, but despite the dramatic weight of this being a very personal investigation for Elise, we still feel it could have been stronger. The final showdown in The Further with the house’s reigning specter should have had more intensity. The evil entity lacks weight with being given little to no backstory and is kept on the sidelines till the last act. Still, it is well directed and shows, with a stronger script, Robitel could deliver a spooky and atmospheric film. This flick does have some good moments, including a fairly shocking reveal and there was a purveying sense of dread whenever the action took place inside the house. The film is entertaining, it’s just that it may be time to let this franchise rest in peace, or bring in new blood both creatively and on camera. We are introduced to Elise’s psychic niece Imogen (Caitlin Gerard from Smiley), so maybe such plans are already in place. It’s hard to do much with Elise when they killed her off in the first film, which in hindsight was a big mistake.

Lin Shaye is once again in top form as Elise. She is a great character and the actress gives the role lots of heart. She’s very likable and despite her experiences, she’s still vulnerable and can be scared. She makes the character very endearing which would explain her continual return in prequels. Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell are fine as Tucker and Specs, but it’s Elise’s show and they are wisely kept to side-kick duties. Bruce Davison is a class act and is sympathetic as her emotionally wounded brother, Christian. Josh Stewart is detestable as Elise’s dad and both Spencer Locke and Caitlin Gerard are likable as Melissa and Imogen, Elise’s nieces. A solid cast.

This was a good effort in many ways, just unfortunately in a franchise running out of gas. They gave us some nice backstory on Elise and made the story more personal, but the adventures in The Further and even it’s Key Face (Javier Botet) demon are routine and showing series wear and tear. Adam Robitel added atmosphere and handles the spookiness well, but Leigh Whannell’s script fails to freshen things up despite a more Elise-centric story. Overall, it was entertaining enough, but not going to win new fans and will have current ones questioning how much longer they are going to stick around for “Further” adventures.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 spooks.

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