BARE BONES: TORN HEARTS (2022)

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TORN HEARTS (2022)

Collaboration from Blumhouse Pictures and Epix finds country singer wannabes Jordan (Abby Quinn) and Leigh (Alexxis Lemire) performing under the name Torn Hearts and seeking to hit big. They gain an opportunity to visit reclusive country music legend Harper Dutch (Katey Sagal) at her home, and try to convince her to perform with them, as a way of getting the attention they seek. Harper Dutch, however, turns out to be something quite unexpected…and possibly quite dangerous.
 
Flick is directed by Brea Grant from a script by Rachel Koller Croft. Grant has a good cast to work with, as Lemire and Quinn play well the wannabe rising stars, and Katey Sagal does strong work, as usual, as the unstable Harper. The flick gets a bit unsettling the moment the girls arrive at Harper’s home, Brea Grant quickly establishing that something is wrong with this former star and our ambitious duo may have bothered the wrong country music icon. Even when a night of partying with their idol seems harmless enough, the following morning things start to get weird. It does take a while for the flick to get going, but it is still fun to watch veteran actress Sagal gradually bring Harper to a psychotic boil, without ever descending into camp. Harper’s behavior goes from eccentric to unhinged and she takes her young guests with her. Sagal’s costars also do a nice job keeping up with her, as Harper plays them against each other, and things get a little nasty. It’s the last act where things get a bit disappointing, though. Torn Hearts is like a tense fuse that never leads to the explosion. It does have the situation finally descending into secrets revealed, emotions boiling to the surface, madness and murder, though doesn’t really get nuts like we want it to, until literally the last few minutes, and even then, it seems to be holding back. The ending doesn’t have the impact or resonance it needs to, either, as it simply comes as no surprise. Grant also could have given the film a snappier pace, as it starts to drag just when it should have been ramping up. She does have a nice visual eye, though, especially in Harper’s old, music paraphernalia-filled house, and the setting works very well to establish some atmosphere. Not a complete success, but not a total failure either, flick is still worth a look, especially for fans of Sagal. Torn Hearts also stars Shiloh Fernandez as Caleb Crawford, a country star who gives Jordan Harper’s address and Joshua Leonard as the girls’ manager, Richie.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: HATCHING (2022)

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HATCHING (2022)

Finnish horror finds young Tinja (a wonderful Siiri Solalinna) caring for a bird’s egg after she is forced to put its wounded mother out of her misery. The egg starts to grow to an unnatural size and soon hatches into bird-like creature. The animal endears to Tinja and she to it, until it becomes obvious it’s means of pleasing and protecting Tinja are quite lethal.

Creature feature from Finland is directed by Hanna Bergholm from a script and story by she and Ilja Rautsi. By giving Tinja a pair of self-absorbed parents (Sophia Heikkilä and Jani Volanen) it makes the girl sympathetic, and also believable that the child could keep such a creature in her room unnoticed, except by her brat of a little brother (Oiva Ollila). The creature is an interesting design and portrayed by some nice old-fashioned prosthetics and proves to be very intelligent, as well as, quite dangerous. There is also an unnerving caveat of Tinja having a mental connection with her surrogate child and having seizures and visions when it kills. They also feel each other’s pain. The creature she dubs “Alli” becomes a conduit to releasing Tinja’s inner turmoil. It makes for a tense and sometimes disturbing monster movie with some effective gore once “Alli” starts to viciously protect Tinja and also begins to transform into something quite startling. Altogether an impressive horror feature debut from Hanna Bergholm.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: WYRMWOOD: APOCALYPSE (2022)

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WYRMWOOD: APOCALYPSE (2022)

Sequel finds Rhys (Luke McKenzie), brother of The Captain (also McKenzie) from the first film, capturing living subjects for a bunker full of military and scientists to experiment on. He thinks they are using them to find a cure for the zombie outbreak. When he crosses paths with sisters Maxi (Shantae Barnes-Cowan) and Grace (Tasia Zalar) and then siblings Barry and Brooke (Jay Gallagher and Bianca Bradey reprising their roles), he finds out he’s being used and that the bunker’s occupants have a far more sinister intent.

Flick is once again directed by Kiah Roache-Turner from a script by he and Tristan Roache-Turner. As with the first film, they achieve a lot with a small budget and there is plenty of gore splattered action. It’s an entertaining enough sequel, though sadly lacks the first film’s sense of manic fun and frantic exuberance. It’s a bit more moderately paced, though when the action does come it’s fast, furious and bloody, though overall, the film seems to take itself maybe a touch too seriously. It was cool to see returning characters, mixed in with new characters that link to those who met their ends in the first flick. The cast all perform well in bringing these comic book-like characters to life and there is definitely plenty of carnage to please fans of the first installment. Not quite an equal, but still a solid enough second chapter that leaves us looking forward to a Wyrmwood 3.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE WASTELAND aka El PÁRAMO (2022)

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THE WASTELAND aka El PÁRAMO (2022)

Netflix streaming horror finds a family, husband Salvador (Roberto Álamo), wife Lucia (Inma Cuesta) and their young son Diego (Asier Flores), living on an isolated farm far from wars and the evils that men do. When Salvador leaves and doesn’t return, the loneliness and isolation start to embrace Lucia and Diego. Worse still, they have told Diego about a beast that roams the wasteland between their farm and the rest of the world and Diego believes it is now stalking his fragmenting mother.

Spanish film is directed by David Casademunt from his script with Martí Lucas and Fran Menchón. As such, it is a bleak and depressing film as we watch the loneliness and hopelessness set in on the mother and son, as the days drag on and Salvador does not return. It’s also heartbreaking to watch as Lucia starts to go mad and becomes suicidal, with little Diego having a terrified front seat to it all. The film looks great, as Casademunt has an effective visual eye, but The Wasteland is more tedious than scary, as the scenes with the stalking beast are few and far between. Is it real?…or just the specter of death pursuing the desperate Lucia and her frightened son Diego? Overall, it is a somewhat effective movie with some gruesome gore, spooky visuals and very good performances, especially from young Flores and his screen mom Cuesta. Overall, though, the film is far too bleak to be truly engaging or to be considered entertaining.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: LAST RADIO CALL (2022)

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LAST RADIO CALL (2022)

Flick has police officer David Serling (Jason Scarbrough) disappearing after a routine call at an abandoned hospital. A year later, his wife Sarah (Sarah Froelich) is frustrated with the lack of answers and decides to look into it herself, using a documentary crew to record her investigation. Sarah soon finds an ancient and sinister force may be behind David’s disappearance and, worse still, may now be focusing on her.

Found footage horror is written and directed by Isaac Rodriguez and one can appreciate his effort, especially in trying to do something a little different by adding some Native American folklore to his supernatural story. Unfortunately, the film falters with some performances that takes us out of the illusion that this is real footage of real people, as does his use of some very familiar tropes that come across as far too theatrical to be found footage. The abandoned hospital that serves as a setting for the beginning and end segments is a creepy location, but Rodriguez doesn’t conjure up too many scares of his own, otherwise. Despite the original story, the film follows horror formulas far too closely to really scare us. Flick is available January 14th on the Terror Films Channel before becoming available on VOD on January 21st.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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HALLOWEEN HOTTIES: ROOKIE OF THE YEAR 2021!

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HALLOWEEN HOTTIES: ROOKIE OF THE YEAR 2021!

This newest installment of Halloween Hotties features a relatively new girl on the block, though technically not a total rookie. She did appear in 10 episodes of season 2 of AMC’s The Terror series in 2019, but didn’t get her first lead role in a horror movie till the 2021 Netflix original No One Gets Out Alive. The Mexican born actress made an impression in her final girl debut as Ambar, an undocumented immigrant, who has moved into the wrong boarding house. The actress displayed some strong final girl/heroine qualifications, gave the role some nice emotional resonance and did some major ass-kicking! So without further ado…MonsterZero NJ’s Halloween Hotties rookie of the year 2021 is…

CRISTINA RODLO!

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 CRISTINA RODLO as AMBAR in NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE!

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Cristina as Ambar, an undocumented immigrant just looking to make a living.

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Harassed at work and taken advantage of, may be the least of Ambar’s problems!

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Something very wrong is going on at this boarding house!

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This was not part of the rental agreement!

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Cristina’s Ambar is a tough girl who won’t give up without a fight!

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Photo Credit: The Movie Database
There’s no telling where this beautiful and talented actress will show up next. She seems to keep busy and has been acting steadily since 2008. Hopefully she’ll return to the horror genre soon, as she made a kick-ass final girl!

-MonsterZero NJ

And don’t forget to check out our previous Halloween Hotties!

Head over to the Halloween Hotties listings! to read them all!)

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BARE BONES: DASHCAM (2021)

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DASHCAM (2021)

Indie thriller takes place on Halloween night and finds news editor Jake Caul (Eric Tabach) awaiting the press release of dashcam footage for a big story. A police officer (Rich Vience) and a discredited former Attorney General (Larry Fessenden) were both killed when a routine DUI stop went bad. When Jake is accidentally sent a classified file containing police bodycam footage, that isn’t supposed to exist, and the real coroner’s report, he realizes there was nothing routine about the deaths and there is a larger conspiracy at hand. Having always wanted to be a reporter himself, Jake sees revealing the truth as his big break—a truth someone may not want known.

Effective indie thriller is written and directed by Christian Nilsson and takes place mostly on Jake’s desktop, though it does leave the confines of his apartment in the last act. The real intensity comes as Jake compares the press release footage with the classified information that has fallen into his hands, and starts to see the lies being fed the public. There is also an ominous phone call with thinly veiled threats, if the information accidentally e-mailed to him ever gets out. It makes for a tense little thriller as Jake digs deeper into the conspiracy and at the same time, gets more and more paranoid that someone might come after him. The flick only stumbles in a few places with some weak dialogue spots and a few plot contrivances—such as someone being stupid enough to e-mail a news editor classified information—that keep the story going. Otherwise this is an intense and entertaining little thriller, even more so for anyone with an interest or experience in digital video editing. Also stars Zachary Booth as Jake’s reporter boss Tim and Crawlers and Punisher season 2 star Giorgia Whigham as his girlfriend Mara. Now available to stream on Amazon Prime.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: LIKE DOGS (2021)

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LIKE DOGS (2021)

Lisa (Annabel Barrett) is a young woman kidnapped off the street and imprisoned in a small kennel, chained to the wall and fed dog food out of a dish. Along with her is fellow captive Adam (Ignacyo Matynia), the two are literally treated like dogs with choke collars and cattle prods for punishment. Who are their abductors and what do they want from them?

Written and directed by Randy Van Dyke this is an effective and disturbing psychological horror. It wastes no time getting started, as our heroine is thrown into a nightmarish situation and tries to keep her head. We get to know Lisa as the story progresses and let’s say there are some interesting surprises. There is a big reveal early on that works nicely, too and Van Dyke takes the story in a direction we weren’t expecting. Lets just say things do start to spiral out of control, but not in the way we thought they would. The reason all this happens may not sit well with everyone, but the flick is twisted enough to make it work. The cast of fresh faces are very good, especially lead Annabel Barrett, whose character of Lisa has some dimensions we are not expecting. There are some nice twists and turns throughout, some starting violence and it never lets us feel too confident that we know what’s coming next. An effective and sometimes nasty little thriller from Randy Van Dyke. Flick is now available for streaming on Tubi

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE (2021)

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NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE (2021)

Book based horror finds undocumented immigrant Ambar (Cristina Rodlo) coming to America and facing all sorts of challenges, from the creepy landlord (Marc Menchacha) at the boarding house she is staying at, to her demanding boss (Mitchell Mullen) at the sweatshop she works at, to the extreme costs of fake IDs. Those are the least of her worries, though, as the boarding house has a dark past, might be haunted and a terrible fate possibly awaits her and her fellow borders there.

Flick is well directed by Santiago Menghini from a script and story by Jon Croker and Fernanda Coppel based on a book by Adam Nevill. Aside from being very spooky and atmospheric, Menghini conjures some very chilling and effective imagery and some unsettlingly bloody violence. Through Ambar, director and writers also paint a tale of undocumented immigrants being taken advantage of, abused and cheated, as going for help would only get them deported. This gives the flick some emotional weight amongst the scares. Add to that, something very wrong is going on in this boarding house and a malevolent supernatural force may be after Ambar and the other girls and you have a fright flick that is not without something to say. Menghini creates some nice chills and scares and delivers a very unsettling and gruesome last act when evils, both paranormal and not, come out of the shadows. The fact that the cast is good, with Cristina Rodlo making a really strong heroine, adds a nice bonus to an already solid horror flick from Santiago Menghini and company. Recommended! Now streaming on Netflix.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: KATE (2021)

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KATE (2021)

Netflix streaming action flick finds assassin Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) working in Japan for her handler Varrick (Woody Harrelson). After killing a target in front of his own child, Kate feels it’s time to retire. During her last mission, she finds she’s been poisoned and with 24 hours to live, she sets out to find those responsible and get revenge.

Film is directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan from a script by Umair Aleem and is a routine action flick with a plot that’s been used before, such as in both versions of D.O.A. There are plenty of bloody action scenes and chases and a top-notch performance by Mary Elizabeth WInstead, but it’s all too familiar and forgettable. The Japanese locations provide a cool look to the proceedings, but it’s not enough to make it feel fresh. Nicolas-Troyan has a good visual eye, but doesn’t give any life to the material. Also, why is it when there is a strong female character in a film like this, do they need to add a precocious child for her to babysit, so she gets to show her maternal side? Did we really need Yakuza brat, Ani (Miku Martineau)? Overall, a forgettable, routine action flick far undeserving of it’s talented leading lady, who is the only reason to watch this for.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating