THE BOY (2016)

 

 

Here we go again, another PG-13 horror flick that is mildly creepy, but lazy and inoffensive.  I keep finding myself sitting in the dark each week, hoping to find that occasional gem.  Unfortunately The Boy is not that one-in-ten that shines, but is just spooky enough to be fun.  Although this film is enjoyable, I am not sure why it received a theatrical release.  Given its limited budget and setting, this film would probably play better on the small screen and would be great for a Netflix release.  Before I get too deep into my opinion, lets talk about the story.

A young American woman named Greta takes a job for an elderly, British couple and agrees to look after their child.  Once she meets the geriatric couple, she realizes that the child is actually a doll that is kept like a real boy.  She is given a list of silly rules, told to follow them and then the two wisk away on vacation.  Once they leave, she goes back to treating the boy as a doll until things take a more sinister turn for the worse,

As I stated before, this is neither great nor terrible.  It falls right into that mediocre spot that most of these theatrical horror releases do.  There is just not a lot to say about this movie.  The acting and script is okay, the cinematography is pretty standard and the sets are appropriately creepy.  The third act does take a 180 degree turn that is fun and goes in a direction that is both entertaining and unexpected.  All in all, I do not suggest going to the cinema to see this flick but could be enjoyable if rented out of the Redbox on a boring Thursday night.  The Boy is currently playing in theaters everywhere.

2/5 STARS

THE LEGEND OF WASCO (2015)

I am not usually one that cares at all about killer clowns, especially ones based on viral videos, but after seeing the names attached I had to check it out.  The Legend of Wasco has a plethora of talented filmmakers involved, including Scott Schirmer (Found, Headless), Brian Williams (Time To Kill, Headless) and Ellie Church (Time To Kill, Headless).  This was enough for me to toss out my prejudices and fork over my ten bucks for the DVD.  I am happy to say that this film is a mixed bag, where the good really outweighs the poorer aspects of this movie.  First time directors  Shane Beasley and Leya Taylor show a lot of promise and offer something way better than anyone could expect.

The story centers around Tyler and Christy, a young couple being visited by Christy’s older brother Byron.  He has just left the Army and is excited to reconnect with his sister and get to know his future brother-in-law.  Tyler is a clown performer, flipping signs for a local carwash company.  After a few drinks they start to discuss a local legend about murderous clowns that send our protagonists on a drunken adventure to create a viral prank.  But once the pictures go viral, people in town start dying…one by one.

The major problem that I have with this film is in the comedy.  The first two-thirds feel very organic, but somewhere in the third act something changes.  The comedy begins to feel forced and some of the more menacing elements disappear entirely.  In spite of these gripes, they never stop The Legend of Wasco from still being a fun and sometimes amazing film.  The biggest standouts come from both the cinematography and the score.  Grand, cinematic shots really add to the experience and fool you into forgetting the low budget that the filmmakers are working with.  Along with the camerawork, you get a very intense and serious score that sets the mood nicely.  In the end, I think this is another win for Forbidden Films and a good movie to tide you over until Harvest Lake.  The Legend Of Wasco is currently available on DVD and VOD. 

3/5 STARS

THE FOREST (2016)

Its officially January and it is time to dig through the dumping ground of Hollywood.  It is no secret that January and February is the black hole of theater releases, allowing us the chance to watch whatever studio execs have lying around.  When I saw the trailer for The Forest and its January release date I wasn’t overly excited to see it, but one thing grabbed my eye…no Jason Blum.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not hating on the guy but I just can’t trust his name (on a film) anymore.  After seeing this supernatural thriller I can say that The Forest is much better than it has any right to be.  It is a strange blend of great cinematography and terrible CGI that is entertaining up to its lackluster ending.  It is a great example of enjoying the ride, but not necessarily liking the final destination.

The story begins with a young woman having an feeling that her twin sister is in danger.  She wakes up from her dream and immediately leaves for Tokyo to try and help her sister.  She does a little digging and finds out that she has ventured into the “Suicide Forest” at the base of Mt. Fuji.  Through her ESP-like superpower, she can sense that her sister is still alive and fenagles her way into a guided tour to find her twin.  Once she is there she finds out that the forest is a sinister and dangerous place full of spirits.

The best part of the film is the setting and the amazing camerawork.  There is little to no shaky cam and nothing ever seems static or boring.  The actors are passable and the script seems like it may have had a lot of last minute changes.  Some of the red herrings are less than brilliant and there are major clues that are either ignored or abandoned.  The film does best at building up tension and there were more than a few scenes that had me on the edge of my seat.  The biggest problem was how the filmmakers decided to wrap up the story.  I won’t go into any spoilers, but the last 10 minutes do not seem to gel with what we had seen up to this point.  All in all, this adds up to a serviceable (and sometimes exciting) popcorn flick that you will probably forget about a few days later.  The Forest will be available 1/8 in theaters everywhere.

2.5/5 STARS

Franklin: A Symphony Of Pain (2015)

My favorite thing about being a genre fan is that there is never a shortage of strange, interesting movies to check out.  Every few months I stumble on an oddity filled to the brim with bizarre, original material that reinvigorates my interest and sends me back to the web to find that next hidden gem.  This current gem that I am discussing is this year’s Franklin: A Symphony Of Pain.  It is a psychedelic freakout of faith, sex, torture and self-realization that is unlike anything that you have ever experienced.  The director (Jeremy Westrate) takes the “kitchen sink” approach to storytelling and packs more ideas into this film than a corporate think tank.  In case I am not being clear, this is an ambitious and absolutely batshit crazy flick that needs to be seen to be believed.

This won’t be easy, but I am going to attempt to explain the basic story.  The titular Franklin spends a day out in nature and is quickly abducted by masked occultists who torture and exploit our protagonists until he submits to his pain.  After waking in a new location, he is then assaulted by foul-mouthed 60’s “street toughs” who then beat the breaks off of him again.  These run-ins repeat to differing effect and are inter-cut with hellish vignettes and dialogue with a less than comforting priest.

Each scene reveals a little hint of the developing story and is accompanied by a maddening score of both classical and pop-inspired music.  Colors shift, as well as perspectives and the camera never sits in any kind of static state.  “Break neck” is how I would describe its pace.  With this kind of experimental filmmaking, not everything works.  There are some scenes that may feel a little indulgent, but with a film like this, it is expected.  Actors can be middling to cartoonish, but good writing and spot on camera work makes up for the performer’s shortcomings.  There is very little to compare this film to and that (in itself) is a great reason I recommend this movie.  If you like acid trip cinematography mixed with absurd levels of violence, then this is the flick for you.  Franklin: A Symphony Of Pain is currently available on DVD and Vimeo.

4/5 STARS

American Backwoods: Slew Hampshire (2015)

Being a Southerner, I am always excited to see a “killer hillbilly”/”psychos in the woods” film that does not take place in the American South.  Every region has its “rednecks” and I always enjoy seeing what other areas have to offer in this genre.  If this film is any indication, I would be weary to go into the woods of New Hampshire.  It appears to be full of murderers, monsters and rapists.  A terrifying combination that plays out pretty well in American Backwoods: Slew Hampshire.

Director, Flood Reed, has assembled a very sadistic and playful adventure that can be simultaneously exciting and frustrating.  The acting is incredible, the direction is imaginative, but there are a few things that really hold the American Backwoods from being one of the best low budget horror flicks of the year.  But, before going into the details lets talk about the story.

The movie takes place in 1994 New Hampshire and follows a group of close friends that are on a road trip to find a local rite of passage.  By “rite of passage”, I mean a legendary strip club.  The trip turns out to be an incredibly deadly one.  These guys are going to have to survive multiple groups of murderous humans, as well as something else that lurks in the woods

American Backwoods offers more than just blood and guts, Mr. Reed knows how to develop likeable/despicable characters that you cannot help rooting for.  The actors all nail their parts and feel like real people, rather than just filling an archetype that is ultimately just fodder for gore.  For as much praise that I have for this film, there are still a few things that did not work for me.  Most notably, the choice of a soundtrack over a score.  The music can be incredibly distracting at times and would yank me out of the movie, especially the Hard Rock/Heavy Metal.  Also, Flood Reed makes some creative flourishes that work well at times, but can also muddle the story and pace.  These moments of flashbacks and distortion sometime offer insight, but (more times than not) just distract you from what is happening in the scene.  Overall I really enjoyed this movie and will go out of my way to see more films from this director.  He is ambitious and I praise him for the chances that he is willing to take, even when they don’t work, I cannot help but admire him for trying.  American Backwoods: Slew Hampshire is currently available on DVD and VOD.

3.5/5 STARS

 

THE LAST SHIFT (2015)

Siege films are one of the great, unsung genres of film that often gets overlooked.  Its usually overshadowed by its more popular labelS (Horror or Action).  A lot of folks forget that Night of the Living Dead, Assault on Precinct 13 and Demons all share the same plot lines.  I love this concept of peopled holed up together, trying to weather a storm or survive the night.  This setting creates a suspense and dramatic edge that few other styles capture.  The Last Shift is another strong entry into this subgenre.  It may not be wholly original (borrowing heavily from the three movies I mentioned earlier), but makes up for it in sheer creepiness.

The movie starts with a young, female officer named Jessica Loren showing up to her first day at work.  She is assigned to work the last shift at a closing precinct, while the rest of the department makes the transition to a new building.  Once there, she learns more about a satanic cult that reigned terror over their small town and took her father’s life.  We get a ride to madness revealing a villain who addresses himself as “The King of Hell”.

The plot is simple, but the director/co-writer (Anthony Diblasi) builds up each scare like a well mapped funhouse.  The imagery becomes increasingly darker as each set piece builds to the next, making the pace feel almost stressful.  What stands out most is the eerie sound design.  The film utilizes a looping sound style that makes the most mundane seem sinister.  There are a few things that feel cheap, but the budget and overall creepiness makes it all pretty forgivable.  I suggest that you give this little movie a shot and make sure to turn out all the lights and blare your surround sound.  The Last Shift is currently available on DVD.

3.5/5 STARS