BARE BONES: PERSONAL SHOPPER (2016)

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PERSONAL SHOPPER (2016)

French thriller tells the story of Maureen (Kristen Stewart) who is a personal shopper for bitchy celebrity Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten) …and a paranormal medium. She’s also in Paris to try to make contact with the spirit of her twin brother, who recently died in his home there. On top of all, that she is receiving ominous texts from an unknown source who seems to be stalking her. Still with me?

Despite not knowing what it wants to be about, the film is well directed by Olivier Assayas from his own script. It manages to provide some very spooky moments when dealing with the paranormal issues and some taunt suspense when dealing with the ominous texts Maureen keeps receiving from the unknown sender. The personal shopper drama is also well done though the least interesting part of the film. Assayas also gets good work out of Kristen Stewart whose disassociated style of acting works perfectly for the emotionally troubled Maureen. A few of the supernatural moments come close to tipping over into silly and the author of the mysterious texts wasn’t hard to figure out, but somehow despite, the multiple narrative, Personal Shopper does remain intriguing and sometimes very effective! Worth a look for something a bit offbeat.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DIG TWO GRAVES (2014)

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DIG TWO GRAVES (2014)

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Not really a horror film, but more like a rural mystery/thriller with a thin layer of the supernatural. The film takes place in a community in the Illinois mountains in 1977 and finds young Jake (Samantha Isler) mourning the loss of her brother Sean (Ben Schneider), who drowned while diving into a local quarry. A tragic event for which Jake feels guilty. Three mysterious men appear to Jake and tell her that they have the power to bring Sean back, but someone must take his place, namely her classmate Willie (Gabriel Cain). Unknown to the girl, the motivations of these men involve Jake’s sheriff grandfather (Ted Levine) and a possible quest for revenge that’s taken 30 years to unfold.

This is an impressive debut from Hunter Adams from a script by he and Jeremy Phillips, that is loaded with atmosphere. The film plays like a dark fable as we start out with a glimpse of something awful taking place in 1947 then are introduced to Jake thirty years later as she loses her only sibling. From then on we meet the mysterious Wyeth (Troy Ruptash) and his two brothers, who claim to have the power to bring Sean back…but at a price. As we progress forward with Jake’s moral dilemma, Adams also takes us back thirty years with flashback’s told through the eyes of her grandfather Sheriff Waterhouse (Levine) to slowly, over the course of the film, reveal what got us to this point and how all the dots connect. It’s all done with the aura of  dark magic and something slightly supernatural going on and in just the right doses to keep us on edge, but not tip into full blown horror. The film stays somewhat grounded in reality which makes the moments that hint of something otherworldly all the more unnerving. The film sometimes evoked the rural set Winter’s Bone, but with a hint of dark fantasy that keeps us uneasy throughout. It takes till the very last scenes for all the pieces to come together and the climax will stay with you after the film is over.

Adams also gets very good work from his cast, especially his two leads. Veteran Ted (Silence Of The Lambs) Levine is very strong as Jake’s grandfather Sheriff Waterhouse and really creates an effective portrayal of a good man haunted by past events and wanting to protect his granddaughter from them. Samantha Isler gives a powerful performance as a young teen wanting to correct something she feels is her fault, but tormented by the moral implications of it’s solution. The young actress is a talent to keep an eye on. There is also Troy Ruptash as the creepy Wyeth. Ruptash gives the man a sense of power and menace with an aura of someone with dark powers beyond being just potentially lethal. Rounding out is Danny Goldring as former Sheriff Procter. Procter is a man with skeletons in his closet, skeleton’s he might kill to keep hidden and Goldring gives him that sense of a man desperate to keep something hidden.

This was an atmospheric thriller with a constant feeling of foreboding and an undercurrent of dark magic and possibly the supernatural. It’s a slow burn mystery that unravels at a deliberate pace and takes you on a journey both forward and backward in time to tell us it’s complete story. It has some very strong guidance from it’s first time director and excellent work from a good cast to punctuate the script and direction. The film was first released at film festivals in 2014 and finally has gotten a limited release and the attention it deserves thanks to Executive Producer Larry Fessenden! Highly recommended!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 rattlesnakes

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BARE BONES: LAVENDER

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LAVENDER (2016)

Flick is a mystery thriller with a supernatural element as young wife and mother, Jane (Abbie Cornish) has been struggling all her life to remember the events from her childhood that took the lives of her parents and sister. A car accident gives her temporary amnesia and as her memories return, so she starts to remember things from that night 25 years ago. But something or someone is trying to help coax her memories back and whatever or whoever it is, it draws her to her childhood home for a confrontation with that dark event her mind has chosen to forget.

Film is stylishly directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly from a script by he and Colin Frizzell. It presents us with hints of what happened in it’s opening and then takes us 25 years into the present where Jane tries to remember the occurrence and it takes another traumatic event to start shaking the memories loose. As Jane begins her journey with her family in tow, we go along with her as she slowly puts the puzzle pieces together. There is also a bit of a supernatural twist, as though there is some force leading her in the directions she needs to go. It adds a spooky element to the film that works in it’s favor and keeps the audience a bit unsettled…in a good way. A strong performance by Cornish helps us like and root for Jane, too, even when we suspect she may have been somehow involved in the deaths. The supporting cast, Including Justin Long and Dermot Mulroney as her uncle, help keep the film involving as does the rural farm setting add atmosphere. The plot and resolution may not be entirely original, but it is engrossing and a bit spooky, too.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DON’T KNOCK TWICE (2016)

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DON’T KNOCK TWICE (2016)

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Flick is a perfect example of how a skilled filmmaker can take familiar story elements and tropes and use them effectively. Story has artist Jess (Oculus‘ Katee Sackhoff) trying to re-establish a relationship with her daughter Chloe (Lucy Boynton), whom she walked away from nine years earlier. Chloe however has run afoul of a local urban legend. It’s said that if you go to the abandoned house of suspected witch Mary Aminov (Ania Marson) and knock twice, it will summon the demon within and thus it’s minion…in this case Mary…will be sent to collect you. That’s exactly what Chloe and friend Danny (Jordan Bolger) do in jest one night and now Danny has vanished and something malevolent is following Chloe. Can Jess save her daughter from an unnatural fate?…a daughter who has nothing but contempt for her?

Horror flick is written by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler with an all too familiar a story, these days, of a youth crossing paths with a malevolent spirit. Under the guidance of The Machine director Caradog James, however, this is still a spooky and atmospheric flick despite having seen it all before. James gets some chills out of the haunting scenario that is the trend right now and serves up some really creepy imagery, even if the skeletal specter with long hair is a common visual in today’s horror. He also gives the film a dramatic intensity with it’s underlying story of a mother trying to fix the hurt she caused by abandoning her child and learning to love that child now selflessly. The familiarity unfortunately keeps this movie from really grabbing us and the abrupt ending is a bit jarring, but it is still far more effective than one might expect considering we have been deluged with similar films for the past few years. This was spooky and enjoyable, but it’s time for the next horror trend. The haunting/malevolent entity flick has played itself out and good ones are few and far between. This was entertaining, spooky and well made, but not quite unique enough to make it stand out too far from the pack like we wished it would.

Our leading ladies do help make this work well. Katee Sackhoff does some nice strong work as a women who selfishly abandoned her daughter nine years earlier and now wants her back. Not only does her Jess have to battle nine years of built up resentment, but also a demonic entity that wants to take her daughter from her. Sackhoff gives the role some depth and we do come to sympathize with her. Lucy Boynton is equally good as the young girl who has a lot of bitterness towards her mother, but has no one else to turn to when she is targeted by something no one believes her exists. She gives us an emotionally scarred but strong young woman and she and Sackhoff have a nice chemistry as we watch their relationship heal and build under extreme duress.

In conclusion, this was an entertaining and spooky flick, despite having a very familiar story. Director Caradog James gave it some chills and some cool visuals and his lead cast helped give their familiar characters some depth. While we wait for the next horror trend to give the tired haunting sub-genre a rest, at least this particular flick had some talent behind and in front of the camera to keep it from being mundane.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 creepy door knockers you should knock twice!

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: WITHER (2012)

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 WITHER (2012)

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Apparently Sweden remade Evil Dead a whole year before Fede Alvarez with this 2012 horror…and that’s not always a bad thing. Swedish language flick has seven friends heading into the woods for a vacation at a house that has been abandoned for years…good idea! When they get there, shy Marie (Jessica Blomkvist) encounters something in the basement and soon turns violent. Her eyes gone white, she savages one of the others brutally and has to be restrained. Soon the vacation turns into a living hell as one by one the vacationers start turning into something otherworldly after being attacked by their possessed companions. Will anyone survive?

Directed by Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund, who co-wrote with David Liljeblad, this is an obvious replay of Evil Dead, through actually not that bad when given a chance. The plot is pretty much the same and there are scenes lifted directly from that classic, like hero Albin (Patrik Almkvist) having difficulty offing his possessed girlfriend and a burial of a character thought dead, in the woods. There is also the cowardly, blue shirted hero who gradually turns fighter, the shy girl who is taken first, the tool shed and the very creepy cellar. But Wither does also do things on it’s own. It’s evil is in the form of a creature from Swedish folklore. This we are told by a hunter character (Johannes Brost), whose family encountered the creature in the house days earlier. This fairy creature steals souls from anyone that invades it’s territory and possesses their bodies. Though oddly the infection/possession spreads by bite and scratch like a traditional zombie, once Marie starts attacking the others. Unlike zombies, though, these “possessed” speak, use weapons and have a rudimentary intelligence. The attack scenes are quite vicious and the gore is really well done and quite abundant and graphic. The directing duo also get the camera angles and lighting right to add atmosphere, so at least they were paying attention to their influences…though unlike Raimi’s original, the pacing is rather moderate for an 80 minute film. The acting is also fairly decent, though some are better than others, with Brost and leading lady Lisa Henni seeming to be the only ones with professional acting backgrounds in the cast.

So, in ways this is a blatant retread of the classic Evil Dead. The basic cabin in the woods plot is the same, as is the basic character line-up with a hunter and his family serving as previous victims and exposition, where Sam Raimi’s epic had it’s ominous tape left by a scientist and his wife. There are some differences, such as a more folklore based origin for it’s evil and the film actually accomplishes some very vicious attack scenes and it’s own brand of excessive gore. Filmmakers Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund do present their familiar story well and while we can’t decide if it’s a deliberate homage or outright “borrowing” from Raimi’s flick, it is still a fairly effective and delightfully gory horror…borderline carbon copy though it may be. Also stars Patrick Saxe, Anna Henriksson, Amanda Renberg and Max Wallmo as the rest of the ill-fated vacationers.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 chainsaws…though none appear in the film.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE SHELTER (2015)

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THE SHELTER (2015)

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The Shelter is the feature directorial debut from John Fallon who is also known to horror fans as Arrow In The Head.com’s “The Arrow”. Fallon tells the story of Thomas (Michael Paré), who was a man that once had everything and is now a homeless drunk. As the film opens, we start learn in flashbacks of him loosing his wife and unborn child which has left him the wreck he is. One night he happens upon an empty house and decides to spend the night in warmth and comfort. There is food and booze to sustain him. But the house may not be as empty as it seems and worse still…it may also have an agenda awaiting Thomas.

Fallon directs from his own script and there are many things he does well and gets right in his first feature. It is obviously a low budget effort, but Fallon has a nice visual eye and the film really looks good, especially in some of the more surreal dream sequences where we start to learn the details on what befell our subject. He peppers the film with religious symbolism and the first act is not only intriguing, but has some very spooky atmosphere and tension. Where Fallon stumbles somewhat is that as the film progresses and we learn more and more about what took the things that matter away from Thomas, the more it becomes predictable and we realize we’ve seen this kind of Twilight Zone-ish tale before…and therefor know what to expect. We know going in that Thomas is most likely his own worst enemy and right up to an ending we can see coming well before it does, we find out that we are exactly right. The film was far more interesting when we didn’t really know what was going on, as it goes somewhere not unexpected. It loses it’s grip the more it tells us and the more routine it becomes. The surreal narrative also starts to wear out it’s welcome and sadly we lose that nice tension that had us interested in the first act. Fallon definitely has some potential here and maybe with a bit more streamlined narrative…and we don’t fault him for trying something a bit different…he can tell a tale where he can keep that atmosphere he initially conjured so well and build on the nice visual style he displayed.

As for his star, Paré performs a little unevenly. There are some scenes where he brings some nice emotional depth to Thomas, such as a mournful graveyard sequence early on, then other scenes where he isn’t quite on target. He is a veteran actor and it’s hard to tell whether it was working with a new director or maybe not quite grasping the material, but his acting fluctuates. He isn’t as convincing in the sequences within the house as he was in the scenes leading up to that. Maybe he wasn’t quite as comfortable with the film’s surreal style.

So, maybe not a complete success for Fallon in his feature debut, but far from a failure. Fallon seems to have learned well from his influences in terms of his camera shots and using that camera to build some atmosphere and tension, but it’s keeping it that he needs to explore further. As a writer he is not afraid to do something a bit different, but in this particular tale, it is when his story became familiar is where it most stumbled. His lead actor was a bit uneven in his performance and unfortunately, the more we learned about his character, the more predictable the flick became. Whether you like The Shelter or not, it at least shows that John Fallon has his heart and passion in the right place and we could be seeing interesting things from Arrow In The Head’s namesake in the future.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 arrows.

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BARE BONES: THE OFFERING

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THE OFFERING (2016)

 

Ho-hum possession/demonic thriller has pretty atheist Jaime Waters (Elizabeth Rice) rushing to Singapore when she learns of her sister’s (Rayann Condy) suicide. She begins to investigate the reasons behind her sibling’s demise and finds a a supernatural threat is emerging and one that challenges her disbelief and threatens her young niece (Adina Herz).

Despite the novelty of the Singapore location and Rice making a likable heroine, this is a dull and routine demonic thriller that makes good use of neither. There is a convoluted plot invoking a demonic entity trying to resurrect the Towel Of Babel and even when writer/director Kelvin Tong comes up with a clever idea of the demon using computers to influence, he jettison’s it for the same old possession/haunting tropes, including a basement-set exorcism finale that totally rips-off The Conjuring. Completely derivative and forgettable even when it tries to be clever. Would like to see cutie Elizabeth Rice do final girl duty in a much better film. Also known as The Faith Of Anna Waters.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SESSION 9 (2001)

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SESSION 9 (2001)

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Chilling tale tells the story of a crew of hazardous material removal workers who get a contract at a long closed state hospital for the mentally ill. Each man already has his own drama, but as they continue to work strange things start to happen effecting each one. Is it the hazardous materials they work with?…have the spirits of this forgotten place come out of hiding…or is one of their number coming unglued?

Written and directed by Brad Anderson, who co-wrote with Stephen Gevedon who also plays”Mike” in the film, this is an unsettling little indie that is subtly unnerving at first and then builds towards it’s disturbing climax. Anderson gives each of his men their own personal issues to start, such as boss Gordon (Peter Mullan) having problems at home with a new baby and his wife and Phil (David Caruso) dealing with co-worker Hank (Josh Lucas) having stolen his girlfriend away. This adds tension to the small work crew before any odd occurrences begin and gives us pause as to whether the is really something supernatural going on here. There are also a series of tapes that Mike uncovers detailing the sessions between a hospital doctor and a patient with multiple personalities and a dark secret. Each tape he plays brings us closer to finding out the secret of patient Mary and tears our crew a little further apart…until the climatic session 9. There is a surprisingly violent and bloody conclusion to all this, as up till now the film has remained low key and if Anderson doesn’t quite spoon feed us all the answers, it only works to this spooky flick’s advantage. The use of the real life abandoned Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts is also a big factor in creating atmosphere as the building is almost another character in the film and Anderson knows how to use his setting to maximum effective. The low budget flick is shot well by Uta Briesewitz and has an effective score by Climax Golden Twins. Not perfect, but a solid little thriller that gets under the skin.

Anderson has a good cast to work with aside from his impressive setting. Veteran actor David Caruso is solid as Phil. He is already on edge with having to work with a man who currently sleeps with his ex-girlfriend and when things start to get weird, it only adds to an already existing tension and Caruso plays it well. Peter Mullen is also good as Gordon. Gordon has a sick newborn to deal with and the sleepless nights are taking their toll both at home and at work. When things start to happen at the hospital, it further negatively effects a man who is already unraveling. Mullen plays this slowly fragmenting man very effectively. Co-writer Gevedon is convincing as Mike, who is very interested in the hospitals past, especially the therapy sessions of the mysterious patient Mary Hobbs (voiced by Jurian Hughes). Rounding out is Josh Lucas as Hank, who is a bit of a jerk and a thorn in Phil’s side and Brendan Sexton III as Gordon’s young nephew Jeff, who is afraid of the dark. There is also a cameo in the last act by Larry Fessenden, before he became an indie flick icon.

I like this little flick. It is slow paced, but that is deliberate as it it is more of a slow burn towards it’s unnerving climax. Anderson uses his creepy real-life setting to maximum effect and keeps us guessing as to whether it is supernatural or psychological, as to why things spiral out of control for these men. Not a great movie, but a very effective one with a good cast and a great location.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 dust masks.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: LIGHTS OUT (2016)

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LIGHTS OUT (2016)

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Lights Out is based on the same name spooky 2013 short film by it’s director David F. Sandberg, expanded to feature film length by writer and producer Eric Heisserer. It tells the story of a women named Sophie (Maria Bello) who has a history of emotional problems that has her now talking to what her daughter, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) and son Martin (Gabriel Bateman) first think is an imaginary person. Soon, though, a malevolent entity starts to appear with harmful intent towards both Paul and Rebbeca. As they investigate this malicious presence, they find that “Diana” was once quite real and despite having a skin condition that made her allergic to sunlight, she had a reputation for being pure evil and was feared by those around her. She was also institutionalized as a girl at the same time as their mother and Sophie was her only friend till she died. Has Diana returned from the grave to bring grievous harm to anyone who stands between her and reuniting with Sophie, including Sophie’s own children?

While far from a masterpiece, Sandberg actually delivers a fairly effective and spooky little movie with some legitimately creepy sequences beyond the plethora of jump scares. For the most part he gives Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey) a presence of malice and this helps make her a threat whenever the lights go out…and they often do. As she was allergic to the sun in life, Diana now cannot stand light, which gives Sandberg many opportunities to keep us looking nervously in dark corners and being wary when power outages occur or flashlights grow dim. And for the most part, he has a good time with it. There are a few silly moments too and there are far more jump scares than outright chills, but it’s entertaining enough and works more than it doesn’t. The PG-13 rating keeps things from getting too gruesome, but there is some violence and the film has an intense last act to keep us in our seats. Sandberg shows he might have some potential and we’ll have to wait to see if he can scare us beyond his original short concept and it’s feature film expansion.

The cast also helps make this work by presenting very likable characters. Palmer, already a prolifically working actress at 30, is a strong-willed and very endearing heroine. Rebecca comes across as a bit selfish at first, but her feelings toward her family come though as she takes on this vicious specter to save her mother and little brother. Gabriel Bateman is very likable as the young Paul. He is a brave little boy who loves and sticks by his mom despite her illness and is ready to fight along with his big sister. Maria Bello is sympathetic as the mentally troubled mother, Sophie. She knows she isn’t well and that she is under Diana’s influence and Bello portrays her conflict and emotional pain well. Rounding out is Alexander DiPersia as Rebecca’s boyfriend, Bret, who is caught in the middle of the paranormal drama. Another likable edition to the cast of characters. The film’s spooky opening scene features an appearance by Lotta Losten, who was the star of Sandberg’s original Light’s Out short. (Which is posted below the trailer.)

As said, this is not a great film by any stretch, but is an effective and sometimes spooky little flick that knows how to manipulate us with it’s plot elements. It is a bit formula, but director Sandberg shows some potential and keeps us creeped out enough to forgive him when he falls back on familiar tropes and jump scares. A good cast helps him along and makes this a fun flick for a night on the couch…with the lights out, of course.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 light switches.

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BONUS VIDEO: Here is both the trailer and the original short on which the film is based…

 

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BARE BONES: THE DARKNESS and HARDCORE HENRY

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THE DARKNESS (2016)

Not sure what is the worst thing about this cliché and incredibly routine flick, the fact that it blatantly lifts scenes and plot elements from Poltergeist and the Paranormal Activity series, or that this boring and unimaginative waste of time is from Greg McLean who made the intense and disturbing Wolf Creek.

C0-written, with S.P. Krause and Shayne Armstrong and directed by Greg McLean, film has the Taylor family (Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell) taking their daughter Stephanie (Lucy Fry) and autistic son Michael (David Mazouz) to the desert for a camping excursion. Michael strays away, finding a hidden cave and removing some ancient Native American ceremonial stones. An angry spirit comes home with him, as does every overused haunted house cliché McLean and company could think of. Boring, horribly derivative and yet took three writers to come up with. The most disturbing thing about it is the use of an autistic boy as a victimized plot device. Still can’t believe this is the same guy that gave us the nail-biting Wolf Creek and the nerve wracking giant alligator flick Rogue.

-MonsterZero NJ

one star rating

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HARDCORE HENRY (2015)

Absolutely awful waste of time is a headache inducing tale of a man named Henry (played by various cameras) who is killed and resurrected as a cybernetic killing machine. The film is told completely from his POV as he rebels against his creators and tries to rescue his wife (Kristy’s Haley Bennet), who is a scientist that works for his makers. Helping him is rouge scientist (Sharlto Copley) who also bares a grudge against the megalomaniacal Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), who is behind all this.

 As written and directed by Ilya Naishuller, this annoying and grating mess is a pathetic attempt to appeal to the gamer generation brought up on violent and gory POV video games. Based on the dismal box office, they failed. Complete garbage and an utter waste of 90 minutes spent doing almost anything else. Haley Bennet was so good in Kristy, and I hope being in this junk isn’t a mistake for an actress that shows a lot of promise. Best for her career this film is forgotten as soon as possible. I’d like to forget it, I know that.

-MonsterZero NJ

one star rating

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