BARE BONES: SEPARATION (2021)

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Separation

SEPARATION (2021)

Jeff and Maggie Vahn (Rupert Friend and Mamie Gummer) are two comic book creators who are separated and in the middle of a messy divorce, that includes a custody battle for their daughter Jenny (Violet McGraw). Jeff is out of work and when Maggie is killed in a hit and run, he has to find a job fast to keep Jenny from her rich, custody seeking grandfather (Brian Cox). Just as things start to turn around for Jeff, it begins to seem like a dark entity might be stalking he and his daughter…a spirit that might be his angry, dead, ex-wife.

Film is by-the-numbers directed by William Brent Bell (WerThe Boy), from a script by Nick Amadeus and Josh Braun, and is far more run-of-the-mill family drama than supernatural horror. Bell does create a few spooky moments and has a nice visual eye, but the spooky scenes are very few and far between, till the climax, as we watch Jeff try to turn into an adult to prove he is capable of taking care of Jenny. Aside from a few effective but briefly seen specters, and a few nightmare scenes, there is nothing really all that scary here. When spooky stuff does happen, it is very cliché, such as jittery moving phantoms whose bones click and creak with each articulation and a child blamed for a ghost’s destructive hi-jinx. The end reveal is also no real surprise either and gives the feeling of being an afterthought. The cast are OK, with only little Violet McGraw and veteran Brian Cox really showing some screen presence, and Cam star Madeline Brewer appearing as the babysitter with feelings for Jeff, Samantha. Overall, the potential Bell showed in his first few flicks seems to have settled into a sadly familiar routine with his recent studio films, which, including this one, are kind of forgettable.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE BOY (2016)

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THE BOY (2016)

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

Supernatural thriller is OK, but could have benefited from a little more intensity, as it is a bit too laid back for it’s own good. Story finds pretty Greta (Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan) traveling to the UK to get away from an abusive relationship and landing a job as a nanny for an elderly couple (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) at their large, secluded mansion…never a good sign. She is to watch their son Brahms while they are away on vacation. Greta soon finds that Brahms is actually not a living child but a creepy porcelain doll…another bad sign. As her stay commences, so do strange occurrences, such as things not being where she left them…especially Brahms. She soon discovers the real Brahms was a strange boy who died twenty years ago when he was only eight and might even have possibly killed a friend…internal alarms should be going off at this point. Does the boy’s spirit still inhabit the house and what does it want of Greta?…who, obviously stays.

Flick is well-directed by William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside, Wer) from a script from Stacey Menear and is filled with familiar tropes of similar flicks. These customary ingredients are sometimes used well here, as the film has atmosphere and there are some genuinely spooky moments, but it also fails to really grab us when it needs too. Sometimes Bell guides the proceedings a little too laid back and the film definitely needed more punch in it’s last act. It also loses some steam about two thirds of the way through, instead of picking up momentum which would have been better. It’s in it’s final reel that the film gets most cliché and even a little silly and that would have been fine, if Bell matched it with some real intensity and suspense. He doesn’t. We’ve seen it all before, when we get our big reveal and Bell could have given it far more impact to distract us from the familiarity. It’s not all that shocking when we learn the real secrets behind Brahms and his porcelain stand-in and with some solid suspense and a little more punch to the action, we could have overlooked it and had a better time. As it is, it’s just a routine conclusion to a fairly routine story and it needed a more inventive and gutsy touch to make it work. There is some great cinematography by Daniel Pearl and a spooky score by Bear McCreary to add atmosphere, but the film needs, for lack of a better word, more balls.

The cast are all fine. Lauren Cohan makes a really solid girl-next-door heroine and it’s too bad she’s not given more to do. After the first act her character starts to accept her situation and even takes a liking to the doll…which is a bit hard to swallow. That, of course, is fault of the script not the actress, who plays it well. Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle make for a creepy old couple as The Heelshire’s. They don’t have much screen time, but are effective in what they do. Rupert Evans is charming as a local delivery man who takes a shine to Greta and Ben Robinson is OK as her generic abusive boyfriend, who we know from the start will show up at some point.

I was never bored here, but was never thrilled either. It was a moderately entertaining diversion with a likable heroine and did have some spooky moments. Overall, it felt like I’ve seen this movie before and more than once and director William Brent Bell didn’t help matters by giving the film a far too subtle approach and doing nothing really interesting with some very familiar plot elements. Worth a look if there is nothing else to watch, or you are a fan of Cohan.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 Brahms

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: WER (2013)

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WER (2013)

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

Wer is a fascinating and sometimes gruesomely intense twist on the werewolf film from The Devil Inside’s William Brent Bell. The film takes place in France where a vacationing American family is savagely attacked by what appears to be a large animal. The sole survivor (Stephanie Lemelin), though, describes a very large hairy man as the culprit. Police quickly arrest local resident Talan Gwynek (Brian Scott O’Connor) as the suspect. Gwynek suffers from Porphyria, a rare disease that can cause excessive body hair and other symptoms which are believed to have inspired the legends of werewolves and vampires. Enter human rights lawyer Katherine Moore (A.J.Cook) who plans to prove that Talan is just being used as a scapegoat. As her team (Vik Sahay and Simon Quaterman) investigates the case, they not only find a conspiracy to want to see Talan convicted, but a more shocking possibility there may be some truth to the ancient legends after all.

I really enjoyed this movie. Not only does director and co-writer…along with Matthew Peterman…William Brent Bell deliver a really fresh take on the traditional werewolf movie, but a suspenseful thriller and a gruesomely bloody horror film, too. The script is smart and keeps us guessing till the reveal about halfway through and then turns up the gruesome action once the film switches gears and becomes a more traditional monster movie…though one we aren’t really expecting. The use of the rare Porphyria as it’s focus and the implication that it has effects we are not aware of, is very cleverly handled and helps make this tale of lycanthropy more unique. There are also some really intense action sequences with some delightfully gruesome gore to satisfy the need for some more traditional elements. The film only stumbles just slightly when another character contracts the disease from a bite and there is an over-the-top battle royal between the two infected. It’s fun, but seems just a little out of place when compared to the rest of the film…on the other hand, who doesn’t like a good monster fight! Overall, though, the flick combines the horror and crime investigation elements nicely with a touch of conspiracy thriller thrown in. On a production level, the gore FX are good for the most part, though there is a lot of CGI which doesn’t look completely convincing and there are some really effective FX to illustrate the infected’s strengths and abilities.

The cast are all convincing. A.J. Cook is sexy and strong as Katherine. She truly believes in Talan’s innocence and when things start to spiral out of control, she conveys the woman’s shock and regret very well. O’Connor gives his Talan a humble sadness that makes you want to believe his innocence and also cuts an imposing figure that makes you have doubts. Vik Sahay is good as the cocky and arrogant Eric, as is Quaterman as animal specialist and Katherine’s former flame, Gavin. Rounding out is Sebastian Roché as Klaus Pistor, a hard nosed cop who may have ulterior motives to believe Gwynek’s guilt.

Wer is a really inventive and very intense horror flick. It breathes some new life into the time honored werewolf sub-genre and was well-directed from a cleverly written script. It’s got a pace that moves quickly, but not too fast and keeps us guessing till it’s ready to spatter the screen with some impressively bloody action. A really enjoyable flick that gets far too little attention than it deserves.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 full moons.

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