HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: RATTER (2015)

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RATTER (2015)

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“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

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE HARVEST (2013)

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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

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

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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.

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REVIEW: OPEN WINDOWS (2014)

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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

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: BURNING BRIGHT (2010)

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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

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: ODD THOMAS (2013)

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ODD THOMAS (2013)

Even someone like me who has been watching movies for almost five decades and can be very cynical about them at times can be pleasantly surprised occasionally by a movie I wasn’t expecting much from. Odd Thomas is one of those pleasant surprises. Based on a book of the same name and the following series of novels by Dean Koontz, Stephen Sommers’ adaptation tells the story of Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin) an eccentric young fellow who lives in Pico Mundo, a small town in California, and has a very unique talent. He is a clairvoyant who not only sees dead people, but other unearthly spirits as well. Odd Thomas…his real name…uses his special gifts to not only bring justice to those whose deaths are caused by foul play, but to thwart evil in general whenever it rears it’s ugly head. He has a beautiful, loving girlfriend, Stormy (Addison Timlin) who understands his powers and is very supportive and acts as a sidekick. He also has a good friend in the local police chief (Willem Dafoe) who is grateful to Thomas’ ability to find the guilty and prevent heinous acts before they are committed. But there is an evil brewing in Pico Mundo signaled by the appearance of a strange man (Shuler Hensley) surrounded by demons and a rash of nightmares suffered by Odd, and some close to him, that foretell of a coming doom…a doom that even Odd Thomas may not be able to stop. But Odd is going to try, even if it costs him his life.

Despite being a far smaller film than Mummy and G.I. Joe director Stephen Sommers is used to, he brings his creative energy and fine-tunes his over-the-top style to give Odd Thomas a fast paced and eccentric tone that perfectly fits the material. He also creates some very creepy moments with his visual eye and crafts some very tense and suspenseful sequences, especially in the nail-biting last act. But what really made Odd Thomas a special treat for me was the combination of Sommers’ witty script banter and the wonderful work from his cast, especially lead Anton Yelchin. Yelchin creates a very likable hero who is saddled with a great burden and yet, not only uses it to do good and defeat evil, but is actually happy to do so. The banter between he and adorable leading lady Addison Timlin really creates a delightful character dynamic between the two and totally makes the relationship between this strange, yet noble, young man and his spunky and fiery girlfriend, work. It’s very effective and makes you really care about both of them. The same goes when either character is onscreen with Dafoe. The dynamic between the three characters is a delight to watch and really is what makes an already good supernatural suspense thriller even more enjoyable. Timlin and the veteran Dafoe shine in their parts and are great support for what is Yelchin’s show, one he carries to perfection. Shuler Hensley is also creepy and unsettling as “Fungus Bob”…Odd’s name for the man who triggers the events of the film…but he is just the tip of the iceberg and I will say no more as the less you know going in, the better it draws you into Odd’s attempt to uncover the diabolical plot in the making.

Odd Thomas is an odd and off-beat but very effective film from a writer/director usually more at home with bigger, more comic book-style stories. But here he shows he can also take things down a few notches and gives us some chills and entertainment on a smaller and more intimate scale. He can also gives us some very endearing and three dimensional characters to go with his story. And this book-based story of evil, both supernatural and human created, and the young man who stands in it’s way, is very entertaining if anything. A really fun and very plesant surprise. Shame this flick is getting dumped unceremoniously onto home media when so much junk gets a theatrical release.

Check out my review of Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas book series HERE.

3 and 1/2 baseball bats.

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