BARE BONES: HE’S OUT THERE (2018)

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HE’S OUT THERE (2018)

Wife and mother Laura (Yvonne Strahovski) is taking her two daughters Maddie (Abigail Pniowsky) and Kayla (Anna Pniowsky) up to the family’s remote cabin in the woods…always a bad sign…with husband Shawn (Justin Bruening) to join them later. Unfortunately, the three are not alone and soon find themselves stalked by a deranged masked individual.

While the film is nothing original story-wise and is reminiscent somewhat of Mike Flanagan’s Hush, it is still quite effective in it’s own right. It’s very well directed by Quinn Lasher from a script by Mike Scannell and is quite spooky and suspenseful, even though familiar. Lasher gets good use out of his remote woodland location and the large old cabin setting and evokes strong performances from his small cast. There is graphic violence though it is used sparingly and thus has impact. Strahovski is especially good in the final girl…final mom?…role and the Pniowsky sisters are impressive, too. The film wouldn’t work as well without an effective villain and the deranged individual who calls himself “John” (Ryan McDonald) is disturbing despite being derivative. He delivers his few lines of dialogue well and conveys a threatening presence behind his creepy mask. All in all, a solid horror/thriller now streaming on Netflix…where you can also stream Flanagan’s Hush for comparison.

-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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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE (2018)

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WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE (2018)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Jules (Brittany Allen) and Jackie (Hanna Emily Anderson) are a married couple going up to Jackie’s lakeside family cabin in the woods to celebrate their one year anniversary. Once there, Jules starts to find out that Jackie is not the person she thought she married. In fact, Jules has married a monster and will soon be fighting for her life against the person she loves most.

Intense and brutal flick is written and directed by Colin Minihan, who from Grave Encounters to Extraterrestrial to It Stains The Sands Red to this, is getting better and better as a filmmaker and it’s a mystery why more people aren’t talking about him. Minihan weaves a disturbing tale of lies, betrayal and murder as a young woman finds out her wife is a dangerous psychopath who delights in killing her lovers…among others. What makes this work so well is that Minihan builds a nice and believable relationship between Jules and Jackie in a short time and then has it painfully unravel and turn into a fight for survival between the two wives. The script is clever and Minihan gives it some nice artistic touches which elevate it from a simple horror flick to a movie with substance, style and some shocking moments, too. There is brutal violence and as it’s used sparingly and at the right moments, we feel it when it comes and it’s effective throughout. The cat and mouse game between Jackie and Jules is tense and suspenseful and we are riveted when Jules is forced to watch her lover engage in some horrible acts against innocents. It’s a rough ride for the audience, yet never exploitative…which makes it all the more effective. Minihan knows how to build suspense and how to use his camera and shots to create atmosphere and tension. That camera work is captured excellently by David Schuurman’s cinematography and there’s a really great score by star Brittany Allen. Having seen all of Minihan’s films, this is his most confident and daring movie yet. It’s the film where a filmmaker moves out from under his influences and finds his own voice.

What also makes it work so well is borderline brilliant performances by it’s leading ladies. Brittany Allen, in her third film for Minihan, gives a powerful portrayal of a woman who is torn apart by betrayal and finding that her wife is a psychotic monster. We watch a gentle woman shattered by the pain and torment of these horrific revelations and then slowly finding the strength to fight back against someone she loved more than anything. Hanna Emily Anderson at first fools us into believing, as does Jules, that this is a sweet and caring woman in love with her soulmate. We then watch her slowly turn into the calculated and cunning psychopath she really is and one with disturbing depth, making her unnervingly real. She’s not a stereotype and the fact that Anderson avoids over-the-top and stays chillingly calm, makes her even more frightening. Wonderful work by both actresses. Martha MacIsaac and Joey Klein also appear as a couple that live across the lake, but we know their purpose from the start and they serve it well.

Simply one of the best horror films of the year, so far and the best film yet from a writer/director who gets better and better with each film. It’s clever, intelligent and brutal and intense. It’s a disturbing portrayal of love and betrayal. It’s two former lovers in a battle of wills and survival that is as provocative as it is unnerving. The leading ladies give really powerful performances and Colin Minihan proves he is a filmmaker that genre fans should be talking far more about.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 hunting knives.

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: 14 CAMERAS (2018)

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14 CAMERAS (2018)

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

Sequel to 13 Cameras is again written by Victor Zarcoff, though directing chores have been handed off to Seth Fuller and Scott Hussion. Follow-up takes place years later with creepy landlord Gerald (Neville Archambault) continuing his stalker ways and filling his properties with hidden cameras, watching the occupants and occasionally kidnapping female ones that suit his fancy. He’s upped his game and now streams the footage on the web and charges other creeps to watch it. He still has Claire (Brianne Moncrief) captive and raises her young son “Jr.” (Gavin White) as his own. His current targets are a vacationing family, with their daughter, pretty college student Molly (Brytnee Ratledge) and her hot, flirty friend Danielle (Amber Midthunder) as the objects of his gross attention. Things get complicated when his footage attracts like-minded individuals and he now has competition for making Danielle one of his collection.

New directors, Fuller and Hussion, keep this second installment creepy, and sometimes violent, as the scenario is opened up a bit to focus on not only Gerald’s disturbing habits, but having Claire and her son in captivity. Claire is almost used to her life in what looks like a bomb shelter dug into the desert floor and tries to convince new roommates, like athletic and pretty Sarah (Chelsea Edmundson), that escape attempts are not a good idea…and to a degree they are not. Pervert Gerald has set his sights on pretty, flirtatious Danielle and his intrusions into the house and in her belongings conveniently get blamed on Molly’s teen brother Kyle (John-Paul Howard). It’s creepy and very unsettling to follow mouth-breather Gerald as he watches the girls shower and romp around in bikini’s and then sell the footage…and a pair of Danielle’s panties…to his creepy subscribers. Things start to fall apart for the deranged landlord when “Jr.” starts to get curious about his “dad’s” activities and one of Gerald’s subscribers starts a bidding war for Danielle. It’s very disturbing to watch unfold and even though it shares some of the first film’s flaws…like gimp-legged Gerald getting out of occupied houses unseen…it has the viewer squirming in their seat enough to work. The idea of being watched in the privacy of your own home and having that privacy invaded is a concept that still hasn’t warn out it’s effectiveness. Add to that, the idea of having your most private moments sold to deviates on the dark web is equally as chilling. This flick makes good use of both scenarios.

Once again Neville Archambault paints a disturbing individual as the vile Gerald. He is a pervert and a deviate and has no moral compass whatsoever. His activities make your skin crawl and feel sympathy for those under the watchful eye of his hidden cameras, especially those who find themselves bound and gagged in the back of his truck. In this installment he even finds a way to make money off his sick behavior from like-minded creeps…and apparently, there are a lot of them. Brianne Moncrief is solid as the captive Claire. She’s pretty much given up all hope of escape and is accepting of her life in captivity, though when it comes to reuniting with the son she barely knows, it ignites a bit of fight in her. Amber Midthunder is very likable as the lively and playful Danielle. She is the type of girl that gets attention, though the wrongest kind here. The cast portraying family members are all fine in support with Brytnee Ratledge as Molly, John-Paul Howard as Molly’s high school student brother Kyle, Lora Martinez-Cunningham (Sicario, Fender Bender) as their hot mom Lori and Hank Rogerson as their dad Arthur. Whether it was intentional or not, it made the older and pervy Gerald even creepier that he ignores sexy mom Lori and goes after co-ed Danielle, who’s still a teenager. Last, but not least, Chelsea Edmundson is effective as the strong-willed captive Sarah and Gavin White, equally so, as “Jr” who is becoming quite the nosy young man.

Sequel adds up to pretty much an equal as while it shared some of 13 Camera’s flaws, it was also very disturbing and unsettling. Gerald is proving to be a very effective and creepy character in his second outing and Neville Archambault really makes him realistic and scary. The flick has a good cast and the makers took the first movie’s concept and opened it up a bit with Gerald now taking his perversions to the dark web and profiting on them from others of his ilk. An effective second film in this franchise and directed well by Hussion and Fuller.

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: 12 FEET DEEP (2017)

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12 FEET DEEP (2017)

Supposedly fact-based flick has two sisters, Bree (Nora-Jane Noone from The Descent and Doomsday) and Jonna (Alexandra Park), trapped by unfortunate circumstances over a holiday weekend in an indoor Olympic pool, with the fiberglass cover shut. That’s not the worst of their troubles as the emotionally disturbed maintenance woman (Diane Farr) discovers them and turns their misfortune into a night of extortion and terror.

Director Matt Eskandari’s thriller has it’s scenario born out of some unfortunate conveniences happening all at the right…or wrong…time, but as it is based on an actual incident, it can’t be all that much of a stretch. Eskandari’s script, that he wrote along with Michael Hultquist, does pack in a lot of melodramatic elements, such as the sisters sharing a tumultuous relationship, Bree being a diabetic, Jonna out of rehab and the whole ex-con with a grudge, maintenance woman thing, but they are used in just the right amounts and the director does build some nice tension and suspense from some of the clichés. Both Noone and Park give good performances, which make the melodramatics work better than they should and endear us to the two ladies in distress. Farr’s ex-con maintenance woman also starts out as a cliché bad guy, but turns out to be a bit more layered than the simple villain she first appears. The film doesn’t overstay it’s welcome at only 85 minutes and overall is a tense and entertaining time on the couch, at least as much as two girls stuck in a pool could be. A well made little thriller that takes a simple premise, that could have been silly, and makes it work to entertaining good use. Also stars “Jigsaw” himself Tobin Bell as the grumpy pool manager who carelessly locks the ladies in. Definitely worth watching.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: VOODOO and SHUT IN

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VOODOO (2017)

This is a terrible found footage flick that has a young woman (Samantha Stewart) traveling to L.A. from her home of New Orleans after an affair with a married man provokes his voodoo practicing wife. She’s filming her trip, hence the found footage format and her footage catches the escalating pursuit by evil spirits till she is literally dragged to Hell…camera still filming, of course!

Flick is awfully written and directed by Tom Costabile and the only reason it gets the extra star is for having the audacity of being the first…at least I think so…found footage movie to take place in Hell. It is laughably bad for the most part, though it’s depiction of Hell does hit Baskin levels of offensiveness with newborn babies being eaten alive and our heroine being raped by Satan himself…or one of his muscular horned demons, I can’t really tell. It’s disturbingly graphic, though wears out it’s welcome quickly, but in terms of legitimate chills and thrills, it’s completely void and Costabile seems to know little or nothing about actual voodoo. At least pretty lead Samantha Stewart and co-star Ruth Reynolds were appealing.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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SHUT IN (2016)

Moderately amusing thriller has widowed child psychologist Mary (Naomi Watts) caring for her catatonic 18 year-old step-son (Charlie Heaton) after an accident that also claimed her husband’s life. At the same time, she is concerned about a young patient of hers (Room’s Jacob Tremblay) that has run away into the Maine woods with a massive snowstorm approaching rapidly. As the snowfall traps Mary in the house, she starts to feel there is something strange going on and soon believes she is possibly being haunted by the now feared dead boy’s spirit.

Flick written by Christina Hudson and directed by Farren Blackbum is a completely generic and routine thriller with Watt’s solid performance being the only thing that keeps us entertained. She is a veteran actress and handles the weak material well, adding some emotional depth to the mundane goings on and making Mary very sympathetic and likable. The big reveal isn’t exactly a surprise and actually adds a creepy and uncomfortable sexual element to the proceedings, though one the filmmakers aren’t daring enough to go too far with as they shift the focus off it rather quickly, returning to the safer stalking about a dark house finale. If nothing else is on, it’s not a complete waste of time and the 48 year-old Watts still looks quite fetching in the buff. Also stars Oliver Platt as a psychologist friend of Mary’s.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SPLIT (2016)

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SPLIT (2016)

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

With The Visit, M. Night Shyamalan had started to show a bit of a return to form after a string of disappointments lasting over a decade of his career. Now with Split, he seems to have hit his stride again with this intense and disturbing thriller.

The film tells the story of Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man diagnosed with over 23 different personalties. His therapist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) is using Kevin to prove her theory that the belief in a personality can effect the physiology of the subject while under the influence of that personality. But unknown to Fletcher, Kevin’s alter egos have kidnaped 3 young girls, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch and Morgan), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson from The Last Survivors and The Edge Of Seventeen) and Marcia (Jessica Sula). His alternates say they are to be used as sacrifice for a new personality…called The Beast. Can these three young girls escape before The Beast is unleashed?

Written and directed by Shyamalan, this is an intense and suspenseful thriller that is his best work in well over a decade. It has some interesting ideas, such as strong personality disorders developing physical changes within certain personalities, for example, Dr. Fletcher’s citing of a blind woman who gained sight under the influence of one of her alternate personalities. This does not bode well when Kevin’s alternates like Patricia, Barry and Dennis keep heralding something called The Beast. We also like the three captive girls and their refusal to give up trying to escape and it certainly makes us fear what’s in store for them. Shyamalan plays this out in the confined space of Kevin’s lair, only briefly going outside to Fletcher’s office during Kevin’s sessions. This keeps things isolated and claustrophobic which adds to the overall atmosphere. Of course the last act delivers the goods and without giving any details, it is a very intense and effective ride as ‘guess who’ finally arrives. As usual with his best work, Shyamalan also gives us some solid surprises and fans of his films will be thrilled as to how this one closes out. I’d go more in depth, but this is a film that is best seen knowing as little as possible.

James McAvoy is simply brilliant as the multi-personality Kevin and a number of his alternates. He plays each one as a separate person and gives each alternate a full personality, complete with facial expressions and their own body language. If there is any minor complaint, it’s that we only see about four or five of the personalities and McAvoy’s performance begs us to want to see more of the supposed 23. The girls are all good. Taylor-Joy plays the loner and social outcast and she is not only likable, but strong, resilient and may have some things in common with her captor. Richardson’s Claire is also resilient and is the one who is the most vocal and steadfast about escaping their captivity. She and Casey butt heads sometimes as to how to proceed in their efforts, as Claire sees Casey’s waiting for the right moment as more of an excuse to not try. Sula’s Marcia is the quietest and most timid of the three basically doing what she is told and seems to be the most frightened. Rounding out is a very solid Betty Buckley as Dr. Fletcher, a woman who is too fascinated by her subject to see how dangerous he really is. A very good cast who make this film work so well, especially lead McAvoy and his stunning performance.

This was definitely the Shyamalan of old with some truly suspenseful moments, an unusual, but well written story and some legitimate scares and intensity. He is aided by the perfectly cast James McAvoy who gives many of the film’s chills and a solid supporting cast in those playing his three hostages and therapist. The film has a fantastically nerve-wracking last act and a final scene that will have fans on their feet. Welcome back, M. Night!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 alternate personalities.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: DON’T BREATHE and THE NEIGHBOR

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Two thrillers/horrors that I think would make a good pairing for a Saturday night on the couch with your favorite brew. One was a big hit recently and the other deserves more attention than it got and both involve sneaking into someone’s house and the unexpected things you might find there…

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DON’T BREATHE (2016)

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

Don’t Breathe is an intense and very entertaining thriller that turns the home invasion flick on it’s head and proves writer/director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead remake) is the real deal. The story takes place in a rundown suburb of Detroit where house thieves Rocky (Evil Dead’s Jane Levy), Money (It Follows‘ Daniel Zovatto) and Alex (Goosebumps’ Dylan Minnette) hear of a big score. There is an almost deserted street with only one house still occupied, the home of a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) who supposedly was given a large cash settlement by the family of a rich girl who ran over and killed his daughter. Thinking it easy money, the three break into the man’s home one night. But the man turns out to be far more dangerous than they realize and soon has them trapped inside his house with the intent they never leave.

Co-written with his Evil Dead co-scribe Rodo Sayagues, Alvarez crafts a very suspenseful and intense game of cat and mouse inside the Detroit house that gets started quickly and never gives up till it’s unsettling last moments. Alvarez gives us a claustrophobic and isolated setting by placing the house on a deserted block and making great use of the desolated Detroit setting to give it atmosphere. He then has his ex-soldier seal our three thieves inside, where he knows the layout and they…and we…don’t. Alvarez also uses the character’s blindness to set up nerve-wracking moments, as our thieves try to quietly elude him and then he clever turns off the power to turn the odds in his favor. There are also some moments of brutal violence that really punctuate the intensity of the proceedings, as the director plays with the home invasion formula by turning our intended victim into the monster and the invaders into the victims. This works well due to the way his characters are written. While Money is basically a street thug, Alex has a conscience and a heart, which keeps him likable and Levy’s Rocky is only stealing to get enough money to take her little sister out of Detroit and away from her alcoholic mother. This makes them sympathetic, despite their criminal activity, yet Alvarez still puts them through the ringer for them to truly earn our empathy. If the brutal pursuit through the three floors of the old house isn’t enough, Alvarez has a late reveal that adds a really disturbing angle to a simple theft gone awry story…one that will have you squirming as much as Levy’s Rocky was…and turns the blind soldier into a true fiend. And it works very well. As with Evil DeadAlvarez accents his story with a great visual eye. His settings and shots are captured stylishly by the lens of Pedro Luque and Evil Dead composer Roque Baños returns for an atmospheric score. It all adds up to a suspenseful, intense and very atmospheric thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat and squirming in it too!

Alvarez has assembled a small but very effective cast for his sophomore film for Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures. Evil Dead leading lady Jane Levy is very strong as the street smart Rocky. She is convincing in that she is stealing only out of love for her little sister and she moves from thief to anti-hero to heroine very well. Her Rocky is really put through Hell, just as her Mia was in the 2013 horror remake and she really provides us again with a strong character to root for, even if she, like Mia, isn’t the sweet girl next door. Levy has a unique way of combining an intensity with a sensitivity that deserves more spotlight roles. Daniel Zovatto, who was the kindly Greg in It Follows, plays basically a street thug and does play him well. He has his charisma, but is not a good guy and the one we least feel sorry for when the poop hits the fan. Dylan Minnette’s Alex seems almost too nice to be part of this group, but it is made known he crushes on Rocky and is betraying his security company father most likely to be close to her. It succeeds in keeping him likable and he proves once again he is a charming actor with an appealing screen persona. This would not work if our blind ex-soldier, whose name is never given, wasn’t convincing as a monster and Stephen Lang once again is a strong bad guy. He is sympathetic at first, then let’s us know that this man is still lethally dangerous, even with his war injury handicap and then becomes a full blown fiend once the movie progresses. His soldier is filled with menace and threat and once we get the full picture, any feelings that this guy is just protecting what’s his, go out the window and it works thanks to an intense performance from a skilled actor.

I really liked this movie and it proves to me Fede Alvarez is a filmmaker to keep a close eye on. I really enjoyed his remake of Sam Raimi’s horror classic and certainly enjoyed the results now of a film entirely his own. This is an intense, brutally violent and sometimes twisted thriller that turns a home invasion into a house of horrors with a strong cast to back up the director’s vision and story. A solid thriller and one of the few films to live up to early word in the summer of 2016 movie season.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 turkey basters…you’ll have to see the movie!

dont breathe rating

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THE NEIGHBOR (2016)

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Intense crime drama tells the story of John (Josh Stewart) and Rosie (Alex Essoe from Starry Eyes and Tales Of Halloween) who live in the rural town of Cutter, Mississippi and work for drug runners. They plan to do one more job and when they collect their money, they plan to make a run for Mexico and an early retirement. When John returns after a job and finds Rosie missing, he suspects his odd neighbor Troy (comedian Bill Engvall) who seemed to be quite taken with his pretty girlfriend. When John sneaks into Troy’s house, he discovers his neighbor has been engaging in far worse activities than he could ever have imagined…and he may not get back out alive.

Writer/director Marcus Dunstan (the Saw series, the Collector movies) crafts a lean and mean thriller about bad people going up against far worse people in a small backwoods town in rural Mississippi. It does share some similarities with the recent Don’t Breathe, but is it’s own movie and aside from criminal types, who are looking to make a better life for themselves, being trapped in a house by psychotics, that’s where the similarities end. Dunstan gets his story started quite quickly, but not too quick that we don’t get to know John and Rosie a bit, and keeps the intensity cranked till the very last frames. We find ourselves rooting for John, even though he is not a good person, because Dunstan is able to make Troy and his boys a lot creepier. Add in a corrupt cop (Jaqueline Fleming) who already has it in for John and you have solid reasons to get behind our anti-hero couple. There is some graphic violence, but unlike his torture heavy Collector and Saw films, Dunstan uses it sparingly, so it is vicious and effective when it happens. The director does have a good visual eye and stages the action fast and furious with some nice suspense in-between the bullets and beatings. The tension is thick at times and while the climax may conveniently wrap things up, it is quite satisfying. There is some crisp cinematography from Eric Leach and a really cool score by Charlie Clouser.

Dunstan also gets good work from a good cast. Despite being a criminal who works for a sleazy drug lord, Josh Stewart makes his John quite likable and embues him with a bit of a heart underneath his criminal activities. His work reminded me of Jane Levy’s Rocky from Don’t Breathe, an anti-hero to root for. I have been a fan of Alex Essoe since her stunning work in Starry Eyes and she is solid again here. She does spend part of the flick as a damsel in distress, but gets to really turn it up in the last act and show another side to a versatile actress we want to keep seeing more of. Her Rosie is a badass when provoked. Bill Engvall makes for a very creepy villain. He gives you chills without going over the top and his subtle yet unnerving Troy is all the more effective because he doesn’t overdo it. A very creepy villain that makes you forget John and Rosie are criminals of a different kind. Jaqueline Fleming is also good as a cop with her own agenda and Luke Edwards and Ronnie Gene Blevins are solid as Troy’s equally creepy sons, Cooper and Harley. Melissa Bolona is also effective as another of Troy and company’s “guests.” 

This little flick took me by surprise. I am not a big fan of the Collector films and never watched Dunstan’s Saw movies, as I was done with that series by then, but this high octane thriller took me a bit by surprise. Sure there are some familiar story elements, but Dunstan uses those elements well and really cranks up the suspense and tension in the last hour, peppering it with moments of brutal violence that don’t overstay their welcome and are very effective because of it. A good cast helps the filmmaker out and overall, cast and crew deliver a solid and engrossing thriller.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 bullets.

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

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DON’T BREATHE (2016)

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

Don’t Breathe is an intense and very entertaining thriller that turns the home invasion flick on it’s head and proves writer/director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead remake) is the real deal. The story takes place in a rundown suburb of Detroit where house thieves Rocky (Evil Dead’s Jane Levy), Money (It Follows‘ Daniel Zovatto) and Alex (Goosebumps’ Dylan Minnette) hear of a big score. There is an almost deserted street with only one house still occupied, the home of a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) who supposedly was given a large cash settlement by the family of a rich girl who ran over and killed his daughter. Thinking it easy money, the three break into the man’s home one night. But the man turns out to be far more dangerous than they realize and soon has them trapped inside his house with the intent they never leave.

Co-written with his Evil Dead co-scribe Rodo Sayagues, Alvarez crafts a very suspenseful and intense game of cat and mouse inside the Detroit house that gets started quickly and never gives up till it’s unsettling last moments. Alvarez gives us a claustrophobic and isolated setting by placing the house on a deserted block and making great use of the desolated Detroit setting to give it atmosphere. He then has his ex-soldier seal our three thieves inside, where he knows the layout and they…and we…don’t. Alvarez also uses the character’s blindness to set up nerve-wracking moments, as our thieves try to quietly elude him and then he clever turns off the power to turn the odds in his favor. There are also some moments of brutal violence that really punctuate the intensity of the proceedings, as the director plays with the home invasion formula by turning our intended victim into the monster and the invaders into the victims. This works well due to the way his characters are written. While Money is basically a street thug, Alex has a conscience and a heart, which keeps him likable and Levy’s Rocky is only stealing to get enough money to take her little sister out of Detroit and away from her alcoholic mother. This makes them sympathetic, despite their criminal activity, yet Alvarez still puts them through the ringer for them to truly earn our empathy. If the brutal pursuit through the three floors of the old house isn’t enough, Alvarez has a late reveal that adds a really disturbing angle to a simple theft gone awry story…one that will have you squirming as much as Levy’s Rocky was…and turns the blind soldier into a true fiend. And it works very well. As with Evil DeadAlvarez accents his story with a great visual eye. His settings and shots are captured stylishly by the lens of Pedro Luque and Evil Dead composer Roque Baños returns for an atmospheric score. It all adds up to a suspenseful, intense and very atmospheric thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat and squirming in it too!

Alvarez has assembled a small but very effective cast for his sophomore film for Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures. Evil Dead leading lady Jane Levy is very strong as the street smart Rocky. She is convincing in that she is stealing only out of love for her little sister and she moves from thief to anti-hero to heroine very well. Her Rocky is really put through Hell, just as her Mia was in the 2013 horror remake and she really provides us again with a strong character to root for, even if she, like Mia, isn’t the sweet girl next door. Levy has a unique way of combining an intensity with a sensitivity that deserves more spotlight roles. Daniel Zovatto, who was the kindly Greg in It Follows, plays basically a street thug and does play him well. He has his charisma, but is not a good guy and the one we least feel sorry for when the poop hits the fan. Dylan Minnette’s Alex seems almost too nice to be part of this group, but it is made known he crushes on Rocky and is betraying his security company father most likely to be close to her. It succeeds in keeping him likable and he proves once again he is a charming actor with an appealing screen persona. This would not work if our blind ex-soldier, whose name is never given, wasn’t convincing as a monster and Stephen Lang once again is a strong bad guy. He is sympathetic at first, then let’s us know that this man is still lethally dangerous, even with his war injury handicap and then becomes a full blown fiend once the movie progresses. His soldier is filled with menace and threat and once we get the full picture, any feelings that this guy is just protecting what’s his, go out the window and it works thanks to an intense performance from a skilled actor.

I really liked this movie and it proves to me Fede Alvarez is a filmmaker to keep a close eye on. I really enjoyed his remake of Sam Raimi’s horror classic and certainly enjoyed the results now of a film entirely his own. This is an intense, brutally violent and sometimes twisted thriller that turns a home invasion into a house of horrors with a strong cast to back up the director’s vision and story. A solid thriller and one of the few films to live up to early word in the summer of 2016 movie season.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 turkey basters…you’ll have to see the movie!

dont breathe rating

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