HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE (2016)

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I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE (2016)

Sophomore flick from Osgood Perkins, shows the filmmaker has indeed mastered spooky atmosphere with this tale of home care nurse Lily (Ruth Wilson) moving in with ailing horror novelist Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss). As she cares for the woman, the easily scared Lily starts to believe that the house is more than just a home, but a direct inspiration as it appears one of Blum’s character’s, Polly (Lucy Boynton) was indeed murdered in the house…and her spirit may still be there.

While Perkins script presents a very thin story, the director loads it up with some really creepy atmosphere. Most of the film consists of Lily wandering about the house and seeing and hearing some very strange things as the film takes her on a journey of discovering that something happened in that house to inspire Blum’s most famous novel, The Woman Inside The Walls. Perkins accomplishes a lot with some very simple visuals and some very chilling moments as Lily discovers that Blum may have recounted an actually murder that took place in the house and relayed by the spirit of the victim herself, Polly. The story is far simpler than Perkins’ creepy The Blackcoat’s Daughter, but despite taking place solely in the house and mostly with just Lily, it still is quite unsettling at times. To say much more would be to spoil the effectiveness of this atmospheric tale. The equally atmospheric score for the film is once again by the director’s brother Elvis Perkins.

The minimal cast is quite good as it practically is a one woman show. Ruth Wilson creates a very meek and timid woman, possible a bit eccentric, too and takes her on a supernatural quest of discovery as Lily finds that the house has a dark secret that may have inspired her charge’s most famous tale. As Blum, Paula Prentiss doesn’t have many scenes, but is effective at portraying a woman with dementia, who is only adding to Lily’s mystery with her words, that may be more than babbling. Bob Balaban has a small part as a man who manages Blum’s affairs, Erin Boyles plays Blum in flashbacks and Lucy Boynton effectively plays Polly in flashbacks and when Lily has visions of her.

The film may be of a simpler nature than Oz Perkins’ first flick, but this is an old fashioned haunted house movie done in what is becoming the writer/director’s signature spooky style. It’s loaded with chilling atmosphere and unsettling scenes and while it is very economical in terms of story, it is still effective in giving chills for those patient enough to go with it’s slow burn.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 pretty things that live in the house.

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM (2016)

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THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM (2016)

The Disappointments Room is exactly that. Kate Beckinsale stars as architect, wife and mother, Dana, who is moving into a rural country home with her family. Exploring her new house she finds it has a hidden locked room in the attic. Research reveals it’s a disappointments room…a room where well-to-do families hid deformed or handicapped children, to live out their lives in secret without ’embarrassing’ their families. Dana, having lost one of her own children, is especially disturbed by this and starts to see and be haunted by visions and apparitions of a past family and their deformed daughter. Is she just experiencing delusions caused by grief over the accidental death of her baby daughter, or is she really being haunted?

Directed by D.J. Caruso (Disturbia), from a script by he and Wentworth Miller, this is an incredibly generic ghost story. All the well-worn clichés are present, such as Dana being the only one who sees these apparitions and the husband (Mel Raido) leaving mid-haunting to go away for a few days with the haunted wife now home alone with her son (Duncan Joiner). Beckinsale really tries hard here to give her emotionally strained mom some depth, but the incredibly bland script doesn’t give her much to work with. Raido’s husband is the typical doubter who believes it’s all in his wife’s head and there is the stereotypical young, hunky handyman (Lucas Till) to hit on Beckinsale’s hot mom, in a sub-plot that goes nowhere. Caruso directs competently, but achieves only a few spooky moments and holds our interest only by a thread. Bland and very familiar.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: A DARK SONG (2016)

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A DARK SONG (2016)

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

Irish horror presents the story of the grieving Sophia (Catherine Walker) who has hired occult expert Joseph (Steve Oram) to perform a series of dark rituals so that she may speak with her dead son. The rituals are grueling and take an emotional toll on both participants. Nothing will prepare them, however, for what they will meet when the rituals start to take effect.

Written and directed by Liam Gavin this is a tense and atmospheric chiller that presents black magic rituals with a far more grounded and realistic approach than the usual theatrics. Gavin focuses mainly on his two leads and adds to the tension by having them become more and more confrontational as impatient Sophia doesn’t feel the rituals are working and Joseph doesn’t feel Sophia has been honest about her intent. It’s an interesting character study under emotional and supernatural duress as Joseph becomes more abusive to keep Sophia following the procedures and Sophia becomes more and more desperate to accomplish her goals. There are also some very spooky moments as signs appear that the barriers between worlds are coming down and thus otherworldly things are coming in. This leads to a last act which can be outright scary at times and surprisingly sentimental at others. Gavin has a very good visual eye, via Cathal Watters’ cinematography and uses the old house setting to maximum effect. There is also a really haunting score by Ray Harman, that rivals last years The Witch score by Mark Korven. If there is anything that holds the film back a bit is that the middle section drags somewhat, as the film is already moderately paced. The antagonistic relationship between Joseph and Sophia also starts to wear out it’s welcome as Joseph’s methods and demeanor towards Sophia start to become borderline cruel. Just at the point where one starts to feel the film’s grip slipping, the walls come down and the things that go bump in the night come knocking. The last act does deliver the goods and a few unexpected surprises as well.

As for the minimal cast, both leads are very good. Walker plays a grieving and desperate woman quite skillfully. we sympathize with Sophia even if she is dabbling in some very dark arts to see her child one last time. She has a few secrets and over the course of the film, Walker does strong emotional work revealing them. Steve Oram is equally solid as Joseph. He can be a cruel and mean person when he feels Sophia is straying off the path, but Oram and Gavin’s script also give glimpses to a more likable person under the surface. He is driven but human and he is never portrayed as a bad guy. Good work by both cast members.

Overall, I liked A Dark Song and was especially intrigued by it’s more realistic approach to dark magic rituals. There are some genuinely scary scenes and the film is always atmospheric. If the film has any flaws, it’s that the bickering and abusive behavior between Sophia and Joseph starts to wear on one after awhile and the middle of the film, where much of this occurs, drags a bit before the film’s spooky last act kicks in. There is an intensity about the film and some surprising sentimentality, too, though the methodical pace might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Maybe it doesn’t quite live up to early word and I didn’t love it as much as I’d have liked, but it’s a starkly original take on occult thrillers and certainly worth a spooky look.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 candles.

 

 

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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)

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

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)

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

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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