HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE RENTAL (2020)

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THE RENTAL (2020)

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

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

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

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

-MonsterZero NJ

 

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

 

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BARE BONES: 24 EXPOSURES, KILL ME THREE TIMES and THE INTRUDERS

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24 EXPOSURES (2013)

Odd and unsatisfying thriller has a troubled police detective (Simon Barrett) investigating a series of murders and questioning a fetish photographer (Adam Wingard who directed The Guest) who worked with a couple of the victims. The two form an odd bond as the investigation continues. Yea…that’s kinda it. I found this thriller rather pointless and dull. Writer/director Joe Swanberg seems more interested in giving his fellow director buddy Wingard opportunities to make-out with and enact sex scenes with multiple women than he is in actually telling a story. Ironically, when Barett’s cop character tries to sell his experiences as a book, he’s told that the characters and story aren’t compelling enough and there are too many loose ends…kinda like this movie. Also, instead of patting each other on the back by giving each other acting roles, this pack of filmmaker buddies should keep egos in check and hire real actors…just a suggestion.

2 star rating

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KILL ME THREE TIMES (2014)

Another Tarantino wannabe thriller that has a hip soundtrack, spurts of graphic violence and a story told out of sequence with dark humor. This time the wannabes are writer James McFarland and Aussie director Kriv Stenders. They deliver the story of hired killer Charlie Wolf (Simon Pegg) who is being payed by a ruthless husband (Callan Mulvey) to murder his cheating wife, Alice (Alice Braga). Unknown to Charlie, a conniving couple (Theresa Palmer and Sullivan Stapleton) are planning to kill her, too, in an insurance fraud plot…but Alice has other ideas. Add in a dirty cop (Bryan Brown) and a lovesick mechanic (Luke Hemsworth) and things get complicated and bloody fast. Flick isn’t terrible, it’s just that it’s style is so familiar at this point and a good deal of it is predictable because so many have already tried to be the next Quentin Tarantino and we know what to expect. Pegg seems to be having fun in more of a tough guy role, but the proceedings in flicks like this have just become so passé and it never reaches the cleverness or the manic energy of the filmmaker whose work is being emulated. OK at best.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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THE INTRUDERS (2015)

The Intruders is a completely derivative and familiar story of a emotionally troubled girl named Rose (Miranda Cosgrove) who moves into an apparently haunted house that wants something from her. Obviously her recently widowed father (Donal Logue) thinks it’s all in her troubled head and no one believes her that something may be in the house with them. So, she begins to investigate. Add in alleged disappearances and suspicious neighbors and you know where this is going. Thriller isn’t badly directed, as by Adam Massey, it’s just that Jason Juravic’s script is loaded with been-there-done-that. The only thing that elevated this for me out of the incredibly familiar and mundane material was that Cosgrove is actually quite good, despite being surrounded by clichés. In a much better film, the former Disney Channel actress could be quite an impressive final girl. Also stars Tom Sizemore as the suspicious neighbor and Austin Butler as the stereotypical nice guy hunk with a soft spot for pretty, damaged girls. Up to you.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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BARE BONES: PROXY and VHS: VIRAL

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PROXY (2013)

Proxy has some disturbing scenes, especially the opening assault on a pregnant women, but ultimately drowns in it’s indecision on what it is actually is about. Film directed by Zack Parker, who co-wrote with Kevin Donner, starts out about single, pregnant Esther (Alexia Rasmussen) who is attacked in a brutal robbery and looses her unborn child. She meets a strange woman in her support group Melanie (Alexa Havens), who claims to have lost her child and husband, but actually hasn’t. In a strange and bloody turn of events, the film jarringly switches focus to Melanie, as her child actually is taken from her and she and her grieving husband (Joe Swanberg) are stalked by the killed culprit’s angry, vengeful lover (Kristina Klebe). Not only can’t this film decide what it’s about, or what it’s point is…at the end we question if there ever was one…but it’s slow paced and at least 10-15 minutes too long. Scenes drag out and especially in the last half, seem to go nowhere until the climactic act. The lack of a focused story or point, render what effective scenes it has…and it has a few…mute. Overall, mostly dull and pointless and tries for some last minute relevance with it’s faux shock ending.

2 star rating

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VHS: VIRAL (2014)

Third installment of this found footage anthology series is the worst of the three and I’m not a huge fan of any of them. The first film has some effective bits, but was ultimately disappointing considering the hype. The second was a step below that with little that really resonated. This third flick is just pointless, annoying and goes absolutely nowhere with a head scratching wrap-around story about a dork on a bicycle pursuing his kidnapped girlfriend in an ice cream truck during a police chase. The film then cuts away to a bunch of vignettes that all seem to serve no purpose or have any sort of solid story. Just an excuse for excessive violence and headache inducing shaky cam. A complete waste of time even at only 80+ minutes.

1 and 1-2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE SACRAMENT (2013)

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THE SACRAMENT (2013)

From the director of House Of The Devil and The Innkeepers comes this faux documentary chiller about a supposedly idyllic commune that echoes the real-life Jonestown incident of 1978. The story finds fashion photographer Patrick (Kentucker Audley) traveling to a remote South American jungle with his friends Jake (Joe Swanberg) and Sam (AJ Bowen) when he gets a letter from his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz) about her new life in a religious commune. As the three all work for a New York based multimedia company named Vice, they decide to make a documentary about the commune as part of their visit. And while, at first, the place seems like the peaceful haven it appears, that starts to change upon meeting it’s charismatic founder “Father” (a haunting Gene Jones), a man who might be more about playing God then serving him. Now, the longer they stay, the more they realize something is terribly wrong here and they may not live to present the world the story of Eden Parish.

I have been a big fan of director/writer Ti West since first seeing his low budget horror The Roost and he hasn’t disappointed me yet. The Sacrament is a chilling story of desperate people who fall under the control of a manipulative megalomaniac whose promise of freedom is only made so he can imprison and control them. West does a good job of first making us think that maybe Eden Parish isn’t such a bad place as our media crew interview some very happy and satisfied settlers. But, once Father appears and they interview him, West slowly starts to build tension and chills as there is a malicious underlying meaning to some of his answers. As the night goes on, the tension and chills mount as the 3 men realize that this is not a haven and they may not be allowed to leave. The film legitimately disturbs as our crew become increasing afraid and realize they may be trapped in a serpent’s nest and Ti West’s use of the documentary format helps get the viewer in close. If there is any Achilles’ Heel to this film, it is that it follows history a little too closely and anyone with knowledge of Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre, know what’s coming. Sure, it’s unsettling to watch unfold but, it doesn’t quite have the shock it needed to really punctuate the rest of the film and give it the powerful climax it needs. It is effective, don’t get me wrong but, as someone who was a teen in 1978 when the incident this is based on occurred… the familiarity did lessen the event’s impact. Overall the film is disturbing, especially when you add in Eric Robbins’ cinematography and Tyler Bates effectively chilling score but, as this event played out in real-life and is historically renown, it does take away the core shock of what transpires.

But in the director’s favor, West also gets good work out of his cast and this helps with the film’s effect. Swanberg, Audley and Bowen all present realistic characters that definitely give the vibe of metro filmmakers, who, especially in the case of Bowen’s Sam, give the impression of being equal parts idealistic and naive. They wade into their documentary full steam ahead realizing only too late they are in shark infested waters. Their fear appears quite genuine. Amy Seimetz is especially convincing as a woman who seems very happy on the outside but, is brainwashed to the point of committing horrible acts to preserve that ‘happiness’ as her leader commands. But, the real star of this show is a truly mesmerizing Gene Jones as Father. Jones presents a man who truly believes what he says and who uses the word of God and the promise of a peaceful life to control and manipulate those around him. He also is not above bending or breaking the very laws of God that he claims to uphold, if it suits his purpose and maintains his control over his subjects. He comes across as that friendly uncle who always greets you with a warm hug but, this time has a knife hidden behind his back. A really noteworthy performance.

In conclusion, I liked Ti West’s The Sacrament. It is chilling and disturbing and the found footage format puts us in the compound with our beleaguered film crew and adds to the tension. The only real flaw the film has, is that it follows a tragic historical event a bit too closely and anyone with knowledge of that incident knows where this is heading. The last act of the film is less shocking because of it but, is still unsettling to watch unfold under the skilled lens of Ti West and the very chilling performance of Gene Jones. Still very recommended.

3 jugs of Kool Aid.

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