Saturday, August 1, 2015

Greetings From Fantasia 2015! Deirdre’s Reviews, Part 2




Jeruzalem (dirs. Doron Paz & Yoav Paz) Israeli horror is a fairly new phenomenon within the genre. The horror film industry there has evolved so quickly, rather than dwelling in actual artistic expression and finding a voice, it has already started to produce mostly soulless found-footage films. JERUZALEM is the story of two young New Jersey women who go on the trip of a lifetime to Israel. Initially they plan on staying in Tel Aviv, but after meeting a cute boy on the plane they scrap those plans and head with him to Jerusalem. Shortly after arriving things start to go badly in the historic city. On Yom Kippur, of all days, there are explosions across the city and the girls must trust these new found friends with their lives. The story has potential to work well, but it never fully develops the themes it introduces. Jewish mysticism and mythology are flirted with, but the filmmakers do not seem to realize that those would be much better sources for horror than the typical cheap jump scares they seem to love. The found footage is through the guise of Google-glass spectacles. This technology is already a dead one, and it should stay that way. 


Observance (dir. Joseph Sims-Dennett) Films do not always need to tell the full story. When they give you a small slice the story’s arc, but make it clear that there is a fully formed concept there, it can work even better than wedging in unnecessary exposition. OBSERVANCE does just that. It drops you not at the beginning of the story, but at the beginning of the interesting part of the story. Parker (Lindsay Farris) is down on his luck, trying to save whatever shred is left of his marriage, when he takes an unusual job. He is put up by a faceless employer, in a dilapidated apartment, to spy on the woman across the street. His only order is to observe and record her. Parker obliges as much as he can, but his own personal issues catch up with him as well as some potential outside forces. Though I generally dislike cutesy film comparisons, OBSERVANCE truly is REPULSION meets REAR WINDOW, and I mean that in the most flattering manner possible. The less you know and expect from OBSERVANCE, the better, but absolutely keep an eye out for this film. 


Cash Only (dir. Malik Bader) Written by the star of the film, Nickola Shreli, it is startling to learn that CASH ONLY is semi-autobiographical. The main character, Elvis, is a mediocre landlord in Detroit, which reflects some of Shreli’s previous odd jobs, but hopefully the comparisons end there. Elvis is about to lose his apartment buildings to the bank, unless he can gather enough cash to save himself. As he goes from tenant to tenant to collect the money you get to better know Elvis’s world and his bad dealings. At some point the focus of the film shifts away from Elvis’s day-to-day life and becomes about a greater criminal world within Detroit’s Albanian community. The film deftly makes you root for Elvis the entire time even though you are presented with plenty of evidence that he is actually a terrible man. This confusion of loyalty and normalization of violence would be tragic were it not for the film’s quick pace, interesting characters, and superb performances (namely Shreli’s). Never once do the characters in CASH ONLY feel sorry for themselves, and the film never allows the audience to either. 


Cherry Tree (dir. David Keating) Is it too much to ask for an Irish witching film to be great? CHERRY TREE starts out with an interesting premise. Faith (Naomi Battrick) wants nothing more than her father to be cured of his now terminal leukemia. Making a deal with the local witch turned field hockey coach, Sissy (Anna Walton), should do the trick, right? All that the witch asks for in exchange is for Faith to become pregnant and to give the child to her. Faith seems on board with the plan, but soon realizes that there is always a catch when dealing with these witchy types. The film’s major downfall is the constant over explanation and reassessment of its own rules. Faith’s pregnancy is a magical one that will only last for six weeks. So why on earth would the script then include the fact that she was kidnapped and put in a coma for three of those weeks? The filmmaker makes the rules of the film, and should not expect the audience to witness what should have been early script revisions. The tone of the film sways from attempts at atmospheric to cheap made-for-TV aesthetics which add to the overall inconsistencies. These, along with limited emotional range from what should be the weighty lead actress make CHERRY TREE a big miss.

Fantasia 2015: AVA'S POSSESSIONS Review



Most possession films follow the third act blueprint established by The Exorcist way back in 1973. Once medical and psychological causes have been ruled out for the victim's erratic behavior, a priest is called in to do battle for the afflicted soul. After a few sprinkles of Holy Water and latin phrases, the demon is banished back to Hell and the no longer possessed person gets to carry on with their life.  The lights go up, the credits roll and all is well in the world.

Ava's Possession puts a unique spin on the possession tale by examining what happens after the status quo returns to normal. The film opens with Ava's exorcism, of which she has no memory. For a period of 28 days she was under the thrall of Nahbula, Hell's version of a sort of spoiled, rich white kid. Nahbula thrives on causing chaos and loves nothing more than indulging in the physical pleasures of the flesh when he takes over a body. While she wants nothing more than to return to her normal life, she's finding it difficult. Her mother sports an eyepatch after Ava gouged one of them out in a fit of rage. Her boyfriend and best best friend won't return her calls due to Nahbula using Ava's body as a sexual merry-go-round. She bit a few fingers off her doctor, and as her lawyer informs her that with the litany of pending charges and court cases against her, Ava's only recourse is to check herself into SPA.


The first half Ava's Possessions focuses on her recovery efforts and it is the strongest portion of the film. There's a number of sly digs at the competency of twelve step programs. There's also an acknowledgement at how easy it is to backslide into addiction as a number of the program's participants long openly for the thrill seeking glory days when they were possessed. When the film focuses on Ava trying to sort through the wreckage of her life while trying to make amends with the people she's wronged, it's damn clever. There's legitimate funny bits including Ava wondering if anyone's called in sick for her at work over the past month while she was unable to go in. 

Unfortunately director Jordan Galland lacks the confidence in the film's conceit to carry it through to the end. As a result, the latter half of the film veers away from comedy and shifts to noir. Rather than focus on Ava's recovery efforts, the film makes a half hearted attempt at having her investigate the origins of a bloodied watch she finds under her sofa. The journey finds her taking detours through art galleries and the plush backseat of a prostitute's ride while Spring's Lou Taylor Pucci cameos as a potential love interest only to be left dangling as an unresolved plot thread. The film loses steam as Ava's intentions are never clear cut. Why does she seem more interest in finding out who the owner of a watch is instead of trying to learn why she was possessed in the first place? The eventual answers are forced and none too interesting to boot.

It's too bad the mystery leaves much to be desired, Ava's Possessions has a fantastic neo-noir look.While most of the locations, including Ava's apartment, are run down and grungy, the film is brightly lit in neon colors that pop off the screen. If you've seen Punisher: War Zone, you have a decent idea of what the film looks like. It often looks like a graphic novel sprung to life.


Overall, Ava's Possessions is half of a terrific film. It's worth watching for some spunky performances, including Louisa Krause in the title role, but don't be surprised if you find your attention wandering in the last thirty minutes. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Remembering Hot Rod: Roddy Piper Passes Away At Age 61



The sport of professional wrestling lost one of its true icons earlier today with the discovery that "Rowdy" Roddy Piper had passed away at the age of 61. The WWE legend suffered cardiac arrest in his sleep and was discovered in his home Friday morning.Aside from his fame inside the squared circle, horror fans remember Piper for his iconic role in the best John Carpenter film not named Halloween or The The Thing: THEY LIVE. When Piper told audiences he had come to do two things-chew bubble gum and kick ass-we cheered and believed it 100% wholesale because we had witnessed him do so much of the latter for so many years beforehand.

Growing up as a kid in the 1980s, pro wrestling, specifically the WWF, was a staple of my early childhood. From the age of 8 years old onward, Roddy Piper was a staple of my Saturday morning diet, every bit the essential viewing as the Super Friends and Scooby Doo. Before Vince McMahon succeeded in transforming wrestling to "sports entertainment" fans still bought into kayfabe-the idea that what they were seeing on the screen was one hundred percent real-and the man we loved to hate the most was Roddy Piper.

The thing about heroes is this: they're only as good as the villains they face off against. Without The Joker, Batman is a silly rich orphan wearing a cape and pointy ears. Die Hard is probably a decent but anonymous action film if John McClaine doesn't have Hans Gruber to square off against. Harry Potter might score a few babes since chicks dig scars, but he's not the most famous wizard in the world without a Voldemort to go up against. Part of the reason disgraced icon Hulk Hogan has fallen so far from the public's good graces is in the 80's he waged battle with the most heinous heel the pro wrestling world had to offer: The Rowdy One, Roddy Piper. Make no mistake about it, without Piper, the initial Wrestlemania is probably a failure and  professional wrestling landscape looks far different today. Without Piper, there is no Hulkamania.  Fans bought the WWF high stakes gamble to see Hogan win no doubt, but more importantly, they forked over their hard earned cash at the box office and the closed circuit theaters to see the bad guy punched squarely in the kisser. Even then, Piper wouldn't give the marks the satisfaction.

Pro wrestling has always had its share of bad guys, but none of them could work the stick like Piper. His promo segments were magical, combining agitation and antagonism like no one before or since. He was the kid on the playground whose dad could beat up your dad, all grown up and ready to throw down. No one this side of Bobby "The Brain" Heenan possessed a sharper, faster wit than Piper. Yet while as a chickenshit heel manager, Heenan hid behind his hired muscle and begged off any physical confrontation, Piper got right up in the mug of whitebread babyface and dared him to strike. More often than not, Piper hit first and hit harder. Piper took his heel schtick to next levels when he launched Piper's Pit, a weekly interview segment where he'd run verbal circles around his adversaries until they could no nothing but lash out in impotent rage after he'd reduced them to simpletons. In the most infamous segment, Piper invited Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka on as his guest, only to trash the man before beating his brains in with a coconut. to this day it remains one of the most exhilarating, terrifying and infamous moments in pro wrestling history, and no one aside from the Hot Rod could pull it off. The crowds didn't want to just see Piper defeated for his dastardly actions. They wanted his blood. They wanted to see him torn limb from limb in the ring. They wanted justice.

Eventually, Piper succumbed to the same fate of all the best villains. He was so good at making us hate him that we fell in love with the guy. While I never had the pleasure of meeting Piper in person, it's been heartwarming to read the tributes to the man today. A staple of the convention circuit, by all accounts Piper was appreciative of the fans who adored him and a true gentleman to be around. Today we lost an icon, a man whose prowess on the mic and ability to incite riots among the crowd will never be duplicated. Thank you Hot Rod. May you rest in peace.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Fantasia: CRUEL Meticulously Decodes The Psyche Of A Serial Killer



The choice of the word Cruel for french crime novelist Eric Cherriere's debut directorial effort takes on multiple loaded meanings depending on how one views the film. One could argue it reflects its protagonist Pierre's method of toying with his victims before dispatching them. It may refer to the fickle randomness of a universe that pluck victims out of obscurity before reducing them to scattered ashes and pictures on the side of milk cartons. It could refer to the cruel circumstances that connect Pierre together with the singular person able to thaw the chill that grips his heart and awakens his consciousness. It could be a blend of all these things. The one certainty is Cruel offers bleak tragedy with its depiction of a near flawless serial killer.

Jean-Jaques Lelte stars as Pierre Tardieu, who has managed to live for forty years in near anonymity. He takes temp work doing manual day labor which does not quite pay the mounting bills incurred by caring for his Alzheimers stricken father. Pierre manages to blend into the background as one of the hundreds of blank faces one passes by in the streets, trains or shops on a daily basis. Pierre's ability to not call any intention to himself allows him to stalk, kidnap and kill a vast number of victims over his decade long run as a serial killer. By following a strict set of self-imposed rules, never sticking to a singular victim profile or preferred means of killing and planning his heists with laser sharp precision, Pierre has not only avoided suspicion, but the authorities and public at large have no idea a killer lurks among them.

Cruel never offers a clear cut rationale for its leads murderous rampages, but it offers up enough clues for audiences to piece together their own ideas. The more nightmarish sequences of the film depict Pierre sharing a final meal with his victims. Pierre may choose a life of solitude in order to care for his father and indulge his awful practice, but it also fills him with loneliness. These last meals allow him the briefest moments of human interaction while also serving to validate the air of superiority he feels. Before he kills his targets, he reads them passages from the meticulous notes he takes during the observation phase of his crimes. The banality contained within tosses a question in their face: what makes them so special that they deserve to live? In a world populated by two billion souls, what would it matter if one went missing? In what might be the most horrific moment of the film, Pierre allows his chosen victim to look at the sonogram photos of his unborn child, telling him to take a good look as it will be the last time he sees his son before beating the man to death with a crowbar. It's this cruel willingness to toy with his victim's emotions that set Pierre apart from the standard issue serial killer.

The film pivots when Pierre is reintroduced to Laure (Magali Moreau). A shared loss allows the two to bond, and the mutual attraction between the pair unveils a side of humanity in Pierre he may not have known he possessed. It's easy to see Laure as a sort of life raft for Pierre, as Lelte sells this idea by wearing an expression that mixes desperation and contentedness whenever she draws him near to her. In stark contrast to the dankly lit, shadowy scenes that mark Pierre and his victims time together, the scenes with Laure are filled with color and vibrancy. His time with Laure allows Pierre to understand he has something to live for, and his struggle to hold onto it in the wake of newfound inner turmoil and external threats inform the second half of the film.


Without revealing too much, these struggles pack the gut punch packed final moments resonate that much stronger. Ultimately, Cruel offers a compelling look at the monster that can lurk under any man's skin. It is a dark drama that depicts how doing the right thing can still offer bottomless amounts of hurt. It's a beautiful film at times, even when it feels ugly and painful. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Fantasia: BUNNY THE KILLER THING



One of the joys of reviewing genre films is discovery. Every now and again a film comes across your path that explores fragility of the human psyche with such insight and depth that it changes and shapes your perspective on the world around you. Of course, there are also the times a guy in a thrift store rabbit costume with a swinging dildo between his legs bellows slang for female genitalia in his best black metal voice. I'll leave it to you, gentle reader, to determine which category Bunny the Killer Thing falls into.

Hailing from deep in the snowy fjords of Finland, Bunny is an over the top gore and sex romp more intent on delivering laughs than terror. There's not a lot to the film as the joke is smack dab in the title. A pre-credits coda finds a mad scientist injecting his unsuspecting victim with a serum that transforms him into a seven foot tall, pussy crazed wererabbit with a 12" rubber dildo that flops in the breeze between its legs. The mind boggles at the amount of weed director Joonas Makkonen and pals smoked when coming up with the concept and the subsequent gags that accompany the film.

Add in an eclectic mix of teens headed to a winter cabin for a weekend party, a trio of criminals they unwittingly pick up along the way, a pair of Keystone cops, a Finnish pop star, a swinger's retreat and a bunny centric S&M club and you the film. There are some genuine, "what the fuck am I watching?" laughs to be hand. In particular I couldn't get enough of a kid who tags along about five minutes after hitting puberty that only recently discovered the joys of beating his dick into submission. It contains the only car explosion caused by a decapitated penis that I can recall in a film. There's boobls, full on male frontal, splooge, drunkeness, babes toting shotguns and sex parties galore. It owes as much to teen sex romps in the vein of Porkys than it does goofy horror entries like The Stuff or Basket Case.  There's no, I repeat, no plot to be found aside from a giant wererabbit running amok while wagging his cock and trying to get as much of the ladybits as he can sink his buckteeth in to.

Is it a good movie? Oh hell no. But it's a metric fuckton of fun to watch, and I imagine it would go over like gangbusters with midnight audiences. The cheapness of the film can't be undersold. The wererabbit costume is falling apart at the seams and you can see whoever is under the hood's jaw and mouth clearly throughout the film. The special effects may or may not have been handled by a kindergarten arts and crafts group. The film is subtitled despite the majority of the dialogue being spoken in clear English. However, the sloppiness of the film comes off more endearing than annoying.

At the end of the day, Bunny the Killer is a review-proof film. Most people will take one look at the title and decide in a heartbeat if it is for them. Ultimately, it provides a fun, if completely disposable, piece of entertainment.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Catch a free preview screening of THE GIFT Tuesday, August 4


Want to see STX Entertainment and Blumhouse Productions upcoming release THE GIFT for free before its release? Join us!


Tuesday, August 4 at 7:00PM at AMC Boston Common 


Please RSVP at  http://tinyurl.com/TheGiftBoston 






SYNOPSIS
Can you really go through life having never wronged anyone? Even if you are unaware of how, or when, and even who you may have wronged….chances are there is someone out there who won’t ever forget it…or you. Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are a young married couple whose life is going just as planned until a chance encounter with an acquaintance from Simon’s high school sends their world into a harrowing tailspin. Simon doesn’t recognize Gordo (Joel Edgerton) at first, but after a series of uninvited encounters and mysterious gifts prove troubling, a horrifying secret from the past is uncovered after more than 20 years. As Robyn learns the unsettling truth about what happened between Simon and Gordo, she starts to question: how well do we really know the people closest to us, and are past bygones ever really bygones?
From the producer of Whiplash and The Purge, Jason Blum, comes a chilling psychological thriller that marks the feature directorial debut of acclaimed actor and writer Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby, Zero Dark Thirty, Warrior).

Monday, July 27, 2015

Review: THE VATICAN TAPES



The Vatican Tapes director Mark Neveldine cut his teeth on gonzo action films where adrenaline junkies extend Mountain Dew commercials to feature film length with extremes acts like kickstarting their heart with jumper cables (Crank). With that background it comes as a surprise that Neveldine's deep dive into the horror genre takes a more restrained approach. The Vatican Tapes offers up a fascinating character study of its central figure while also speculating on the true nature of the Anti-Christ.

Angelina (Olivia Taylor Dudley) has a pretty decent grip on her life. She shares a happy home with her boyfriend, has a strong relationship with her father and enjoys a wide ranging social circle. That life comes crashing down when she suffers a serious gash on her hand while cutting her birthday cake. While the wound gets stitched up, Angelina begins to exhibit bizarre behavior. She experiences unquenchable thirst and begins lashing out at her loved ones. When her boyfriend walks in her lying comatose, she winds up in a hospital. From there her behavior shifts from concerning to criminally insane; escalating to the point where the police become involved and Angelina winds up is a psychiatric hospital in an attempt to discover the root of what ails her.

While Angelina undergoes her metamorphosis, she catches the attention of a young priest (Michael Pena), who attempts to console Angelina's father, but also reports the events to a special Vatican tasked force charged with determining if an exorcism is called for. When it's determined that Angelina's problem lies in the spiritual realm, Cardinal Bruun (Peter Anderson) departs for the states in order to cast the demon back to hell. A longtime veteran of performing exorcisms, the Cardinal nonetheless finds himself facing an evil more powerful than anything he's ever encountered before.

The strengths of the film rests on the performance of Dudley as the possessed woman. Neveldine allows enough room for the film to breathe so that audiences get a good look at her character and develop a great deal of sympathy for her plight. Angelina comes off as both sad and terrifying, especially during the scenes in the psych ward. As the demon takes root it allows her unspoken influence over the persons around her. As her condition worsens, anyone in her vicinity wind up doing themselves serious bodily injury. The film also explores the potential nature of the Anti-Christ without speculating on its actual mission. It's a fascinating, if albeit brief, examination regarding how Christlike miracle worker would be received in our modern age of skepticism and a 24 hour, all encompassing news and talking heads cycle.


Overall The Vatican Tapes offers something a bit slower and a bit more heady than the standard exorcism film. While the finale comes off as a bit anticlimactic, overall Neveldine offers a much stronger, more thoughtful look at the nature of evil and the dichotomy of science and faith than we've seen in a while. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Greetings From Fantasia 2015! Deirdre’s Reviews, Part 1



For the sixth year I am attending the unwaveringly lovely Fantasia International Film Festival. Known for blending the world’s best Asian cinema with upcoming genre film the festival is now in its 18th year. I am up in occasionally sunny Montreal for a full two weeks this year, and will be writing to let you know about the best and the worst films I see there


Extinction (dir. Miguel Ángel Vivas) Ironically, the best metaphor for the constantly resurrected zombie genre is zombies themselves. In this new take on the zombie outbreak we are introduced to two of the least neighborly men left after the end of humanity. Patrick (Matthew Fox) and Jack (Jeffrey Donovan) are two of the last men living on earth, they live a few meters from one another, and they refuse to talk. Jack’s daughter Lu (Quinn McColgan) has finally reached the age where she wants to know more about the man across the road. But in their frozen and zombified world, small rebellions can have big consequences. Extinction has an interesting spin on the zombies themselves and does a good job of featuring two very different ways to live out the zombie apocalypse, but ultimately adds little life to the subgenre. 


Slumlord (dir. Victor Zarcoff) The film begins by letting us in on a secret. Landlord Gerald (Neville Archambault) is adding to the house he is renting to a nice, young, pregnant couple. The only problem is that he is adding a thorough surveillance system throughout the house, including the shower and toilet. When Claire (Brianne Moncrief) and Ryan (PJ McCabe) move in they think that their relationship troubles will be the only issues in their new home. The film moves slowly at first but picks up quickly as Gerald’s obsession with Claire deepens. Archambault turns in a great performance as the landlord here, and his casting is especially refreshing. He is not a quiet, meek, physically shriveled voyeur. The character is far more resourceful and intimidating than we are accustomed to seeing, and his inclusion is what stops Slumlord from falling into clichéd territory. 


Ojuju (dir. C.J. 'Fiery' Obasi) Without a greater context for the current state of Nigerian horror films it is difficult to assess the merits of Ojuju. A simple and easy to follow zombie outbreak film, Ojuju is the story of the zombie plight coming to a Nigerian neighborhood. With only one source for water, the tainted resource quickly infects the whole place, save a few survivors here and there. The film reads like homage, and even has a main character named Romero (Gabriel Afolayan) for anyone who somehow misses the references. I was not expecting this film to be a masterpiece, but the extended toilet jokes, the unnecessary sex scenes, and the fact that the camera work and acting were painfully amateur made me realize that the filmmakers were not trying to make a masterpiece either.


Tales of Halloween (dirs. Darren Lynn Bousman , Axelle Carolyn, Adam Gierasch, Andrew Kasch, Neil Marshall, Lucky McKee, Mike Mendez, Dave Parker, Ryan Schifrin, John Skipp, & Paul Solet) Anthology films can be hit or miss, and it breaks my heart to report that Tales of Halloween was a giant miss. With the directors, writers, and actors reading like the list of the best in the business of indie horror it was baffling to see that all of these filmmakers I typically praise ended up with a collective effort that was wholly less than the sum of its parts. A ten piece anthology, Tales of Halloween features all ten stories taking place all on one hallow’s eve, in one town. The stories zip along at a good pace, so you do not have to spend too long suffering in each uninspired and timeworn story. The film’s feel and look is remarkable cohesive for an anthology, but the childish tone made the entire film feel like a 1980s after school special than a showcase for the best contemporary film directors. The title sequence of the film not only looks as if it was made in Microsoft Paint, but it also features shots that contain some major spoilers for every single segment of the film. The Fantasia audience had a great time with the screening, so my dissent may be a fluke, but I found the film completely tedious and substandard.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

FANTASIA 2015: SLUMLORD Offers Up The WORST Landlord Ever



As a society we are probably more comfortable with the idea that we are under constant surveillance than we care to admit. Security cameras, whether they be at ATM macinhes, posted on traffic signals or situated above your market's register have become a way of life. GPS and smart phones have made it so our every movement can be tracked with extreme precision. Yet, we still expect our home to be a safe haven free from intrusion. Yet as the new thriller Slumlord informs the audience last year alone over 8000 people reported being spied on in their homes via hidden security systems.

Young and troubled married couple Claire in the Ryan move into one of Gerald's rental homes in an attempt to fix their marriage while also awaiting the birth of their first child. Despite players reservations about Gerald who as she describes him smells like spoiled mayonnaise the home is too good and too cheap to pass up. What they don't know is that Gerald (Neville Archambault) has installed dozens of camouflage security cameras throughout the property which allows him total access into their lives including their most intimate moments.

Those intimate moments reveal both the good and the very bad about player and Ryan's flight of marriage. Ryan is snippy from the outset and dismissive of any of Claire's concerns. He suffers from a persecution complex and describes feeling trapped by his marriage while being resentful of player for having tricked him into marrying her at a young age. He shows a disturbing lack of interest bordering on resentment with regards to the impending birth of his first child. Early on he’s revealed to be having an affair with this assistant Hannah yet even there is unpleasant and petulant personality shows itself and every opportunity.

The squick factor involved in watching the couple during these intimate moments stems from the knowledge all their actions and words are being monitored by their creepy landlord. Arcambault gives a powerful performance as the hulking manchild. With his wisps of hair, lined and pocketed face and a mouth that hangs open like it’s waiting for a fisherman to cast hook and reel him in, Gerald comes off as profoundly disturbed from the moment he comes on screen. Yet despite these features, and a shambling gait that suggests some sort of handicap, these traits mask a cunning mind and powerful strength that make Gerald an imminent danger. He’s someone the average person would find easy to dismiss. As he enjoys a vouyeristic and sexual thrill from watching the couple, Gerald begins to see himself as a sort of paternal figure, doing what he can to bring Clare and Ryan closer together without being exposed. Unfortunately, anytime a mentally unstable pervert takes an interest in someone, things tend to go horribly wrong. When Hannah has a crisis of conscience and begins calling the house at 1AM in order to reveal the affair, Gerald steps in.

It’s here that Slumlord loses its way a bit. The slowly ticking madness of the first hour gives way to the sort of hind and chase scenes we’ve seen in hundreds of standard thrillers before. There’s also a meanness to the last act that feels unwarranted. Aside from one person, the characters suffer fates that feel tacked on, unearned and cruel. It would be one thing if their fates resonated with horror, yet Slumlord seems to play these final minutes for laughs.

Squabbles with the ending aside, the first hour of the film makes for tense, armchair gripping thrills. Arcambault delivers a character every bit as shocking and uncomfortable as Laurence Harvey’s “Martin in Human Centipede 2. Yet while Harvey often comes off like cartoonish and exaggerated villain, Gerald feels all too real. As Arcambault plays him, Gerald is a man you’ve seen in your local Home Depot; one who you instinctively pull your child closer to you as you pass him by. It’s an amazing performance that makes Slumlord well worth your time.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Review: A FAVOR



Everybody knows a person who pushes the acceptable limits of friendship. They're the type that will call you at the last minute to ask for a ride to the airport minutes after you clocked out of a double shift. Adding insult to injury, they won't chip in for gas or tolls. They bring tupperware to potluck dinners but never bring anything more than off brand potato chips for their own entree. They order the most expensive item on the menu then insist the bill is divided equally among all parties, leaving you to pay $40 for a Cesar salad and Diet Coke.

And of course, they call you to help dispose of a dead body when all you want to do is hang out on the couch, eat nachos and watch the big game.

That's the subject of the latest short from Izzy Lee. A Favor finds the Boston filmmaker tackling black comedy for the first time in one of her works. Lee's earlier shorts have been rife with political and feminist commentary, so A Favor finds her expanding her growing repertoire. If the results of A Favor provide any indication of future success, we can only hope to see more works like this one from Lee, as the short succeeds as a wickedly funny and dark twisted tale of friendship.

A Favor offers a darkly funny and bloody look at the world of amateur wetworks. Shaun Callaghan stars as Jackson, the hapless friend in question who makes the unfortunate mistake of answering a call from his friend Liz. Callaghan displays excellent comic timing, as evidenced by him walking in on a grisly, blood splattered crime scene and reacting with the level of distress one might exhibit over a bottle of spilled milk. Indeed, the greatest strength of A Favor is the way Lee relates the gruesome idea of dismembering a human body into mundane housework that anyone can identify with.

A Favor offers up a number of laugh out loud moments that work even better upon rewatch. There's the opening scene of Callaghan wading into his own filthy kitchen, recoiling from the stench of a gone bad jar of salsa before shrugging it off and topping his ghetto nachos with it. This slob is the guy you're going to entrust with cleaning up after a murder? Really? Callaghan gives a great deadpan whether its commenting on the quality of the flooring or reacting to being left with an empty jug of dish soap and a lone washrag to deal with the coagulated, bloody mess his friend left for him to clean. It turns out body disposal isn't all that different from spring cleaning. One needs the proper equipment and planning to get it done right. Granted, most of us would use a duster and a vacuum rather than a chainsaw and tub of acid, but as A Favor demonstrates, the process is much the same. It's tiny quirks like these that add another layer of depth to the humor of the short. Shane Gryn's score adds to the feeling of hijinx with its modern spy thriller feel.


Lee continues to grow as a filmmaker and this latest combined with Postpartum (making its way through the festival circuit right now) provide a nice one-two punch on the limits of friendship. The two films could not be any more different in terms of tone, and it's great to see Lee explore different facets of the horror genre.