HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE DROWNSMAN (2014)

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THE DROWNSMAN (2014)

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The Drownsman is an earlier film from Chad Archibald (The Heretics, I’ll Take Your Dead) and tells the spooky tale of pretty Madison (Michelle Mylett) and the malevolent spirit she encounters. Madison nearly drowns at a party and claims to have seen some kind of malevolent presence during the ordeal. This gives her an extreme fear of water and a year later friends Hannah (Caroline Korycki), Lauren (Sydney Kondruss), Kobie (Gemma Bird Matheson) and medium Cathryn (Clare Bastable), attempt an intervention that makes matters even worse. Troubled Madison’s research leads her to serial killer Sebastian Donner (Ry Barrett) also known as “The Drownsman”, a sadistic killer who kidnaped women to be drowned in his basement. Donner was finally drowned himself by his last attempted victim, Isabelle (JoAnn Nordstrom) and now his spirit uses water as a conduit back to the corporeal world, to continue his foul deeds. Worse still, he now has his waterlogged sights set on Madison and her friends, who one by one are meeting a horrid, watery fate.

Canadian filmmaker Archibald has proven himself an interesting filmmaker who uses his influences well. He directs from a script he co-wrote with Cody Calahan and makes it work far better than it should. Premise could have been silly in less capable hands, but Archibald delivers some very creepy sequences and gives the film an unsettling look, especially when we are in Donner’s lair. As our bad guy, The Drownsman is an effective supernatural creeper even if this kind of story has been presented quite a lot lately. The water element does give it a bit of a different angle and there are some interesting twists in the second act, where the intensity gets cranked up. Archibald accomplishes a lot on a modest budget and the film never tries to be more than it is. It’s effective even if basically just a familiar supernatural haunting tale mixed with a classic slasher flick. There are some questions, like where is newly married Hannah’s husband during all this and why didn’t authorities level, or at least lock up, Donner’s home after Isabelle’s escape? It’s just sitting there waiting for final girls to wander into. On a production level, Archibald has a solid visual eye and the film looks good, the make-up FX on Donner are very effective and the drowning deaths have impact, even without any gore or overly graphic violence.

Actress Michelle Mylett is a good final girl as the traumatized Madison. She presents well a woman living in fear, fears she must overcome if she and any of her friends are to survive. Caroline Korycki is solid as best friend Hannah, who at first doubt’s there is anything paranormal going on, but soon begins to believe her friend might not be imagining things. Matheson and Kondruss are also good as friends Kobie and Lauren, with Clare Bastable delivering a likable enough friend/medium in Cathryn. Last, but certainly not least, Ry Barrett brings presence and menace to the silent but lethal specter, Sebastian Donner/The Drownsman.

Not a classic, but an earlier work by a filmmaker that continues to up his game with each film. Archibald handles well a story that could have gotten very silly and delivers a spooky, at times, chiller. We have likable characters stalked by an effective boogeyman and the bloodless drowning deaths are given weight and impact. A good example of a filmmaker able to use familiar story elements and still make them effective and showing the potential he is currently living up to.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) bathtubs.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE HERETICS (2017)

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THE HERETICS (2017)

Creepy flick finds a pretty young woman named Gloria (Nina Kiri) kidnapped by a cult for some sort of ceremony. They commit mass suicide leaving Gloria a blood spattered survivor. Five years later she’s still haunted by the events, living with her mother, Ruth (Nina Richmond) and going to group therapy where she’s met her girlfriend Joan (Jorja Cadence). Just when she thinks things might be getting better, she’s kidnapped by Thomas (Ry Barrett) a former cult member who claims he’s trying to save her. He warns her that not all the cult members are dead and she is key to the birth of their deity. While Joan and Ruth begin to search for her, Gloria begins a horrifying transformation in a secluded cabin that no one may be able to save her from.

Horror is written and directed by Chad Archibald (Bite, Ejecta) from a story by Jayme Laforest. As illustrated by his work in Bite, Archibald can come up with some creepy and disturbing stuff and does so again here. He seems to have a penchant for body horror, as captive Gloria begins to transform before would-be savior Thomas’ eyes. The second half of the movie especially has some unsettling stuff, as cult members resurface and an unearthly ceremony begins again. The cabin in the woods setting is a much used trope, but Archibald gets good use out of it and shows he has a very effective visual style, too. There are some very unsettling scenes here, and there are also a few surprises and reveals as characters are not who they seem and flashbacks fill us in on more details of what happened to Gloria five years ago. It’s a spooky and atmospheric flick that provides some memorable images and a few shocking moments. It also has some violent and gory scenes and the FX portraying them are well done. It’s not perfect. We can see a few things coming and lead Nina Kiri is sadly reduced to a damsel in distress in the second half where earlier on she seemed like she was capable of giving the character some depth. Too bad, Gloria seems to sit on the sidelines during a time when her character is proving crucial. That aside, this is an effective horror from filmmaker Chad Archibald.

The cast was on point for the most part. Lead Nina Kiri was good at portraying an emotionally damaged young woman trying to heal from a horrific experience. She gives Gloria a sense of tragedy when her transformation starts and it’s too bad she isn’t given much to do in the second half, but sit in a chair and looked hurt and bewildered. Ry Barret is somewhat likable as the ex-cultist who fell for the victim. He gives Thomas a sense of inner pain and torment and a touch of nobility. He also remains a tad creepy and that works in the context of the story. Jorja Cadence is the real show stealer. Her Joan seems like a strong, determined woman at the start, but certain revelations about her take the character to a whole new level and the actress is up for the task. She plays it well and avoids camp or going over-the-top. Rounding out is Nina Richmond, who is solid as Gloria’s caring and concerned mother.

Overall, this was a very creepy and effective flick from a director who is showing some potential both atmospherically and visually. He has a feel for body horror and uses it effectively as his last two films dealt with physical transformation. He has a good visual eye and was able to use some familiar tropes effectively. Aside from a few issues, this was an unsettling horror and makes for a spooky night on the couch.

-MonsterZero NJ

 

Rated 3 (out of 4) pairs of antlers, perfect for that cult ceremony mask you always wanted.

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