BARE BONES: THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA (2019)

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THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA (2019)

Supernatural horror takes place in 1973 with widowed social worker Anna Tate-Garcia (Linda Cardellini) looking into the death of two children, from one of her cases. Their mother (Patricia Velásquez) claims it was La Llorona, The Weeping Woman, who murdered her children and they are dead because of Anna’s interference. Anna discovers that La Llorona is from Mexican folklore, a woman in the 1600s who got revenge on a cheating husband by murdering her own children and then killing herself. Distraught with guilt, her spirit is now said to seek out other children to kill to take the place of her own. Whether the folktale is true or not, a dark force is now stalking Anna and her own kids (Roman Christou and Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen). Is the spirit of La Llorona real and out to get Anna’s offspring?

Generic horror flick is directed by Michael Chaves from a routine script by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis. Mexican folklore base could have been interesting had there been a more involving movie built around it, or a better use of that folklore. Flick centers on the usual, vengeful, sinister specter surrounded by dark cinematography, flickering lights and an abundance of jump scares. The lead character, Anna, is the cliché skeptic who is forced to go to someone of faith and supernatural belief (Raymond Cruz) for help. There is even an exorcism of sorts in the last act. Chaves tries to build atmosphere and Cardellini gives it her all, as the frightened Anna, but this is just too familiar to really evoke solid scares. It follows the recent template for mainstream supernatural horror to the letter and does nothing innovative or intriguing with it. While it also lacks the over-the-top fun of last years The Nun, this was still another box office hit for producer James Wan and his Conjuring universe, which this film is thinly linked to by the appearance of Annabelle‘s Father Perez (Tony Amendola).

 

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: HELL OF A NIGHT (2019)

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HELL OF A NIGHT (2019)

Low budget indie flick opens with a Ouija game being played at a remote cabin by two young girls (Kaylee King and Tori Carew) and of course, it goes predictably awry. Two years later pretty co-ed Blake (Rachael Hevrin) rents that same remote cabin to get away from it all. Unknown to the Blake, she’s not alone in her spooky getaway spot, add to that the house Blake recently moved into with her mother (Deborah Kay Hooker) and sister Shaine (Grace Powell) is supposedly haunted, too and Shaine is alone there! Poor Blake is surrounded by danger from both within and without, as not only is there a presence inside the cabin, but someone close to her is not what they pretend to be. This girl has no luck!

Flick is written and directed by Brian Childs, who makes a good effort and seems to have a love for this type of movie. He gets the camera angles and mood right on a technical level, and while he overuses the colored lighting that is currently popular with filmmakers, he does accomplish some spooky moments. Leading lady Rachael Hevrin is very pretty and has a really nice girl-next-door presence, which makes her a good final girl. It was also interesting that Childs sets up double trouble for his heroine as there is definitely a dangerous supernatural element here and a threat from the real world, as so-called “friends” conspire against her. Drawbacks are, the dialogue scenes are a little flat, some of the paranormal stuff is very familiar and did we need both locations to be haunted AND having a plot convenience that has the hauntings collide at Blake’s rental? Also, the ghost in the opening Ouija scene is a male named Raymond, so why is the spirit stalking Blake an axe wielding woman?…and if it’s a ghost, why does she have corporeal attributes like being injured, or bleeding when Blake fights back? Was she actually a living person and I missed something? She’s billed as “Blood Splattered Ghost” in the credits. Anyway, it gets a bit convoluted and some of the conveniences are bit of a stretch. Did we need two hauntings and a betrayal? A rookie director adding a few too many elements in his supernatural soup, perhaps? Also, the real world threat looming in the shadows for Blake isn’t as convincingly as it should be. Blake doesn’t seem like a stupid girl and is quite resilient, so would she be that oblivious to the true nature of her “friend” Chloe (Ella Taylor)?

Overall, it’s still a decent effort from a first time feature filmmaker. And Childs could deliver solidly once he gets more experience under his belt and reigns in his stories somewhat. We do get a leading lady who does make an impression as the flick’s final girl and who we want to see more of. Cool to see filmmakers getting their flicks made!

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE PRODIGY (2019)

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THE PRODIGY (2019)

At the same moment that serial killer Edward Scarka (Paul Fauteux) is gunned down by police, Sarah Blume (Taylor Schilling) gives birth to her son Miles. As this is a horror movie, that kind of coincidence is never a good thing. Growing up, the boy starts to show a remarkable intelligence. As he reaches his eighth year, Miles (Jackson Robert Scott) also starts to show a propensity towards violent behavior. Soon Sarah and husband John (Peter Mooney) start to believe that there is something very wrong with their son…and they may not live to tell about it.

Very familiar tale is also very well directed by Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact) from a derivative script by Jeff Buhler. We’ve seen the bad seed/possessed kid story so many times that this movie has an uphill battle all the way trying to do something effective with this often used scenario. That being said, McCarthy succeeds in making this a very creepy and sometimes downright disturbing movie, despite having seen it all before. He is also helped by a truly chilling performance from young Jackson Robert Scott, as the serial killer in a little boy’s body and Taylor Schilling does strong work as a woman terrified of her own child. While it’s hard to give the flick any points for originality, it is easy to give Nicholas McCarthy big time kudos for making this well-worn scenario as effective as it is. A great example of a skilled filmmaker taking a lemon and making lemonade. Also stars Colm Feore as a reincarnation expert and Brittany Allen (What Keeps You Alive, Extraterrestrial) as the Scarka victim that got away.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: MERCY BLACK (2019)

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MERCY BLACK (2019)

Netflix horror flick has it’s roots in the Slenderman urban legend and the real life stabbing of a young girl by two twelve year-olds (documentary review HERE). Marina (Daniella Pineda) has been released from a psychiatric institute fifteen years after she and another friend stabbed a little girl to appease a mythical supernatural entity called Mercy Black. Marina comes to live with her sister Alice (Elle LaMont) and Alice’s son Bryce (Miles Emmons) to try to resume a normal life. Things get complicated as Bryce starts to become obsessed with Mercy Black and Marina starts to believe it may not be just an urban legend after all.

Film is written and directed by Owen Edgerton (Blood Fest, Follow) and is a fairly generic horror. The real-life crime story that it is inspired by is a lot more unsettling and this film follows the urban legend come to life template with little or no inventiveness. Lead Pineda does give a good performance and we’d love to see her in something that is a lot more effective. The director at least utilizes his locations well and his visual eye gives the film an atmospheric look. Edgerton has shown promise in his previous efforts it just seems here he was uninspired by his own script. Very routine and by-the-numbers. Also stars Austin Amelio as a creepy handyman and Janeane Garofalo as Marina’s psychologist.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE POSSESSION OF HANNAH GRACE (2018)

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THE POSSESSION OF HANNAH GRACE (2018)

Megan Reed (Shay Mitchell) is an ex-cop still traumatized over freezing up and allowing a perpetrator to kill her partner. It’s turned her into a recovering addict who gets a graveyard shift job at the morgue. Makes sense! Along comes the body of Hannah Grace (Kirby Johnson), a young girl killed during a botched exorcism. The demonic entity that inhabits Hannah’s body hasn’t left yet and supernatural hi-jinx ensue. 

Film is directed by someone named Diederik Van Rooijen from an uninspired script from Brian Sieve. It offers almost nothing new to the possession sub-genre and pulls out every lame cliché demonic themed flicks have to offer. Any new wrinkles are few, far between and silly…like Hannah’s demon infested corpse being able to regenerate itself with each person it kills. What? It’s also hard to believe a former cop who is suffering from depression over the death of her partner would choose a morgue as a new place of work. Mitchell makes a solid enough heroine, but is let down by the movie surrounding her. Hannah Grace made almost four times it’s budget back at the box office, so someone thought this drivel was cool.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: TERRIFIED aka ATERRADOS (2017)

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TERRIFIED aka ATERRADOS (2017)

Argentinian supernatural horror finds a police detective (Maxi Ghione) teaming up with three paranormal investigators (Norberto Gonzalo, Elvira Onetto and George Lewis) when a neighborhood starts to suffer horrific…and fatal… supernatural occurrences.

Written and directed by Demián Rugna, Aterrados can be one disturbing and scary flick at times. It has some very creepy sequences, some shocking and brutal violence and a very steady atmosphere of dread and mystery. The ghost FX are all executed in camera with actors in very effective make-up and the gore is very well done and quite gruesome. Rugna creates some very scary moments and it helps that even his valiant leads, despite their expertise in their fields, are all quite afraid too…and they should be. What really holds the film back is that none of it is ever given any explanation, or are we given any reason why these spirits decide to suddenly attack this one block and start quite brutally killing residents. Who are they even? Ambiguity can be useful in stories like this, but getting no hints or exposition at all, as for what is happening and why, leaves us very unsatisfied by it’s conclusion. We get a lot of good scares and graphic deaths, but it all leads nowhere and we are given no clues as to why it suddenly starts happening. Still worth a look, but you won’t know any more at the beginning than you do at it’s end. Terrified, or Aterrados in Spanishis a Shudder exclusive only on their streaming horror network.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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5 DIRECTORS BRINGING NEW BLOOD TO HORROR!

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5 DIRECTORS BRINGING NEW BLOOD TO HORROR!

At Halloween 🎃 time it is when we most think about scary movies, even those of us who watch them all year round. So why not take a look at five individuals who are bringing their own distinct vision to the genre and whom horror fans should be talking more about!…and no, I didn’t forget the ladies, they deserve their own installment, forthcoming!

(To get to the full reviews of the films mentioned, just hit the highlighted titles that link to the corresponding page!)

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Adam MacDonald

 

Adam MacDonald is a Canadian actor and filmmaker who has written and directed two features, thus far, that have made quite an impression. His first film Backcountry is a survival thriller that followed a couple (Jeff Roop and Missy Peregrym) who go camping in the woods. Jealous of his girlfriend’s success, her beau chooses a lesser traveled route to prove himself to her. This puts them within the feeding ground of a massive and very hungry grizzly bear and thus sets up an intense and sometimes brutal last act. His second film Pyewacket is a supernatural thriller which finds a mother and daughter (Laurie Holden and Nicole Muñoz) in conflict over their methods of mourning the death of their husband/father. This propels the occult fascinated teen Leah (Muñoz) to evoke the dark entity Pyewacket to kill her mother. Leah soon learns to be careful what you wish for. Both films use troubled relationships as a catalyst for their stories and Pyewacket especially has some good old fashion scares and chills supported by a strong emotional center. MacDonald is showing a versatility and a depth to his filmmaking. Adam currently wrapped filming on Slasher season 3, so look out for more from this talented new voice in horror!

Nicole Muñoz conjures the wrong spirit in Adam MacDonald’s Pyewacket

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Stevan Mena

 

Stevan Mena is a New York born filmmaker who is a one man production company, writing ,editing, directing, producing and even scoring his own films. He made a splash in 2003 with his low budget slasher Malevolence, which was an old-fashioned horror throwback that echoed both Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Set in and around an abandoned slaughterhouse, it told the chilling story of some bank robbers and their hostages meeting up with serial killer Martin Bristol (Jay Cohen). He followed that up with a horror icon filled horror/comedy called Brutal Massacre, before returning to the saga of Bristol in 2010 with the brutal and intense Bereavement. The second Malevolence film was a prequel telling the story of how serial killer Graham Sutter (Brett Rickaby) kidnapped Martin (Spencer List ) as a child and trained him to be his successor. It’s one of the best horrors of the decade IMO. Recently Mena overcame some tragic events to complete his Malevolence trilogy with the independently financed Malevolence 3: Killer. Sequel has an adult Martin (a returning Jay Cohen) leaving a blood soaked trail on the way back to his home town. Mena’s work evokes that of John Carpenter himself and one hopes he returns to the director’s chair sooner than later.

A killer (Jay Cohen) returns home in Stevan Mena’s Malevolence 3: Killer

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Colin Minihan

 

Colin Minihan started out as part of the writing/directing duo known as The Vicious Brothers along with collaborator Stuart Ortiz. Their first film was the fun and spooky found footage paranormal show send up Grave Encounters in 2011. They followed that up with the entertaining and chilling cabin in the woods/alien invasion hybrid Extraterrestrial in 2014. Though co-written with Ortiz, Minihan took the director’s chair solo for the next film It Stains The Sands Red. This was an amusing, bloody and offbeat tale of a lone woman (Brittany Allen) being followed across the desert by a lone zombie. An interesting relationship forms as she fights brutal heat, dehydration and her relentless undead pursuer. Minihan wrote and directed his fourth film on his own with the brutal and intense What Keeps You Alive. One of the years best, it finds a married lesbian couple (Brittany Allen and Hanna Emily Anderson) celebrating their anniversary in a remote cabin in the woods. Soon romantic bliss becomes a battle for survival as one of the women is not who she seems. This flick proves Minihan is a force to be reckoned with, armed with a great script, taunt direction and brilliant work by his lead actresses. Minihan is a filmmaker fans need to be talking more about.

Lover vs lover in Colin Minihan’s brutal and intense What Keeps You Alive

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Anthony Diblasi

 

Boston born Anthony Diblasi is another filmmaker showing great versatility and a mastery of horror while also providing some emotional depth to his films. His first film Dread was a chilling tale of a college documentary project about fear, spinning horribly out of control. His next film Cassadaga, found deaf art teacher Lily (Kelen Coleman) being haunted by the spirit of a murdered young woman whose killer may have his sights set next on the pretty teacher. Diblasi worked on some non-genre projects and the horror anthology The Profane Exhibit before co-writing and directing The Last Shift in 2014. One of his scariest flicks, the story found a young policewoman being given the final shift in a haunted police precinct closing it’s doors in the morning…but can she survive the night? Diblasi returned to horror again in 2015 with Most Likely To Die, an old fashioned slasher about a high school reunion turned deadly, and again in 2018 with Extremity. His latest finds an emotionally troubled woman turning to an extreme haunt to make her face her fears…bad idea. The film was not only disturbing and scary, but had a strong emotional lining with multi-dimensional characters and commentary about abuse and the lives it effects. Another filmmaker that is bringing a distinct voice to the horror genre.

Emotionally troubled Allison (Dana Christina) turns to an extreme haunt to face her fears in Anthony Diblasi’s Extremity

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Oz Perkins

 

Just because one is the son of legendary actor Anthony (Psycho) Perkins, one should not assume actor/director Oz Perkins knows horror…but he does! One of the most interesting filmmakers out there, Perkins has a unique vision and a strong ability to chill to the bone. His first film The Blackcoat’s Daughter finds Rose (Lucy Boynton), a student at a Catholic girls school, given charge of new student Kat (Kiernan Shipka) at break. With almost everyone else gone, Rose starts to realize there is something very wrong with Kat and that she may be in danger. Perkins followed that up with a very atmospheric ghost story I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House. Perkins writes and directs a subtle, yet chilling tale of care nurse Lily (Ruth Wilson) coming to live with ailing horror novelist Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss). Soon timid Lily starts to find out that Iris Blum’s inspirations may be far more real than she’d like. It’s a creepy and very effective film. Word has it his next film may be entitled A Head Full Of Ghosts and as he is bringing a very unique style to the genre, he sounds like the right man for the job!

Care nurse Lily (Ruth Wilson) finds her charge may have had all too real inspiration for her horror novels in Oz Perkins’ I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House

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So these are five creative forces bringing new blood to horror. Each one is worth screaming about and their films are certainly worth checking out!

…and stay tuned for our second installment taking a look at the creative ladies bringing their unique voices to the genre!

-MonsterZero NJ

 

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2018: THE YEAR HORROR REGAINED SUBSTANCE and RESONANCE!

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SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly discuss these films in context with this article, some important details that may be considered SPOILERS had to be included. If you haven’t seen one or any of these films, you may want to watch them first before reading this discussion. You have been warned!- MZNJ

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2018: THE YEAR HORROR REGAINED SUBSTANCE and RESONANCE!

 

Those who think horror movies are just an excuse for blood, boobs and boogie men are sadly mistaken and there is no more proof that horror flicks are capable of substance and emotional resonance than some of this year’s genre offerings. To prove these aren’t just the words of an overprotective horror fan, here are a few recent examples of how horror has returned to telling stories with strong emotional centers…

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to the full reviews for the movies discussed below)

Pyewacket’s story is triggered by the fractured relationship between a mother (Laurie Holden) and daughter (Nicole Muñoz) who are both mourning the death of their husband/father in completely different ways. Teen Leah has turned to an interest in death and the occult and her mother wants to start a new life in a new house, taking Leah away from her friends and school. The resulting turmoil has Leah evoking a dark entity, Pyewacket, to kill her mother and learning the harsh lesson…be careful what you wish for. The dysfunctional relationship between mother and daughter is strongly presented by writer/director Adam MacDonald and wonderfully acted by the lead actresses. The conflict between Leah and her mom is the catalyst for the horror that results and gives this spooky chiller a resonance that enhances it’s supernatural element, by giving it subjects to prey upon that are already emotionally vulnerable.

 

What Keeps You Alive tells the story of Jules (Brittany Allen) and Jackie (Hanna Emily Anderson), a married, lesbian couple going to Jackie’s family cabin deep in the woods to celebrate their first anniversary. There, Jules finds out Jackie is not who she thought she was and that she may have married a psychopath. Jules is forced to fight for her life against the one person in the world she loves the most. Colin Minihan’s thriller works so well because it skillfully presents a loving relationship between two women and then tears the relationship apart in the most painful way as one woman finds the love of her life is a vicious and cruel person. Both actresses give fantastic performances as the cold and cunning Jackie and the heartbroken and terrified Jules. The film may be intense and brutal, but even more so because Jules’ betrayal and the torment she endures as a result, are portrayed so well and give the story impact beyond the violence we witness.

 

Feral is another film this year to present a lesbian couple as the character focus for it’s story. Here Alice (Scout Taylor-Compton) comes out to her friends on a camping trip by bringing her girlfriend Jules (Olivia Luccardi) along. It’s met with mixed emotions from her friends and adds conflict before our infected even appear. Once our creatures are introduced and the bloodshed and carnage begin, we watch a strong-willed young woman fight to save the ones she loves and even finding conflict with her new partner over how to handled those of the group who become infected themselves. Director and co-writer Mark Young elevates this cabin in the woods/zombie horror by having a strong and topical human interest story at it’s center with three dimensional characters well played by the cast, especially Taylor-Compton’s strong-willed but compassionate Alice.

 

Our House is a haunted house story that tugs at our hearts as well as chills us to the bone. Here, college student Ethan (Thomas Mann) is forced to leave school and abandon his dreams as the accidental death of his parents takes him from sibling to parent to his younger brother Matt (Percy Hynes-White) and his little sister Becca (Kate Moyer). Director Anthony Scott Burns gives us time to become endeared to this young, emotionally wounded family before introducing the supernatural elements brought into the house by Ethan’s experiments. Even if the basic haunting story is routine, it becomes very effective as the audience has a strong emotional investment in the characters from early on. We like them and fear for them. This could have been just a routine ghost story had Burns not given it such a very human heart and elevated it in a crowded sub-genre.

 

Hereditary may have split fans with it’s slow pace and extremely eccentric characters, but it was a story of mental illness as much as the supernatural. It had a very strong performance by Toni Collette as Annie, a woman dealing with her own mental health issues, as well as, those of her very offbeat family. Filmmaker Ari Aster could have left out the demonic portion of the story and still had a disturbing portrait of an unbalanced family created by some sadly damaged DNA. By giving us a strong picture of possibly mentally unstable characters, it kept us guessing till the final moments if it was the demonic or the psychotic that was to blame for this family’s woes. Again, basing the story in a strong human element that we can identify with and invest in, makes the supernatural elements plaguing our subjects all the more effective and believable…and thus more frightening.

These are just some examples, but one could site a few more illustrating how horror has refocused from blood, gore and things that go bump in the night to the matters of the mind and heart of some very human characters. It gives the films in question resonance and when we identify and care about characters, it makes their respective predicaments all the more effective. This year’s horrors also had something to say about some very topical human issues, while telling their stories of ghosts, ghouls and malevolent specters…and the genre is all the better for it.

…And obviously, I recommend you catch up with all these flicks if you haven’t already!

-MonsterZero NJ

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COOL STUFF: PYEWACKET on BLU-RAY!

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PYEWACKET (2017) Blu-Ray

Pyewacket (full review HERE) is a creepy supernatural thriller, from Adam MacDonald, that finds teen Leah (Nicole Muñoz) drawn into the occult after the death of her father. She and her mom (Laurie Holden) aren’t getting along, especially when her mother decides to sell the family house and move them out and away from Leah’s school and friends. An angry Leah conducts an occult ritual evoking the dark spirit, Pyewacket, to kill her mother. Soon a regretful Leah learns the meaning of “be careful what you wish for” as something dark and evil has entered their fractured home. This IFC Midnight title is now available on Blu-Ray from Scream Factory as part of their home media release deal.

As for the feature…

The picture is a crisp and beautiful HD 1080p mastering that is presented in the original 2.40:1 aspect ratio. It maintains Christian Bielz’s moody cinematography with blues and greys being predominate, while not overwhelming other colors, such as the yellows and greens of the woods and cabin interior, or the vibrant red yarn Leah uses in her ritual. Director Adam MacDonald has a nice visual style and his shots look great as represented on this disc, which adds to the film’s atmosphere. The audio is a 5.1 DTS HD master and should sound appropriately spooky on any home theater system and for those without, there is a nice 2.0 HD stereo track, too.

Now on to the extras…

The extras are fairly simple as seems to be the case with the IFC Midnight releases. We do get a 17 minute making of featurette that focuses first on interviews with stars Nicole Muñoz and Laurie Holden, which really give some nice insight into their performances and characters, as well as, with writer/director Adam MacDonald which paint the portrait of a very animated and passionate filmmaker. Nicole Muñoz’s powerful audition especially makes an impression here. No wonder she got the part. Second half of the documentary focuses on a stunt sequence and is a fun look at the film making process in general. There is also the theatrical trailer, too and while that is it for the extras, they are still a nice addition to a really effective movie.

IMO, this is one of the best horrors of the year and this is a great way to see it, if it’s limited theatrical release never hit your area. It’s spooky and creepy and Scream Factory’s disc is worth having if you are a fan of the film or supernatural chillers in general.

-MonsterZero NJ

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: OUR HOUSE (2018)

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OUR HOUSE (2018)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Brilliant college student Ethan (Thomas Mann) is forced to drop out of school to care for his younger brother Matt (Percy Hynes-White) and his little sister Becca (Kate Moyer) when his parents are killed in a car accident. He keeps working on his experiment, though, a device to create wireless energy. While the device has yet to accomplish it’s purpose, unknown to Ethan, it is opening a doorway to the afterlife. At first Matt and Becca think they are being visited by their parents, but soon it is apparent someone else has crossed over, someone malevolent and with bad intentions.

Film is well directed by Anthony Scott Burns (the Father’s Day segment from Holidays) from a screenplay by Nathan Parker, which is based on Matt Osterman’s indie film Ghost From The Machine. Our House starts out with an interesting way of getting the supernatural ball rolling by having Ethan’s machine accidentally opening a door to the spirit world and letting something into the house. Eventually, though, it does settle into becoming a more routine haunting flick with both a benign and a more malevolent spirit focusing attention on little Becca. It also follows the traditional formula with a skeptical adult…here, Ethan…thinking Becca and Matt are just working through their grief. What elevates the film from the routine, is that at it’s center it is a very poignant story of children of various ages dealing with the sudden death of their parents. Anthony Scott Burns does use the familiar haunting tropes and very well, but it is his portrayal of a family in mourning and how each member deals with it, that makes the movie a supernatural horror with a heart and soul. These kids are on their own and Ethan is trying to raise them and it gives us a strong emotional investment in the young family. Even if we’ve seen the supernatural elements before, they are all the more effective because we care about the characters. Nathan Parker’s screenplay also includes a neighbor, Tom (Robert B. Kennedy) who is suffering from the loss of his wife and whose house is also falling under the machine’s influence. It creates a wild card character whose emotional instability adds some uncertainty, because we know he’ll enter the mix at the worse possible time. It adds to the supernatural elements which are already atmospheric and spooky, despite the familiarity. It was also refreshing that Anthony Scott Burns keeps things subtle, until the very end and even then avoids going over the top, keeping the story grounded. Only a brief scene with a floating doll came across as a bit silly and the rest of the flick is more accessible as it avoids getting too theatrical for it’s own good.

There is a very effective cast here. Lead Thomas Mann is very good as Ethan. He gives us a brilliant student who is a bit self-absorbed concerning his project and his attention is torn away and back to his family as he must now be guardian and provider for Matt and Becca. The actor portrays well both the frustration and the sacrifice as Ethan must put aside his life and be a dad to his siblings. He tries to find time for them and follow his dream and Mann essays the awkward juggling of responsibilities well. Percy Hynes-White is solid as Matt. He’s in high school and his way of handling things is to withdraw, until he thinks there is a chance his parents have returned to the house. He also blames Ethan for their deaths and that adds tension and conflict to an already tense situation. Kate Moyer was really good as little Becca. The young actress portrays a little girl who has her parents ripped away and now seeks solace from what family she has left. When she thinks her parents have returned, she embraces the spirits without realizing they may not be who they seem. She also finds a friend in the spirit of a little girl, Alice who is followed by a far more malevolent entity. In support is Robert B. Kennedy as the emotionally troubled Tom, who has lost his wife and Nicola Peltz as Ethan’s concerned girlfriend Hannah. Sadly Hannah is left on the sidelines for a lot of the movie, until resurfacing at the end. She was a sweet and caring character and her presence is missed when Ethan is sorting out his life.

Overall, this was an effective and enjoyable supernatural thriller. The basic story may have been routine, but the director and script start things off in an intriguing way and keep us interested with a very strong emotional center. The familiar supernatural elements are used well and are more effective as we care about the characters. Anthony Scott Burns keeps things from getting too theatrical which serves the overall story. It’s a refreshingly subtle spook fest with a good cast and a very likable bunch of characters to fear for. As he also had the best segment in Holidays, Burns proves to be a filmmaker to keep an eye on. Another solid release from the folks at IFC Midnight.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 rag dolls.

 

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