BARE BONES: THE GOOD NEIGHBOR (2016)

MZNJ_bareBones_Marquee

now playing

Humerus-Bone1

THE GOOD NEIGHBOR (2016)

Thriller finds two youths, Ethan (Logan Miller) and Sean (It Follows’ Keir Gilchrist), performing an ‘experiment’ on their reclusive, grumpy old neighbor, Mr. Grainey (James Caan). They rig his house with camera’s and hack into his systems and record as they try to convince the old man his home is haunted. As the experiment progresses, not only do the boys start to believe their neighbor is harboring some dark secret, but the prank/experiment starts to become more and more mean-spirited as Ethan increasingly becomes obsessed with his cantankerous neighbor.

Film is well directed by Kasra Farahani from a script by Mark Bianculli and Jeff Richard. It uses the found footage format part of the time and then switches to real time as we find ourselves in a courtroom where we realize this ‘prank’ ended badly somehow. During the course of the film we slowly find out what happened in the house and we also get some interesting reveals about our subject, his tormentors and their motivations. Not all is as it seems and Farahani and the script slowly unveil, using the two boys’ footage, what these events led up to and use some well-placed flashbacks to let us know what really was Grainey’s ‘secret’. It’s moderately paced, which works for this type of film, and if the ending isn’t completely satisfying, it’s only because it’s more true to life than one might want to admit. A solid thriller that is spooky at times and tragic and sad at others.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

Humerus-Bone1

bars
Advertisements

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

MZNJ_SNDF

now playing

 double-feature_db_neighbor

bars

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…

now playing

dont breathe

bars

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

plus

neighbor

bars

THE NEIGHBOR (2016)

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

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.

raid rating
bars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE NEIGHBOR (2016)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

neighbor

bars

THE NEIGHBOR (2016)

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

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 Double Feature Tip: Don’t Breathe, which would make a great co-feature, is down the road on home media, so I’d pair this up with Bound To Vengeance for a night of vicious and suspenseful crime thrillers.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 bullets.

raid rating

 

bars

BARE BONES: BORN and COMPLIANCE

MZNJ_bareBones_Marquee

now playing

Humerus-Bone1

born

BORN (2007)

Unintentionally hilarious horror stars Alison Brie (Sleeping WIth Other People) as a virginal young woman who is impregnated by a demon at her mother’s funeral…don’t ask. Now as she falls under her unborn child’s evil influence, she goes on a killing spree to supply six victims for it’s birthing ritual.

Low budget horror is as stupid as it sounds and as filled with clichés as you’d expect and gets more and more ridiculous as it goes on. Star Brie recites some side split-tingly awful dialog and goes completely over the top in scenes that are meant to be shocking and scary, but provide rib-tickling laughs instead. The sex scene is worth watching this for alone… you’ll laugh till you cry…as is the scene where her water breaks and it looks like green dishwashing liquid! And the whole thing is meant to be serious! Epic fail for them!…Win, win for us!

Also starring Denise Crosby and genre favorite Kane Hodder who actually looks embarrassed to be in this. Crack open your favorite brew and enjoy this schlock-fest.

Oh…and for those watching for the charming Alison Brie, there’s good and bad news…the Community star does get to kiss another girl and talk hilariously dirty during a sex scene, but sadly uses an obvious body double for the brief nude scenes. Below rating is purely for ‘so bad it’s good’ entertainment value.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

Humerus-Bone1

compliance

COMPLIANCE (2012)

A disturbing thriller based on supposedly true events about a mean spirited prank pulled on the employees of a fast food restaurant. A caller (Pat Healy), claiming to be a police officer, tells manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) that one of her employees, Becky (Dreama Walker) has committed a theft and needs to be searched and detained. The caller asks Sandra and her staff to do increasingly humiliating things to Becky all under the guise that it is part of a criminal investigation and none of them seem to have the courage to question the increasingly depraved acts until it’s too late.

Compliance is a tough movie to sit through and it would be hard to believe that people could be stupid enough to go along with such a horrible prank for as long as they did, except for the fact that it is all taken from a case in 2004 at a Mc Donald’s in Fort Washington, Kentucky. Craig Zobel writes and directs the story fairly straightforward and he gets good performances out of his cast and the result is a disturbing movie that is tough to sit through…even more so, because it actually happened. Not a great film. The aftermath seems rushed after the film took it’s time portraying the events, but it is still effective and fairly well made.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

Humerus-Bone1

bars

BARE BONES: SACRIFICE, KRÜEL and TREEHOUSE

MZNJ_bareBones_Marquee

now playing

Humerus-Bone1

sacrifice

SACRIFICE (2016)

When Dr. Tora Hamilton (Radha Mitchell) moves to rural Scotland to live with her husband (Rupert Graves) in his ancestral homeland, it’s not soon after that she finds the body of a woman buried in her backyard. With the victim’s heart removed and strange runes carved in the flesh, it has all the markings of a ritualistic killing. The local officials seem to want to brush it off as a relic of the past, but Tora feels the corpse is far fresher than implied. As she begins her own investigation, she discovers not only a conspiracy, but the possibility that ancient ritualistic killings are still being conducted. Worse still, someone doesn’t want the truth revealed and Tora might be the next victim to silence her.

Written and directed by Peter A. Dowling from Sharon Bolton’s book, flick plays like a Lifetime drama with a female main character battling a dangerous conspiracy that may include someone close to her. It’s well done and the actors do adequate work, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before and many times. It adds nothing new to the ‘stranger in a strange land uncovering evil’ scenario and as thrillers go, is very routine and by-the-numbers. It’s never boring, but is predictable and lacks any real energy or innovation to keep it fresh. An OK diversion if there is nothing else on.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

Humerus-Bone1

kruel

KRÜEL (2015)

Pretty teen babysitter Jo (Kierney Nelson) has an unsettling run-in with a creepy ice cream man complete with clown face-paint and inappropriate advances towards her. Soon after, one of her charges, little Elliot, disappears on her watch and is thought drowned in a nearby lake. While Jo is devastated, she also believes the creepy ice cream man had something to do with the little boy’s disappearance. She starts her own investigation with her ex-boyfriend Ben (Dakota Morrissiey) and soon finds that odd loner Willie (J.T. Cinn) maybe be the suspect. As she investigates the strange local man further, she realizes she might have put herself in mortal danger.

Dull flick from writer/director Robert Henderson puts too much emphasis on the soap opera relationship between Jo and Ben and the sappy personal dramas going on, than actually trying to generate suspense or scares. It’s slow paced with some wooden acting from the cast and even peppers it’s soft-lit melodramatic scenes with cheesy piano music. Add in some awful dialog and every cliché you can think of and this is a tedious flick at just over 90 minutes. We know from the start who the creepy clown is, so its no surprise and we also know he will eventually get his mitts on the Nancy Drew-like Jo. It’s also quite obvious that this town has the laziest police force on the planet, who won’t investigate even when it is apparent that the plucky babysitter is in trouble. There actually is some creepy life to the scenes with Jo held in the backwoods campground that is Willie’s home, but it is over too soon and blows a chance for a daring ending by wrapping everything up in a neat and pretty bow. Dull, unoriginal and ends just as it was starting to be effective. Actress Kierney Nelson also produced.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

Humerus-Bone1

treehouse

TREEHOUSE (2014)

Despite there being a curfew in town due to some recent disappearances, two brothers, Killian (J. Michael Trautmann) and Crawford (Daniel Fredrick) sneak out to join friends in shooting off fireworks in the nearby woods. When their friends don’t arrive, the brothers explore the area and discover an old treehouse. Inside they discover one of the missing teens Elzabeth (Dana Melanie) who is hiding there from some deranged individuals who have now set their sights on all three of them.

Film is directed competently by Michael Bartlett from a script by Miles Harrington and Alex Child. It’s a mildly entertaining entry in the psycho redneck sub-genre and has some suspenseful and effective scenes, if overall nothing new. The acting is decent enough with pretty Dana Melaine showing some potential as the strong-willed country girl Elizabeth. There are definitely some questions left unanswered, such as to why the trio of vicious rednecks don’t just go in the treehouse and finish them. There are also some conveniences that stick out, like the crash of a police car that enables our young protagonists to become armed. Add to that a very sudden ending that doesn’t quite complete the story and the film could have been more satisfying. There is some good stuff, too as the film is visually atmospheric and our villains are effectively sadistic and we do get hints as to why they have suddenly been unleashed upon the surrounding area. Overall, an amusing enough diversion, if not derivative and forgettable.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

Humerus-Bone1

bars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: RATTER (2015)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

ratter

bars

RATTER (2015)

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

“Ratter” is a term referring to an animal used to catch rats, like a cat or dog. It is also an urban slang term that has multiple meanings. It can be used to describe someone, usually female, who has had many sexual partners, a woman’s lady parts, someone that pisses you off, or according to this film’s trailer, “a hacker who hijacks a computer or device to watch unsuspecting victims.” Obviously the latter applies here, as the film focuses on the cyber-stalking of the very pretty, girl-next-door Emma (Ashley Benson). Emma has just moved to NYC from Wisconsin for college. Unknown to the young woman, an anonymous stalker has hacked into her communication devices and watches her every move from her cellphone or laptop. Soon Emma begins to realize someone is invading her privacy as the mysterious individual enters every aspect of her life…including her apartment.

While it is short on any big scares, writer/director Branden Kramer’s thriller does get under your skin with it’s depiction of a sweet young girl being watched continuously in her every private moment. It plays very much like Eric Nicholas’  2006 Alone With Her, which featured a similar story of a young woman being stalked, initially without her knowledge. In Ratter, Kramer decides to tell his tale completely from Emma’s phone and laptop, much like the equally chilling 2013 The Denwhich warned of what lurks in chatrooms. Here the warning is of how easily traceable people have become with not being able to go anywhere or do anything without their faithful cellphone nearby. We watch the drama unfold completely from the stalker’s point of view. At first Emma is totally unaware of her secret admirer, as he watches her in the bathroom and while she’s sleeping, even snapping pictures of her in private moments with her own cellphone. It is creepy and it should be. The tension builds as this person starts to make his presence known through inappropriate e-mails, silent phone calls and harassing her, all the while framing Mike (Matt McGorry), a young man from school whom she’s just started seeing. Things get even creepier as we watch him enter Emma’s apartment while she’s out and even while she’s there asleep. Her privacy is completely stripped away and is invaded when she is at her most vulnerable. It’s all the more unnerving as it seems random, as if it could happen to anyone. Kramer makes an unsettling film and while it could have been a bit more intense, the slow simmering burn does work and we are quite uncomfortable with watching this girl being observed from her own devices and then slowly falling apart when she finds out, she’s being stalked. It’s spooky, more so because it happens.

The flick is far from perfect. There are some instances that are a bit cliché…like Emma getting a cat whose fate we know is sealed from the moment we meet it…and a plot point about an important message the stalker deletes concerning a crucial meeting, is just forgotten about. It also ends a bit abruptly, but it’s climax is effective as this obviously was leading to some sort of confrontation. Not a nailbiting thriller, but a subtly unnerving little movie about the negative side-effects of having everything we own connect through cyberspace and how easily our privacy can be invaded by someone with a little computer savvy and a demented mind.

While we do have a couple of supporting characters, the flick is mostly all on Ashley Benson’s shoulders and she carries it well. Benson is very good at quickly creating a likable character, so we care what happens to her from early on. Emma is smart and sweet and very pretty and since we like her, we cringe when the creepy invader is snapping pictures of her feet while she shaves her legs or simply as she sleeps unaware…all with her own laptop and cellphone. Benson then ups the intensity when Emma discovers she’s being stalked and we get a girl who starts to come apart with paranoia and fear.  Again, the film could have been a bit more intense, but Miss Benson gets a lot out of what she has to work with. Matt McGorry is likable as Mike, the boy Emma starts to date and her stalker starts to hate and Rebecca Naomi Jones is spunky as Emma’s friend Nicole from school. A very small cast and they are all good.

Overall, I liked this flick as an entertaining evening on the couch. The cyber-stalking thing isn’t really new anymore, nor is watching the proceedings from our subjects’ devices. The thought of someone watching us while we are unaware, is still unsettling, as is the thought of someone in our homes while we slumber…and Branden Kramer does use these creepy tropes well. Add in a solid leading lady and it’s an unnerving enough 80 minutes though never truly as frightening as the premise would suggest or we’d hoped it would be.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 laptops.

unfriended rating

 

bars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE HARVEST (2013)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

harvest

bars

THE HARVEST (2013)

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

Thriller is the return to the director’s chair of James McNaughton, who is most known for the cult classic Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer. The story is of Andy (Charlie Tahan), a very ill young boy who lives a secluded and guarded life in his rural home. His over-protective mother Katherine (Samantha Morton) is a doctor and surgeon herself and oversees his treatment while his meek father Richard (Michael Shannon) follows along. A young girl named Maryann (Natasha Calis) moves into a house nearby and becomes curious about her reclusive young neighbor. She visits Andy and the two quickly bond. Katherine, however, takes a very quick dislike to this new development and as Maryann continually finds ways to see Andy, Katherine’s behavior becomes more unhinged and aggressive. Worst still, while hiding from Katherine in the basement of the house, Maryann makes a shocking discovery that could not only turn Andy’s odd life upside down but, quite possibly mean he’s in danger as well!

McNaughton directs Stephen Lancellotti’s script well enough, though, there should have been more tension and suspense, especially in the last act. The story starts out almost as some kind of Lifetime drama about an ill boy befriending a spirited girl then turns into something more like Misery when Katherine’s behavior degenerates and she starts to go all Kathy Bates. There are some very disturbing moments here, especially with the big reveal about two thirds of the way through. What we discover is unexpected, a bit twisted and takes an even more bizarre turn later on. While it is very unsettling, the film never gets truly as intense as it should considering what is happening and what is at stake. It becomes a bit of a fight for life that just felt like it needed more urgency. The film also comes to a sad and tragic “Frankenstein-ish” climax that is oddly appropriate, though that gets a bit neutered somewhat by a corny, happy ending last scene that almost feels tacked on. McNaughton is given upsetting enough material to work with here, but, never really brings it to a full boil to really make this thriller the gut punch it should be. It’s a little too laid back. It still works well though, and George S. Clinton provides an atmospheric score and there is crisp cinematography from Rachel Morrison in support of the story and it’s events.

The acting from the cast is very good with Samantha Morton really delivering a disturbing performance as the unstable Katherine. She goes from concerned and a bit smothering to overbearing, paranoid and outright psychopathic by the story’s end. While she does remind us of Kathy Bates’ Annie, she is all the more frightening as she is a mother and a doctor and her behavior contradicts both by her actions. Michael Shannon is intriguing as Richard. A docile man who has gone along with his much stronger-willed wife for far too long and it is starting to break him. No more evident than his tolerance of Maryann and his affair with a pretty drug company rep (Meadow Williams) which seems in direct rebellion to Katherine’s demented wishes. Natasha Calis is very good as Maryann. A strong-willed young girl and quite feisty and resourceful in her fight to free Andy from his suffering at his parents’ hands…even without much support from the adults around her. As Andy, Charlie Tahan gives us a frail and sympathetic young man who we care about, especially when we find out the hidden truths Maryann uncovers. He also can be quite rebellious in his own way, when he wants to be. Rounding out are Leslie Lyles and Peter Fonda who are perfectly charming as Maryann’s kindly grandparents who, unfortunately, don’t seem in a hurry to get involved when Maryann tells of Andy’s plight.

Despite needing a bit more intensity to the proceedings this is a disturbing thriller and a very well-acted one. There are some unsettling revelations that are legitimately surprising and very likable characters in Andy and Maryann. Samantha Morton creates a character that is both Mommie Dearest and Dr. Frankenstein and even if the film needed a bit more strength, she creates a very unnerving portrayal, as does Michael Shannon as a man who has been following her lead for far too long. A film that entertains and disturbs even if not fully living up to it’s potential or the reputation of it’s director.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 scalpels.

harvest rating

bars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE DEVIL MAY CALL (2013)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

devil may call

bars

THE DEVIL MAY CALL (2013)

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

Thriller has an interesting story. Sam (Corri English) is a young blind woman who works the night shift at the ‘Here For You’ crisis center. One of her regular callers is a brooding man named John (Tyler Mane) who none of the other councilors wants to deal with. Sam is working her last night at the center and when co-worker Valerie (Traci Lords) takes a call from John, she let’s it slip to the emotionally disturbed man that it is Sam’s last day. Now John has become unhinged and unknown to the pretty young Sam, he is heading to the crisis center to exact revenge for what he sees as a betrayal. Also unknown to Sam and her co-workers is that John is a full fledged serial killer and already has a trail of bodies in his wake.

Devil May Call is actually a fairly engaging little thriller as written by Jason Cuadrado and Wyatt Doyle and directed by Cuadrado. There are a few disturbing moments and some suspense, especially because we know right away that John is a killer yet, the compassionate Sam does not. The fact that Sam is blind adds to the tension and makes her especially vulnerable, but also makes her resilience seem stronger when she fights back. The film also has a more intimate scope, as it really has only two locations, John’s home and in and around the office building where Sam works. This gives it a somewhat claustrophobic feel and serves the film’s small budget, as well. There is some disturbing violence, but nothing too over the top and thus the film stays somewhat grounded. The flick is not perfect. There are some plot holes such as, if John cut off the building’s power then why do the elevators still work? Never having seen Sam, how does he know who she is? He seems to know who she’s not, even before hearing the sound of people’s voices. There is also a scene where Sam crawls across a floor covered with broken glass, cutting her hands when all she had to do was stand up, which she doesn’t do till she exits the room. It makes no sense and exploit’s Sam’s blindness simply for effect.

As for the small cast, they are all pretty good. Corri English, as Sam, comes across as a sweet but strong and independent young woman, despite her handicap and gives us a resilient and likable heroine to root and fear for. Tyler Mane is imposing and intimidating as the disturbed John and he has a nice screen presence and conveys a demented mind suitably. Van Hansis is good as office newbie and Sam love interest, Jess. He’s a likable enough character who tries to protect Sam when John invades the office. Traci Lords is also endearing as Sam’s cat lady co-worker Valerie who sadly provokes John by telling him about Sam’s last day at work. A perfectly adequate cast for an intimate low budget thriller like this.

I enjoyed this little flick. It’s not great, there are some plot holes and lapses in logic. But it also has a good cast, and some likable characters, as well as, an imposing villain. It’s got a story that’s a bit different than the usual serial killer formula, with it’s crisis center setting and has some disturbing and suspenseful moments. Overall, an entertaining enough flick that may not stay with you for long, or be especially memorable, but it is an engaging 80+ minutes with a few nice chills. Not bad for a night on the couch viewing.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 helplines.

devil may call rating

bars

REVIEW: OPEN WINDOWS (2014)

MZNJ_New_review

now playing

open-windows

bars

OPEN WINDOWS (2014)

Open Windows is an interesting and sometimes, effective thriller written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo who also wrote and directed the clever 2007 Timecrimes. The film opens with nerdy Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood) in his hotel room watching a convention event for the film Dark Sky: The Third Wave on his laptop. Nick runs a fan website for the film’s star, the beautiful Jill Goddard (ex-porn star Sasha Grey) and is there because he entered a contest and won a date with his obsession. Nick is suddenly contacted online by a person known only as Chord (Neil Maskell) who informs him that Miss Goddard has canceled the date and that he sympathizes with Nick and would like to let him have a little fun with the actress for his troubles. He begins to hack into all her personal feeds such as phone, e-mail, surveillance cameras, home computer and, at first, Nick is stunned but amused by this voyeuristic invasion of his dream girl’s privacy. Things take a malicious turn, though, and soon Nick finds himself in the middle of some twisted game that involves harassment, torment, kidnapping and possibly murder…and Chord has let all cyber trails lead to Nick as the one responsible.

The first half of this movie had me. It was disturbing and creepy and made me appropriately uncomfortable as we watch a woman’s privacy and life invaded unknowingly and then having her manipulated and tormented by some unseen individual, with an innocent set up to take the blame. Vigalondo cleverly tells his story of stalking, taken to a vicious level, through the various open windows on Nick’s laptop as Chord pulls him into his twisted game. Unfortunately, the writer/director gets a bit overindulgent and the story gets far too complicated for it’s own good with the last act just getting convoluted and silly. A simple plot of a man forced to watch his female fantasy stalked and tormented by some mysterious and malicious individual was working just fine but, then we get the inclusion of a trio of French hackers, who seem only to exist as a plot device, and a fourth master criminal/hacker named Nevada who only exists to set up some last act plot twists. The film was doing just fine as a intimate thriller and suddenly it becomes a cyber James Bond/Jason Bourne flick compete with car chases and explosions and multiple…and unnecessary…plot diversions. The last act is literally out of one of the lesser James Bond flicks with secret hideouts, damsels in distress and an overconfident, pontificating villain. It becomes a comic book spy movie all told from Nick’s laptop, of which the novelty has worn off. It’s just silly. Sometimes less is more and Vigalondo should have stuck with his simple premise and found a smaller and less overloaded way to play it out. Sometimes a director having his cake and eating it too is far too filling for his audience and it certainly is the case here as a good thriller is drowned in excess.

The somewhat small cast are pretty good, at least. Elijah Wood does good work establishing his nerdy, lovelorn Jill Goddard fan, Nick, who becomes terrified as to what he let himself get dragged into. Even when the plot starts to spin out of control, he presents an unlikely hero as he tries to outwit this mysterious Chord and come to Jill’s rescue. As Jill, Grey is fine. She ‘s a bit rough around the edges but, she gives us a starlet who is a bit of a bitch but, not enough that we don’t sympathize with her when she is becoming victimized. She’s a very pretty girl, does have some screen presence and she fits the part and with more experience could be a good actress. As Chord, Neil Maskell is creepy and threatening…especially since most of his performance is vocal…and, once we meet him, a bit pathetic. Though, I didn’t quite buy that such a clever creep was so easily fooled when some of the plot twists come. It’s an effective enough cast that keeps you far more invested in the goings on…especially after the story spirals into it’s overindulgent final act…than you should be.

In conclusion, I was entertained and the film didn’t completely loose me but, really neutered it’s effective first half by getting so overly complicated in it’s second. The use of computer windows and computer simulations to tell it’s story was very well done and clever but, it’s too bad Vigalondo got too giddy with adding complex twists, unnecessary characters, car chases, crashes and explosions. It becomes a completely different film in it’s second half and one not nearly as effective, even if it still is a little fun. Worth a look but, disappointing when it’s set-up and initial sequences were working so well.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 laptops.

open windows rating

bars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: BURNING BRIGHT (2010)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

burning-bright-movie-poster

bars

BURNING BRIGHT (2010)

Burning Bright is named after a verse in a poem by William Blake titled The Tyger and as this film is about a young woman and her little brother tapped inside a house with such a beast, it is quite appropriate for this surprisingly effective horror/thriller.

The film takes place in Florida and opens with the purchase of a Bengal tiger by John Gaveneau (Garret Dillahunt) from a shady individual (Meatloaf) for a safari exhibit he plans to open. We then cut to pretty Kelly (Briana Evigan) trying to find care for her 12 year old autistic brother Thomas (Charlie Tahan), so she can take advantage of a scholarship she’s been offered. But The money from her recently deceased mother’s account is gone, taken by her step-father, the predator purchasing John. An argument ensues when she returns to the house, but that is nothing compared to waking up the next morning to find the home boarded up for an approaching category 3 hurricane and… that she and Thomas have a very large feline guest sealed inside with them. It seems John needs all the cash he can to turn the family property into that little safari attraction and he’s not above taking out life insurance policies on Kelly and Thomas and locking them inside the house with his latest and very hungry acquisition to ensure their demise and an insurance check. Now Kelly must somehow fend for her life and her little brother’s against one of the world’s most dangerous predators with nowhere to run and no way out.

While the story might be a little convoluted, director Carlos Brooks gives us some really intense action sequences and some nail-biting suspense scenes as Kelly tries to outwit and escape the hungry predator in a limited space. A laundry chute scene is one of the film’s highlights. He makes really good use of the isolated setting of Christine Coyle Johnson, Julie Prendiville Roux and David Higgins’ script and successfully creates the atmosphere of being trapped, isolated and in constant danger. The plot device of there being a raging hurricane outside adds to the tension, but also provides a legitimate excuse for the windows to be boarded up well before Kelly and Thomas go to bed for the night, eliminating the implausibility of it being done without waking them. The director establishes the layout of the house quickly and thus we know where Kelly is going and yet, also where the tiger might be coming from…might. The house is small enough to be claustrophobic yet, large enough so the stalking cat can uncomfortably disappear at times. Brooks creates a true game of cat and mouse between the beast and the very resourceful Kelly, who not only has to deal with the tiger, but an uncooperative autistic brother who tends to wander off or get difficult at the worst possible moments. It’s a plot device that works very well. The use of real tigers in the production also adds to realism and thus the suspense, and the film looks very good on what was probably a modest budget.

Also helping Brooks make this work and so well, is a really strong performance by young Briana Evigan. The daughter of TV actor Greg Evigan, does a great job carrying the film on her shoulders and really sells the character of a woman who is terrified but resourceful and determined enough to fight to survive. She also comes across very genuine, early on, as a young woman who loves her brother very much yet, needs to make difficult decisions concerning him, so she can move forward in her own life. I can’t stress how this movie would not have worked as well without Miss Evigan nailing the feisty, intelligent, strong-willed and compassionate Kelly. Young New Jersey native Charlie Tahan does a really good job of portraying the mentally challenged Thomas and his realistic portrayal makes it work when, the boy ignores immediate danger to get difficult. The character is also treated with respect to the condition portrayed, so it never veers into exploitation territory or appears insensitive. Gaveneau has very little screen time, but you get the impression that the guy is a weenie and a douche, so he makes a successful villain even though he is absent through most of the flick. A good cast with a very impressive leading lady and three very effective feline actors portraying our creature in question.

Overall, this is a very suspenseful and entertaining movie and a very underrated and unappreciated horror. Sure the plot to kill Kelly and Thomas seems a bit extravagant, though it earns points for inventiveness. The film has some flaws, such as the plot element of Kelly feeding the animal raw hamburger with sleeping (?) pills mixed in that goes nowhere, but skilled direction from Carlos Brooks and a dynamite performance from our leading lady turn this into a first rate thriller that never lets up. Recommended for a fun and nail-biting 90 minutes that is a bit of a change from the usual horror! The DVD also has a nice documentary about the making of the film and we get to meet our three feline actors and see how they were cleverly composited into the scenes with Evigan, who is also interviewed.

3 very big kittys.

burning bright rating

bars