REVIEW: IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017)

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IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017)

Though marketed as a horror film, especially with a title that implies some sort of supernatural threat, flick is more of a survival thriller focusing on a small group of people during what appears to be some kind of pandemic. As the film opens, we find Paul (Joel Edgerton), living in his father-in-law Bud’s house in the middle of the woods, along with his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and his son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). As the story opens, Bud (David Pendleton) is infected, Paul euthanizes him and sets his body on fire. While still suffering from their loss, a man (Christopher Abbott) breaks into their house one night. Captured, he says his name is Will and is only looking for supplies for his family. Paul and Sarah invite Will, his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) to come live with them, seeing strength in numbers. But, when it is believed that little Andrew might be infected, paranoia and fear take over and threatens to destroy this safe haven in the woods.

Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults this is an intense and sometimes violent little movie about fear, paranoia and what lengths folks will go to survive. Going in without the horror movie expectations, one can enjoy this flick for what it is. There are some horror elements, as the sickness isn’t pretty, there is some brutal violence and Travis has some very unsettling nightmares with some spooky imagery. The characters appear to be normal people in a frightening situation and none are bad guys or unlikable, just some do extreme things to, in their minds, ensure their survival. It’s no secret these folks will turn on each other and Shults keeps the film tense until they do. He keeps the audience on edge with a sense that death is always lurking outside the house, whether it be this ominous disease or other humans with bad intent. He also never let’s you completely trust Will and Kim, as Paul and Sarah never quite do. Yes, we’ve seen it before, but the writer/director makes it work by focusing on the effects of the situation on a small isolated group instead of what might be going on in more populated areas. It works well and can be unsettling at times, even with the subject of pandemics and infections being common ground right now. There are a few questions and unresolved plot points as the credits roll. After Bud’s death it seems hard to believe that Paul and family would so quickly agree to bring strangers into their home, despite the good intentions. There is a violent encounter with two armed men that at first seems like it might have further impact, but it never does. There is also the implication that coming-of-age Travis might have an attraction to the pretty Kim and vice-versa, but it goes nowhere after the initial scene that introduces the notion. Aside from these small matters Trey Edward Shults delivers a taunt thriller which keeps one unnerved even if you know certain things are coming. Aiding him is some nice cinematography by Drew Daniels, which takes advantage of the large shadow filled house and a fitting score from Brian McOmber.

There is a good cast here, too. Edgerton is a strong lead as the cautious, though somewhat kind-hearted Paul. He makes some tough decisions to protect his family, but is far from a bad man and hasn’t lost his humanity. Christopher Abbott is good as Will. He gives the character just enough uncertainty, so we never quite trust him to makes us as uneasy as Paul. Kelvin Harrison Jr. shines as Travis. Travis is sometimes the moral center of the story, though his ominous nightmares make us unsettled as to what the future holds and the actor conveys that this is also the same with Travis, himself, a youth growing up isolated in a dangerous world. In support Carmen Ejogo is solid as Paul’s loving and strong willed wife, Sarah. Riley Keough is also good as Will’s wife Kim, as is Griffin Robert Faulkner as their young son Andrew.

Once you get past the notion that this is a horror film, you can still enjoy an intense thriller about people trying to survive in a deadly environment. They’re trying to keep their humanity when their fellow humans are just as dangerous as the disease they are trying to avoid. It’s intense, atmospheric and brutally violent at times. It may not be the most original flick in terms of story and comes with a title that raises horror film expectations, but does used the pandemic fear scenario very well and is an effective little thriller on it’s own.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets!

 

 

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REVIEW: KILLING GROUND (2017)

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KILLING GROUND (2017)

Killing Ground is an Australian thriller that finds couple Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer) going on a camping trip in a rural part of the country. They find another vehicle and tent at the campground, yet no occupants seem to be around. Soon Ian and Sam encounter two local “hunters” (Aaron Pedersen and Aaron Glennane) who, unknown to the couple, know exactly what happened to the abandoned tent’s former occupants.

Written and directed by Damien Power, this is an effective but familiar survival thriller. His story is basically in the Wolf Creek ballpark with innocent travelers happening upon deranged locals in a rural setting. What we see is brutal and effective and while certain cruel acts are off-camera, just knowing what is going on induces chills. Power tells his story in a split narrative where we inter-cut scenes of Sam and Ian in the present with scenes from earlier on with the ill-fated family that resided in the now empty tent. It works well enough and once the stories meet it continues to it’s finish within the present timeline.  It makes for a grim yet fairly involving 90 minutes, though there are some questions. What drove these two to get homicidal with this family, as it seems they are too sloppy to have done it before and not gotten caught. Also, they are well known to local police, so they would logically be prime suspects if something went askew in that jurisdiction…though the police portrayed here are done so as stereo-typically daft local cops. Still, the film does work well enough and the cast are effective in their roles.

Harriet Dyer is a fine heroine in Sam. She isn’t a damsel and is a fighter when she has something worth protecting. Ian Meadows’ Ian starts out as a likable character, though as the story progresses and it becomes a battle for survival, he shows some unfortunate true colors. As for our bad guys, Pedersen and Glennane make fine deranged locals and even if the characters are well-worn stereotypes, they play them effectively. Again, the problem with them aside from familiarity, is they seem too sloppy in their activities and if this isn’t the first time they’ve done this…previous jail time is mentioned but not why…it’s hard to believe they haven’t already been caught. If this is their first crime of this magnitude, what was it about this family that triggered the violence and cruelty? We never get to know them enough to gives us a clue.

In conclusion, this is an effective but familiar survival thriller. Damien Power directs well enough to make it work better than it should and we are chilled by some of what we see. The film is overall, though, nothing new and there are some questions we are asking once it’s over. Also stars Maya Stange, Julian Garner, Tiarnie Coupland and Liam and Riley Parkes as the ill-fated family whose grim tale unfolds during the film.

3 bullets.

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: CARNAGE PARK (2016)

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CARNAGE PARK (2016)

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Flick takes place in 1978 with country girl Vivian Fontaine (Ashley Bell) not having a good day. Her home is being sold out from under her and while at the bank getting turned down for a loan to save it, she’s taken hostage by two ex-cons (James Landry Hebert and Michael Villar) who rob the bank. That’s the least of her problems, as the three find themselves in a stretch of remote wilderness stalked by psychotic ex-soldier Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy), who slaughters anyone that enters his domain. Soon Vivian finds herself alone and in a battle for survival against the well-armed and quite deranged maniac.

Flick is written and directed by Mickey Keating who is proving himself quite diverse in his influences with films like the David Lynch-esque Darling and the X-Files-ish Pod under his belt. Here he delivers a brutal and twisted little movie that seems to have a bit of a Rob Zombie influence, as it did evoke some of the imagery, brutality and a bit of the deranged humor that was on display in Zombie’s first two flicks. But this is very much Keating’s own movie and he starts us out with the story in progress, with robber Lenny (Villar) wounded and Scorpion Joe (Hebert) pulling hostage Vivian out of the trunk to help him. We then get some brief flashbacks to fill us in on some character and plot details as the crazed Wyatt discovers the intruders on his land and the hunt/action begins. The film is stylish and off-beat and very entertaining as our girl-next-door Vivian tries to overcome a superior enemy and escape with her life. The film is intense, strange and very violent at times and does entertain as it intends with the oddball Wyatt tracking/tormenting the dazed and desperate, yet not totally defenseless, Vivian. It’s a twisted little flick, that tells it’s story in a Tarantino meets Rob Zombie kind of way. It’s not perfect, as Keating’s influences are a bit too obviously borrowed from at times and one character just disappears, which makes one question why they were included at all. But when all is said and done, Keating accomplishes what he set out to with splattered brains and all.

The cast go a long way in making this work and work well. Ashley Bell (The Last Exorcism) delivers a strong heroine in her Vivian. She is a simple country girl who starts out trying to save her home and ends up trying to save her life. Bell gives her a dazed look of a woman who just got dumped into the frying pan and then the fire and is trying to just stay alive and somehow get home. She gives Vivian a simple tenacity and a strong will to survive with a touch of frustration and confusion. She is endearing and likable. Pat Healy (Innkeepers, Tales Of Halloween) portrays a true psychotic, but yet not one who doesn’t deliriously enjoy what he is doing. He is arrogant and self-righteous and while his motives are not completely explained, the religious symbolism around his lair and in what he says and does, implies he is doing God’s work in some form. Healy is threatening and dangerous and a touch humorously demented and it is a good role for an underrated and versatile actor who can play both hero and villain. Ex-con and thieves James Landry Hebert (Skateland) and Michael Villar have smaller parts, but Hebert succeeds in making an impression as Scorpion Joe. He’s another underrated character actor who does good work when on screen. There is also an appearance by Alan Ruck as Wyatt’s sheriff brother who keeps cleaning up his sibling’s messes, despite the emotional drain of the conflict of interest and indie icon Larry Fessenden as one of Wyatt’s prey.

So, not a perfect thriller, but one that is successful in being 80+ minutes of twisted entertainment. Mickey Keating’s films seem to illustrate a variety of influences with him channeling a bit of Rob Zombie in this, his latest film. It’s off the wall and sometimes brutally violent and has a good cast to make it work very well. A fun and demented little movie, that while not completely original, amuses with a healthy dose of bullets, blood and weirdness.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets.

ex2 rating

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