BARE BONES: TIME NOW (2021)

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TIME NOW (2021)

Time Now is an indie drama with a thriller element, as single mother Jenny (Eleanor Lambert) returns home to Detroit to reunite with her estranged family after the death of her twin brother Victor (Sebastian Beacon) in a car accident. There are hard feelings and resentment on both sides, but as Jenny tries to reconnect with her family and meets with some of Victor’s friends, she comes to believe that something is not right with Victor’s death.

Flick is written and directed by Spencer King from his own script and he wisely avoids the theatrical melodrama that studio dramas of this type can have and that would only serve to distance audiences from the matters at hand. It’s played very low key and thus on a more realistic level, as Jenny confronts her family and faces not only some resentment on their part, but some of her own guilt and hard feelings over not having had a better relationship with her artist brother. Then there is the added caveat of mystery, as Jenny starts to get the feeling Victor’s DUI death behind the wheel, may not be the whole story. Again, the flick avoids theatrics and presents a slow burn as Jenny is trying to deal with family issues while investigating what happen to her sibling on that fateful night. Sometimes the flick is a little too laid back for it’s own good and as a result, the last act reveal is almost anti-climactic. It should have had more of a punch than it does. The flick rebounds with a last scene that does give us some stronger emotional resonance in which to leave us with, as the credits roll. Overall, this is an interesting and simmering indie flick with a strong performance from leading lady Eleanor Lambert, who is surrounded by a solid cast of fresh faces in support. Flick opens in limited theatrical release and On Demand on 10/26/21!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: DON’T BREATHE 2 (2021)

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DON’T BREATHE 2 (2021)

Flick takes place about eight years, or so, after the events of the first film. The Blind Man (Stephen Lang) is living in a remote house with young orphaned girl Phoenix (Madelyn Grace) whom he rescued—sort of—from a fire and now has raised as his own daughter. When a group of thugs invade his home to kidnap Phoenix, The Blind Man once again goes on the violent offensive. Things get complicated when one of the invaders, Raylan (Brandan Sexton III), turns out to be Phoenix’s real father.

Sequel is co-written by the first film’s director Fede Álvarez along with Rodo Sayagues, who takes over the directing reigns here and does a fine job of matching the look and feel of the gritty and violent original. For those concerned that The Blind Man—now called Norman—was going to be portrayed as a hero here, he’s not a good guy by any means, but those he goes up against are just as bad or worse. Their intentions for Phoenix are the furthest thing from a family reunion and despite “Norman” being a villain himself, you don’t mind seeing bad guy vs worse guys, when he comes to rescue his kidnapped “daughter”—whom he technically kidnapped himself. It’s vicious and very violent and while it does seem like a cash grab sequel, it also entertains in a basic way—if one is looking for some savage violence perpetrated against people who basically deserve it. Lang is good, once again, as the twisted Blind Man and Sexton and crew make perfectly acceptable deviants for him to go up against and violently dispatch. Young Madelyn Grace impresses as Phoenix, whom Norman has trained with survival skills, and Stephanie Arcila is likable as a fellow war veteran and friend of Norman and Phoenix, Hernandez, a good character who had far too little screen time. In the end, after all the bone-crushing violence, it may be a forgettable sequel, but Rodo Sayagues at least shows he did pay attention well to collaborator Álvarez’s work. Watch through the credits. Now available on VOD platforms such as Amazon Prime.
 

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SUPERHOST (2021)

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SUPERHOST (2021)

Disturbing yet fun flick finds travel vloggers and couple Teddy (Osric Chau) and Claire (Sara Canning) picking a remote house in the woods for the next installment of their failing vlog, Superhost. The home is owned by Rebecca (Gracie Gillam) a woman who seems a bit eccentric to say the least. The longer Claire and Teddy stay, the more they begin to feel something isn’t right in this house and something is certainly very wrong with their Superhost, Rebecca.

Flick is written and directed by Brandon Christensen (ZStill/Born) and despite being a familiar story, it is still a very effective and entertaining horror. Christensen lets us know from the start that something isn’t right with Rebecca and we know where it is all headed from the moment they get there, but unlike Teddy and Claire, this is about the ride and not the destination. What a ride it is, as we slowly find out, along with the couple, just how deranged Rebecca is and what she’s prepared to do—aside from what we find out she’s already done. What starts out as unsettlingly eccentric becomes diabolical and viciously violent, as the two are stranded in the middle of nowhere with the demented Rebecca watching their every move and listening to their every word. It’s a creepy fun flick, though it does get straight-up disturbing and bloodily violent before the credits roll. Christensen has a nice visual eye and creates an atmosphere of dread from very early on, then delivers a suspenseful and blood-spattered last act that might have you spilling your popcorn here and there—or even laughing uncomfortably in a few spots.

The small cast really helps make this work! Gracie Gillam, who, under her former stage name of Grace Phipps, starred in Some Kind of Hate, Dark Summer and Tales of Halloween, gives an over-the-top tour de force performance as the demented Rebecca. She’s unsettlingly cute and energetic one moment and full-blown vicious psychopath the next. She nears Heath Ledger Joker heights at times with her ability to change levels of crazy at the drop of a hat and being equally scary both in her exaggerated moments and in the calm ones, too. She and The Loved One’s Lola could be roommates no problem. Osric Chau is very likable as Teddy. Teddy is the weaker and more emotional of the couple, but is sweet and sympathetic. Claire is the more ambitious and business minded of the two…and the stronger. She sees Rebecca as prime ratings subject matter and is willing to continue with the episode long after Teddy’s alarms are going off about the alleged homeowner. Sara Canning plays her well and yet keeps her likable, despite her putting the vlog before boyfriend Teddy. Rounding out the cast is horror legend Barbara Crampton, who plays Vera, a woman with a grudge against Claire and Teddy. A solid cast!

Overall, this may be a familiar story and there is no doubt how this is going to end up, but it is a chilling hoot getting there. Brandon Christensen proves yet again he is a skilled director who can freshen up familiar tales and provide some nice atmosphere, chills and suspense. He has definitely become a filmmaker to keep an eye on. The small cast all perform well, with a delightfully demented performance from horror veteran Gracie Gillam. Superhost is now streaming exclusively on Shudder!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 1/2 (out of 4) Superhosts.

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BARE BONES: TILL DEATH (2021)

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TILL DEATH (2021)

In an effort to rekindle a failing marriage, Mark (Eoin Macken) takes his wife Emma (Megan Fox) to a secluded cabin of theirs. In the morning, Mark handcuffs himself to Emma then commits suicide. Soon Emma finds out Mark was in trouble with the law, knew she was cheating on him with his employee Tom (Aml Ameen), and that this is all part of a last act of revenge. Worse still, two shady associates of Mark’s, Bobby and Jimmy (Callan Mulvey and Jack Roth), show up and are looking for a passcode to a hidden safe…a code only Emma may know. Now she must somehow elude these dangerous men while still handcuffed to Mark’s body.

Flick is solidly directed by S.K. Dale from a script by Jason Carvey and overcomes any silliness by simply telling it’s story well. It’s an entertaining enough thriller with some nice suspense, a bit of graphic violence and enough smarts to know when to milk it’s premise and when to cut Emma loose. Fox makes a strong and resourceful heroine and Mulvey a dangerous and effective villain as Bobby. There are some weak spots, like Bobby’s brother Jimmy having a change of heart at exactly the most convenient moment, but otherwise it’s an involving enough thriller, with a solid game of cat and mouse between the resilient Emma and her foes. It’s moves quickly and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome at an economical 88 minutes in length. An entertaining watch on the couch. Available to stream on Amazon Prime.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR (2020)

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THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR (2020)

Thriller has two young boys, Kevin (Ezra Dewey) and Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) kidnaped by a strange woman (Kristen Bauer van Straten) and her creepy accomplice (Micah Hauptman). Bobby is left to suffocate in the trunk of the car, while Kevin is taken and imprisoned inside a house. Resilient Bobby escapes his fate and instead of running away, enters the house with every intent of freeing his friend.

As written and directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell, this is no Home Alone but a brutal and intense thriller about a young boy fighting for his life and that of his friend. There is some startling violence and bloodshed, as the tough and tenacious Bobby fights against two nasty individuals who had no problem leaving him to die a horrible death. Kevin is the far more timid of the two and is also incumbered by a shock collar that is activated by sensors in the house. This leaves it mostly Bobby’s fight, even once the two boys are reunited. The cast is really good here. with Lonnie Chavis doing a fantastic job as the tough but likable Bobby. This kid goes through some rough stuff and performs it well. Ezra Dewey is sympathetic as the weaker Kevin, who is traumatized by what is happening and also performs it well. Van Straten and Haupton make for disturbing and effective villains, as a pair who not only traffic in children, but have no problem tormenting or killing them. This is a brutal, violent and suspenseful thriller, all the more effective as it involves two kids and doesn’t hold back because of it. It’s a rough watch, with some tough subject matter, but a very intense and well made thriller from this promising directing duo. Filmmakers to watch Charbonier and Powell also directed Ezra Dewey in IFC Midnight’s spooky The Djinn released just last May. The Boy Behind The Door is now streaming on Shudder. 

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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BARE BONES: 1BR (2019)

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1BR (2019)

Pretty Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) moves out on her own to LA. to escape some drama at home and start a new life. She moves into a gated community and soon finds out her dream apartment is a nightmare…one she may not escape.

Disturbing thriller is written and effectively directed by David Marmor. It’s an unsettling look at cults and their sometimes extreme methods of conditioning new prospects. Sarah is held prisoner and physically and mentally abused till she fits in as the perfect neighbor. The scenes of her “indoctrination” into the fold are not easy to watch, but Marmor knows when enough is enough and doesn’t linger on the unpleasantness. There is some cruelty and some violence, but we see just enough to have an effect, but not enough to numb us to it. Marmor balances it very well and it’s chilling to see unfold. Nicole Brydon Bloom is really good as Sarah, portraying an emotionally wounded young woman, who is vulnerable to her situation and needs to find her strength. Taylor Nichols is very good as the cult leader Jerry, a man who truly believes he is helping people. Same also goes for Giles Matthey, as a handsome young man who befriends Sarah with obvious ulterior motives. A well acted, well directed thriller that is a disturbing look at cults and their methods. It is a sometimes unpleasant watch, yet a very effective one.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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REVIEW: SEARCHING (2018)

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SEARCHING (2018)

Mystery thriller finds widower David Kim (John Cho) frantically searching for his teenage daughter Margot (Michelle La) who has gone missing. The entire story takes place on his laptop and phone, as he desperately searches all her social media sites for clues to where she went or who might know where she is. More frightening to David, aside from her disappearance, is that he may not have known his daughter at all.

Flick is not the first movie to take place entirely on a computer, but is one of the better ones thanks to skillful direction from Aneesh Chaganty from his clever script co-written with Sev Ohanian. The film starts out introducing us to the Kims, quickly etching out a portrait of a loving family, that is devastated by the loss of wife and mother Pam (Sara Sohn). We then get a single father trying to do what’s best for his daughter when, out of nowhere, she vanishes. It now evolves into a tense and suspenseful mystery as David tries to track down his daughter through social media, as a police detective (Debra Messing) investigates. For a movie that takes place entirely digital, Chaganty finds some clever ways to let us find out information, while still keeping us as in the dark as David as to where Margot went. Did she run away?…or worse? There are a few red herrings and if the film has an Achilles Heel, it’s that after putting us…and David…through a lot to get to it’s conclusion, it gets a bit convoluted in order to give it a crowd pleasing ending. It gets a bit dark and then has to juggle a somewhat far-fetched late story development in order to end things with a less grim and more safe Hollywood finale. Otherwise, this is a very entertaining and involving thriller with strong work from it’s leading man.

The cast is very small with many characters only appearing in quick video clips or photos such as Margot herself and her mother. John Cho gives a very strong and heartfelt performance as a slightly overprotective dad frantically searching for his daughter. Cho is both sympathetic and tenacious as he tries to track down Margot, refusing to believe the police and public…once the case goes viral…that Margot is dead or run away. A strong performance by Cho. Debra Messing is also good as a women who is both detective and a mother herself and the character fits well into the framework of the story. The only other character that has a steady amount of screen time is Joseph Lee as David’s stoner brother Peter, with whom David frequently confides in.

Overall, this was a very entertaining thriller. It’s social media setting is no longer new, but Aneesh Chaganty uses it cleverly and directs his cast and story very well. It’s suspenseful and intense and if it lets it’s build-up down a bit, it’s in a last act turn away from the dark path it was headed, taking the film away from a more realistic and grim ending in order to play it safe. Otherwise this was a solid mystery thriller with strong work from John Cho.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) laptops.

 

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BARE BONES: THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER (2018)

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THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER (2018)

Film takes place ten years after a small Kentucky town was plagued by a series of murders by a serial killer known as The Clovehitch Killer. The killings mysteriously stopped with the killer never found. When young Tyler (Charlie Plummer) finds a disturbing photo in his father’s truck, he starts to question things about his churching-going, Boy Scout master father (Dylan McDermott). The more Tyler seeks answers, the more he starts to suspect his father and The Clovehitch Killer might be one and the same.

Written by Christopher Ford and directed by Duncan Skiles, this is a methodically paced thriller that evokes similar films like the recent Summer of 84 and the classic Frailty. Whether his father is really a killer or not, isn’t the true mystery here, but what a boy will do when he finds out disturbing things about his own flesh and blood. The film is well done and the performances are excellent and it has a nice replay of events from another POV that works well in the last act. What holds this thriller back is that it lacks a real punch. It’s a bit too understated for it’s own good and since we all know where it is heading, it needed more punctuation at the time of it’s reveals. It’s a well-made thriller about what darkness can lurk beneath the All-American veneer, but one that needed a bit more of a “wow” factor to really be something worth talking more about. As it is, it is still an unsettling thriller about what one might be faced with when learning dark things about someone they love. Also stars Samantha Mathis as Tyler’s mother and Madisen Beaty, who impresses, as a girl who befriends Tyler and with a personal interest in Clovehitch’s identity.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: RUIN ME (2017)

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RUIN ME (2017)

Shudder exclusive finds pretty Alex (Marcienne Dwyer) out of rehab and going on “Slasher Sleep-out” weekend with her new boyfriend Nathan (Matt Dellapina) and four other participants. It’s supposed to be a simulated slasher flick in the woods, but something strange is going on and Alex starts to believe that this Slasher Sleep-Out is far more real than they bargained for. Is it all in Alex’s troubled head?…or is this more than a game?

Flick is directed well by Preston DeFrancis from a script by he and Trysta A. Bissett. It’s a fairly fun movie that works in some of the familiar tropes and then plays with them a bit as this simulated slasher weekend starts to go awry…or does it? The concept that we are never sure if this is all part of this faux horror movie weekend, or if someone is having deadly fun with our bunch, works well enough, even if we can see certain things coming. The cast are all good, especially lead Dwyer, who makes a sufficient final girl…or is she? There is entertainment to be had and some surprises, too and while it’s not perfect, it actually surpasses the moderate expectations one might go in with. Worth a watch.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: JOSIE (2017)

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JOSIE (2017)

Flick finds the world of reclusive former prison guard Hank (Dylan McDermott) turned a bit askew with the arrival of sexy tattooed teen Josie (Sophie Turner) at the school where he is a security guard. Josie uses her charms to get Hank’s attention, as well as, the attention of local teen delinquent, Marcus (Jack Kilmer). The two men already don’t like each other and sexy Josie may have more than just flirtation in mind.

OK thriller is directed by Eric England (Madison County, Contracted)  from a fairly predictable script by Anthony Ragnone II. The cast all perform well, especially Game of Thrones’ Turner, who is quite effective as a femme fatale. It’s just that we can see where this is headed almost from the start. When Hank, early on, confides in Josie about his past, we know it’s got to be connected to her appearance and we’re not wrong. It comes to the violent…though still unsettling…conclusion that we also know is coming and the big reveal looses all it’s impact because we have already figured it out long before Hank. Watchable to see Turner strut her stuff as a bad girl, but if you think you’ve figured it out early on…you have.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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