HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE (2019)

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RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE (2019)

Todd Walkley (Jesse Williams from Cabin in the Woods) is the creator of the popular Slasherman comic book that is based on a real-life serial killer. To get inspiration for the final issue, he goes on a road trip to the area of the original murders with girlfriend, Kathy (Jordana Brewster), assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson) and friend/publisher Ezra (Jay Baruchel). There is already some tension, as Todd comes under fire for sensationalizing a real life killing spree and Kathy is writing a true crime book about the actual murders. Those are the least of his worries, however, as someone is making cryptic phone calls to him and people start dying around him in recreations of his gruesome comic book pages.

This is a brutal and vicious slasher flick as directed by co-star Jay Baruchel from his script with Jesse Chabot, based on the comic of the same name by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. There are some very effective and impactful kills and despite being renown for his comic roles, Baruchel creates a very intense and chilling tale of life imitating art and vice-versa. The Canadian actor/director gives the film some depth by having Todd finding himself right in the middle of the age-old arguments about the media sensationalizing violence, violence as entertainment and killers that get more attention than their innocent victims. As it causes friction between Todd and Kathy, it gives some emotional depth to the characters as the two lovers have different points of view on these issues. So, or course, there is conflict between them. Some surprise reveals in the last act also makes things a lot more personal, as we discover the details on who this fiend is, why they are doing what they are doing and why Todd has been targeted. It makes for a gruesome last act that really cranks up the intensity. Baruchel’s directing here evoked the 2014 The Town That Dreaded Sundown remake and his visual style is impressive with the use of comic book style coloring and animated comic book frames being used to tell the disturbing story. A bit of a familiar story, but one done very well here. The violence is very effective and nasty when it comes, though it’s just enough to not desensitize or numb you to the gruesome goings on. It remains quite unsettling. A very intense and effective movie about horror as entertainment, that is both an effective slasher and yet commentary on the line between inspiration and exploitation. Baruchel doesn’t preach and let’s you drawn you own conclusions.

The cast is small but really good. Jesse Williams makes an interesting character as Todd. We like Todd and his is never vilified, but we do question whether his use of a real-life serial killer as a basis for a comic book character was the right thing to do. WIlliams gives Todd a heart and he is not without inner turmoil as bodies start to fall and he feels scared and, more so, responsible. When the big reveals come, we understand him all the more. Brewster is good as Kathy. A strong independent woman who loves Jesse, but has her own feelings about his comic and it’s use of the death of real innocents for entertainment purposes. Her real crime book causes issues between them and the two actors portray that very well. The scenes of their confrontations on the subject are also well written. Baruchel is good in the supporting role of Todd’s friend and publisher Ezra. Ezra is one of the first to start freaking out over what’s going on, as is Aurora. As Aurora, Niamh Wilson creates an endearing character and while she is the least focused on, she makes her on-screen time count and we like this emotional and slightly eccentric girl. A good cast.

Despite making a name for himself with comic roles and stand-up, Jay Baruchel directs a very strong, atmospheric and unapologetically violent slasher film that is in itself a commentary on violence as entertainment and the possible responsibilities of those who make it. We get a likable character who is himself conflicted over the effects of what he has created, especially when it inspires someone to act out the horrors from it’s very pages. There are some intense and brutal kills and some unsettling last act reveals that really work well in keeping this film tense and disturbing. A very impressive horror from Jay Baruchel and a recommended watch that can be found on Shudder.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) welding masks!

 

 

 

 

 

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE FACULTY and DISTURBING BEHAVIOR

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THE FACULTY (1998)

The Faculty plays basically like a high school version of The Thing with elements of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and Night Of The Creeps thrown in for good measure. But since it’s from pop-culture horror writer extraordinaire Kevin Williams (Scream) and director and film geek Robert Rodriguez (Sin City), we know this is intentional and they playfully acknowledge their homage with some high school versions of some of those movies’ most famous scenes and some outright character references to those original works.

This tale of an alien invasion that starts in a small town Ohio high school has a group of five students, including mean girl Delilah (Jordana Brewster), geek Casey (Elijah Wood), rebel Zeke (Josh Hartnett), goth Stokely (Clea DuVall) and new girl Marybeth (Laura Harris) facing the alien menace which starts by assimilating the school faculty. And what a faculty we have with Robert Patrick, Bebe Neuwirth, Famke Janssen, Salma Hayek and Piper Laurie, to name a few. Of course no one believes them that aliens are among us and up to no good and as the adults are assimilated by the alien’s slimy slug-like swarm, they are soon outnumbered and being hunted with no one to turn to but each other. Now the 5 must overcome their differences and mistrust, to find the alien queen, destroy it and save the school and the planet.

Rodriguez wisely plays it straight and lets the material provide the fun. He knows not to make a joke out of what basically is a silly sci-fi story, but he never takes things too seriously that we don’t have a good time watching our teens battling alien drones that once were their teachers and friends and trying to convince themselves that this is actually happening. Sure we’ve seen it all before, from the doubting adults to the paranoia over who is an alien and who is human, but that is part of the fun. Rodriguez knows we’re familiar with this type of story and uses our familiarity to sometimes pull the wool over our eyes and play with our expectations. And when he doesn’t do that, he simply delivers what we want expect, as with the final showdown between our heroes and the big bad alien bitch herself. It’s not perfect, sometimes the familiarity of the material works against it and a few of the classic film scenes recreated are a bit too obvious, but overall it’s an entertaining movie with some really good SPFX and a cast who knows exactly when to take things seriously and when to camp it up a bit and have a good time. And the large ensemble cast, also including Jon Stewart and Usher Raymond, are all up to the task with Patrick and Janssen especially chewing up the scenery when appropriate.

The 1998 film is a bit dated at this point, but if you enjoy the Scream era horror flicks then you won’t mind it. It’s not old enough for nostalgic charm just yet, but it will be soon enough. A fun movie from an era where pop-culture references and horror went hand in hand quite often.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) high school hunting alien queens!

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DISTURBING BEHAVIOR (1998) 

This late 90s flick tells the story of high school student Steve Clark (James Marsden) and his sister Lindsay (a pre-Ginger Snaps Katherine Isabelle) who move with their parents from Chicago to the quaint remote community of Cradle Bay, Wa. A community that seems to be run by the elite high school varsity Blue Ribbons, a group of clean cut teens with valedictorian goals. But Steve bonds with outcasts Strick (Nick Stahl), Rachel (Katie Holmes) and U.V. (Chad E. Donella) who warn him that all is not right with the picture perfect Blue Ribbons. Soon he finds out his friends are not being paranoid, as the Blue Ribbons acquire some surprising new members, including Strick and these honor society students seem to easily and violently react whenever they face normal teenage emotional turmoil. Even more suspicious, is the Jim Jones-like Dr. Caldicott (Bruce Greenwood) the man behind the ‘seminars’ that recruit Blue Ribbons members. Is this some kind of cult or is Caldicott more Dr. Frankenstein then Dr. Phil?

Disturbing Behavior is an entertaining flick from X-Files episode director David Nutter and does play very much like an episode of that classic show. Which isn’t a bad thing. Nutter gets some good suspense and chills out of Scott Rosenberg’s script and gives this high school Stepford Wives some nice atmoshere. Not everything works. There are a few of the Blue Ribbon melt-down scenes that come across as silly rather then disturbing and the film’s climactic confrontation with Steve and Rachel being hunted down by the Blue Ribbons and their deranged creator at the edge of a dam ends in an equally silly denouement.

The cast perform well, for the most part, with Marsden making a fine hero, Holmes making a feisty rebel-chick and Greenwood an appropriately charismatic yet slimy villain. Sadly, the usually dependable William Sadler overacts as the school janitor Dorian and A.J. Buckley hams it up a bit too much as the short circuiting Blue Ribbon with a crush on Rachel and it stands out as the rest of the cast play it straight including bad guy Greenwood. Both these performances give their scenes an element of camp that is not present in the rest of the film, except for the unintentionally goofy climax.

Overall Disturbing Behavior is an entertaining enough thriller that is brought down a few notches by some campy performances and a few scenes that didn’t quite work, but David Nutter does provide enough suspense and chills to keep it afloat and it deserves credit for doing it’s own thing and avoiding the pop-culture heavy teen horror of this era. Flawed, but still an entertaining watch.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) hot pre-Cruise Holmes!

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