Stephanie

STREAMING BANNER 2
NETFLIX
Released Apr. 17, 2018
Rated R – 1hr 26min
Directed by Akiva Goldsman
Starring Shree Crooks, Frank Grillo, Anna Torv


what_it_is_review_header
In the midst of an unknown global epidemic, young Stephanie (Crooks) is alone in her home, fending for herself while eluding mysterious paranormal and monstrous entities. When her parents (Grillo & Torv) unexpectedly return, the joyous reunion quickly sours, as nothing and no one are quite as they seem. 


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It has all the gloss and polish one would come to expect from a Blumhouse film. Despite the shiny machine-crafted appearance, Stephanie has genuine tension and surprises in store, offering up a fusion of A Quiet Place (which was released a mere 11 days earlier) with a kiddie I Am Legend, along with a few other comparisons that I’ll refrain from mentioning – no spoilers. 


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Jason Blum has certainly put up the money for a lot of horror projects in the last 3 years – something like 30 movie and television titles. His love for the genre is quite obvious at this point, as he has proven to be one of the premier architects of what might currently be a new Golden Age for horror on the screen. That being said though, he is also a manager of money and marketing, and it seems that, with Stephanie, he didn’t see what he wanted to see – perhaps the premise and product were considered too difficult to sell. The film was doubtlessly made for a theatrical run, but it would never get that big screen release, instead getting a quiet VOD treatment before being nonchalantly plopped into the Netflix library with little fanfare. It’s a shame it didn’t get the attention it deserved, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case much longer. Like numerous titles before it, it’ll find a second life on video.

As it begins, we are introduced to young Stephanie, calmly – and somewhat clumsily – making her way through a daily routine. There’s not much indication as to why she’s alone, how long she’s been alone, or why she seems stocked with provisions, but hints are dropped to something big and very disruptive occurring in the world around her, and it may have something to do with the amorphous monster that roams the property at night. Played by Shree Crooks, this is a lot of movie to put on the shoulders of such a young actress, but she pulls it off well, reminiscent of Kevin McAllister in Home Alone, minus the comedic whimsy. Besieged within the boundaries of her yard (along with some other complications that will go unlisted), it’s clear that our grade-school heroine will not be able to indefinitely survive a situation which is more bleak than she is able to comprehend. That is, until her parents – played well by Frank Grillo and Anna Torv, both of whom I’d like to see in more roles – abruptly return home. Despite her happiness and relief, they’re curiously short on explanations for their absence and they don’t look at her quite right when her back is turned. Something is assuredly wrong, and it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire.

The pacing in Stephanie is fantastic. Each scene provides at least one new complication or revelation, posing new questions and succinctly raising the dramatic stakes and tension along an impressively smooth arc. Almost no detail is wasted upon the grand reveals of the film’s final act, as everything converges into an epic finish. Ben Collins and Luke Piotrpwski, the screen-writing duo behind the highly regarded thriller Super Dark Times, penned a script here that could be considered meticulously crafted. It probably only helped that the film is directed by an Oscar-winning screenwriter, Akiva Goldsman, so the pedigree behind the narrative is top notch. The direction style, however, as mentioned before, is very Blumhouse-style, with an emphasis on a mainstream mass-market approach. Having not received that mainstream treatment, it will forever remain a wonder what the movie could have been with a bolder approach.

That’s because Stephanie is not entirely without its flaws. While used somewhat sparingly, the familiar jump scare formula is in play here – cue the staccato violins, fake out, silence, then ALL THE NOISE IN THE WORLD INTO YOUR EARS ALL AT ONCE OMG ARE YOU SCARED?!?!?! It’s formulaic but produces a result, so that’s why it’s part and parcel of mainstream horror. I find it irritating, but it’s not for the deep genre fans – it’s for the crowds. Speaking of, there’s a point in the film, about ten minutes from the end, that would have made an absolute jawdropper of an ending, but again, out of consideration for that mass market, it would have just been too great an emotional wallop and financial risk. Instead, we continue along to that aforementioned epic finish where, unfortunately, we arrive into the territory of the absurd. The movie isn’t ruined, by any means, but I like to explain explicitly why something isn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever seen, even when it’s still quite good. And here, instead of being one of the best of the year, it’s simply among the better ones – that’s a pretty strong recommend, and more so for something that has gotten so little love so far.

Stephanie gets a rating of
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Streaming Top 50 – 11/17/18

This week, we have a new #1 sitting atop the heap, 11 new additions to the list, and 2 movies from last week have been removed from streaming, John Carpenter’s The Fog & The Evil Dead (1981). Putting this 2nd list together was admittedly more trouble than expected, as the program I wrote to compile it worked great the first time – not so much this week. It made it very clear that it did not enjoy editing things, but it’s cool – it’s fixed and it was only a modest laptop fire.

Links to some of our reviews are included throughout the list below.

Rank Last Wk Title Year Service
1 5 Apostle 2018 NETFLIX
2 1 Gerald’s Game 2017 NETFLIX
3 4 Halloween 1978 SHUDDER
4 11 Psycho 1960 SHUDDER
5 2 The Shining 1980 NETFLIX
6 13 The Sixth Sense 1999 NETFLIX
7 26 Malevolent 2018 NETFLIX
8 12 Jigsaw 2017 Amazon-Instant-VideoHULU
9 22 The Conjuring 2013 NETFLIX
10 14 Child’s Play 1988 Amazon-Instant-VideoHULU
11 34 Train to Busan 2016 NETFLIXHOOPLA
12 3 It Follows 2015 NETFLIX
13 29 28 Days Later 2002 HULU
14 16 Cargo 2018 NETFLIX
15 9 Bad Samaritan 2018 Amazon-Instant-Video
16 7 mother! 2017 Amazon-Instant-VideoHULU
17 New Stephanie 2018 NETFLIX
18 48 The Ritual 2018 NETFLIX
19 10 From Dusk Till Dawn 1996 NETFLIX
20 31 The Neon Demon 2016 Amazon-Instant-VideoHOOPLA
21 30 Cold Skin 2018 HOOPLA
22 18 The Witch 2016 NETFLIXAmazon-Instant-Video
23 20 Unsane 2018 Amazon-Instant-Video
24 8 Ghost Stories 2018 HULU
25 36 Mom and Dad 2018 HULU
26 43 Scream 1996 HOOPLA
27 39 Revenge 2018 SHUDDER
28 15 Summer of 84 2018 SHUDDER
29 27 Cloverfield 2008 NETFLIX
30 New It Comes at Night 2017 Amazon-Instant-Video
31 41 Marrowbone 2018 HULU
32 21 The Endless 2018 NETFLIXHOOPLA
33 17 Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil 2018 NETFLIX
34 New The Limehouse Golem 2017 HULUHOOPLA
35 37 The Devil’s Advocate 1997 NETFLIX
36 New Paranormal Activity 2009 Amazon-Instant-VideoHULU
37 New Downrange 2018 SHUDDER
38 44 American Psycho 2000 Amazon-Instant-VideoSHUDDER
39 19 Blade 1998 NETFLIX
40 New Hounds of Love 2017 HULUHOOPLA
41 32 Interview with the Vampire 1994 NETFLIX
42 42 Blade II 2002 NETFLIX
43 New Scream 4 2011 NETFLIX
44 46 The Babysitter 2017 NETFLIX
45 40 Stonehearst Asylum 2014 NETFLIX
46 New Tale of Tales 2016 NETFLIX
47 6 The Strangers: Prey at Night 2018 Amazon-Instant-Video
48 New The Snowman 2017 HULU
49 New 31 2016 SHUDDER
50 New Blood Fest 2018 HOOPLA

Overlord

In theaters everywhere
Released Nov. 9, 2018
Rated R – 1hr 50min
Directed by Julius Avery
Starring Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Asbæk


what_it_is_review_header
The night before the D-Day landing, a small squad of American paratroopers are tasked with bringing down a Nazi communications tower in a French village. After a disastrous drop, the ragtag band of survivors, with the help of a young French woman, regroup to carry out the mission, but what they discover is even worse than they could have imagined.


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For gamers, it’s simple to just say ‘Wolfenstein: The Movie’. For all else, it’s half straight-faced WWII war epic and half whizz-bang sci-fi/action/horror featuring ghastly Nazi-engineered monstrosities running amok. Either way, a film with this many slaughtered Nazis will never be a bad thing.


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More than anything, Overlord is an assault on the senses, and I mean that in a good way. That’s what was promised and it delivers – no complaints there. The opening sequence on the doomed transport plane concluding with a wildly disorienting paradrop through a fiery aerial battleground might be the most thrilling sequence of any horror film this year, but the one at the end – no spoilers – gives it a run for its proverbial money. The opening and closing 15 minutes of Overlord make it worth the price of admission in themselves and demand a big screen for full appreciation. So, what of the 75 minutes in the middle?

It’s a mixed bag. There’s some good moments and memorably grisly visuals to be had, but there’s a noticeable lack of tension throughout this middle portion of the film. After the blistering chaos of the introduction and the story gets established on the ground, everything plays out with little in the way of surprises. Without anything to really throw expectations off balance, the pace has a tendency to slog. For movies that insist upon such a high-octane opener, this can be a common issue and generally opens up an opportunity for some quality character development or exploration of thematic elements, but Overlord is not interested in any of that. It’s fully committed to its big-budget B-movie concept, and while that’s certainly not a bad thing in itself, the story between the grand start and the big finish leaves something to be desired.

This might be due to the way the plot often moves forward, which is by choices from the band of protagonists I came to regard as ‘The Questionable Decisions Brigade’. From the time they land until the moment they launch their final assault, many of the things they do are ill-advised. It doesn’t always backfire on them, but when it does, a new problem or situation is created for them to overcome and that’s a somewhat frustrating way to build a story. These aren’t the deepest characters either, so when one is notable for consistently poking around and messing with stuff that he shouldn’t, that attribute really sticks out. I’m pretty certain I’ve let this same tendency slide in other movies, but those films likely didn’t put the very fate of WWII on the shoulders of its heroes, so it becomes more glaring here.

Those narrative concerns are hardly a deal-breaker though. When Overlord is committed to noisy action and grotesque horror, it’s playing gleefully to its strengths. It’s like Inglorious Basterds meets Re-Animator with touches of Evil Dead, The Terminator, and 28 Days Later splattered within it. The direction by Julius Avery is appropriately a visual spectacle, and the commitment to practical FX work, where possible, is commendable. Also, despite the aforementioned lack of character depth, the acting is solid and because of that lack, it gave Pilou Asbæk a perfect opportunity to chew the scenery as a despicable villain, and he takes it. Wyatt Russell, Kurt Russell’s son, really picks up his dad’s grisled protagonist mantle here too – on the strength of the Halloween ‘requel’, maybe we could get a continuation of The Thing with him as MacReady? I’d be willing to slap some money down on the table for that.

For the most part, the movie is as fun as it looks, even if it’s an odd subject for which to look for fun, but it still manages to drive home the fundamental truth that war is hell. It’s more of a cathartic ‘good vs evil’ kind of fun than a shallower ‘PAR-TAY!’ kind of fun. It’s amazing when it’s going full throttle, but not so much when it isn’t. With that average…

Overlord gets a rating of
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Summer of 84

STREAMING BANNER 2
SHUDDER
Released Aug. 10, 2018
Unrated (equal to R rating for violence and language) – 1hr 45min
Directed by François Simard, Anouk Whissell, & Yoann-Karl Whissell
Starring Graham Verchere, Caleb Emery, Tiera Skovbye, Rich Sommer


what_it_is_review_header
As the title clearly explains, it’s the summer of 1984, and a serial killer is on the loose in the fictional suburb of Ipswich, Oregon. A teenage boy comes to suspect his police officer neighbor of the grisly crimes and enlists the help of his buddies to find the evidence to prove it.


what_it_does_review_header
Summer of 84 wants to be a realistic, non-fantastical iteration of Stranger Things. It’s a coming-of-age drama, a rumination of the existential ennui of suburban life, an 80s youth adventure complete with numerous nostalgic callbacks, and a serial killer suspense thriller. That’s a lot of things to be when it’s also 105 minutes long.


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Summer of 84, along with a number of other horror films released this year, is trying to be a lot of things at once. I’m inclined to believe that it is the influence of television – reinvented and reinvigorated by the growing prominence of the streaming format – that is being absorbed by ambitious filmmakers. No longer bogged down by advertising, broadcast schedules, or runtime concerns, these long-form presentations – when they’re good – can more easily capture a richness of story, setting, and character than a single feature film simply by having more time to devote to exposition. However, it’s easy to understand why filmmakers would be eager to replicate that experience in their work, but the result is often something that is just too narratively busy for its own good.

This movie, for at least an hour, was threatening to go the same way. It has so many elements scattered on the table that it’s seemingly suffering from an identity crisis, doing more to establish supporting characters and background themes than push the main story forward. Then, Summer of 84 pulls off something of a miracle, and brings it all together for a terrific final act (well, brings enough of it together, anyway.) That isn’t to say that everything is resolved in a nice and neat ending, but that almost all the disparate pieces prove to be worthwhile in a tale that’s as much an Americana tragedy as it is a horror/mystery.

The direction is solid throughout – more workmanlike than stylish, yet surprisingly cohesive for a three-person effort. The acting is likewise believable – no shoddy performances or flat line reads here, but the low-key mood throughout doesn’t demand any tour de forces either. Out of the gate, the four boys at the center of the story come across as somewhat obnoxious, but that’s cleverly subverted as the movie progresses to provide some unexpected depth to the roles. The same could be said about the whole ’80s premise – things start out as a quintessential throwback to the era only to be purposefully derailed by the cold hard truth of reality. The wise-cracking one comes from a broken home, the requisite hot chick is a complicated human being, and adventures can be tragic.

In show business, it’s said to be a success if you leave the audience wanting more, and that’s how Summer of 84 left me. My cynicism peaked about halfway through, but by the time the end credits rolled, I was very invested in these characters, immersed in this story, and demanding to spend more time in the gloomy burg of Ipswich. That 180 change is not only rare, but it’s seemingly by design, which is even more impressive.

Summer of 84 gets a rating of
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The Lodgers

STREAMING BANNER 2
NETFLIX
Released Feb. 23, 2018
Rated R – 1hr 32min
Directed by Brian O’Malley
Starring Charlotte Vega, Bill Milner, Eugene Simon, David Bradley


what_it_is_review_header
Twins Rachel (Vega) and Edward (Milner) lead cursed lives – bound in solitude to their ancestral estate by a supernatural force that governs their lives and demands they produce children once they reach adulthood. As their 18th birthday arrives, Rachel is having none of it and begins desperately seeking a way out, but conversely, Edward may be warming up to the idea.


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Primarily, The Lodgers is a gothic ghost story, and it really sells that type of atmosphere. In fact, it strongly invokes many of the themes and elements of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, albeit with a considerably different story structure. It could also be considered something of a fusion between Pride and Prejudice, Flowers in the Attic, and The Turn of the Screw (a book which was likewise a large influence on what is probably the best-known gothic horror film of the last quarter-century, The Others).


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The Lodgers gets off to a strong start. Some bizarre and mysterious sights and character reactions are presented in a way that stokes some legitimate curiosity. The creepy melody sung over the opening credits lays out the rules by which the house-bound twins must live – a nursery rhyme passed to them by their parent/aunt-uncles (gross). The squirm-inducing plot is well introduced, the gothic atmosphere is adeptly established, and Charlotte Vega, as primary protagonist Rachel, demonstrates that she can capably carry scenes like a solid lead actress. Things are looking good.

I wouldn’t have led off like that if it had made good on the promise of its first act. Before long, The Lodgers has a whole lot going on for a ninety-minute movie, and it becomes obvious that all these disparate elements will likely not be united in a satisfactory way. And they’re not. It’s fine when a love interest is introduced for Rachel (at least one she didn’t share a womb with for nine months – gross) because that’s the catalyst the story needs to really get going. However, that love interest Sean has his own tragic backstory that gets considerable attention from the narrative. Additionally, he gets wrapped up in a subplot involving political violence, the Irish War of Independence, and the town’s resident bully – all of which gets its own screen time and none of which contributes anything to the plot. It’s a baffling choice on the part of the filmmakers. Meanwhile, Edward just sulks away in the decaying estate – an opportunity lost to build him into a compelling and more complicated antagonist. He just is, and his sudden descent into madness is delivered in the kind of shorthand that should have been reserved for Sean’s nowhere story threads.

There’s even more material stuffed into The Lodgers than that. So much so, that the paranormal villains of the story get short shrift too. It’s made clear that they are grey, soggy, naked, and mad, but not much else is divulged. As the most extraordinary elements of the plot, their neglect is even less understandable than that of Edward – and the price for all the inattention to both of Rachel’s key adversaries is truly paid in the film’s climactic moments, which simply doesn’t hit with the necessary impact. It just lands with a wet thud – an ‘oh……ok then’ type of ending. All this, and there was an entire separate subplot involving David Bradley – Filch from the Harry Potter series – that didn’t even get addressed here, but likewise consumed valuable time for questionable payoff.

If anything benefits from this overly busy narrative, it’s the pacing, because this movie flew, which given its gothic pedigree, is a rare feat for a subgenre best known for slowburn horror. However, it doesn’t speed along with the focus of an Olympic sprinter – it’s more like that of a hyperactive child loaded up on Halloween candy. Another 30-45 minutes to bind all these elements together more tightly while also trimming some fat from the plot and tweaking that lackluster ending, and we could be looking at one of the year’s best. Instead, we’re just looking at one of the year’s movies.

The Lodgers gets a rating of
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Cold Skin

STREAMING BANNER 2
HOOPLA
Released Sep. 7, 2018
Unrated (equal to R rating for creature violence, thematic elements, nudity, and aberrant sexual content) – 1hr 48min
Directed by Xavier Gens
Starring Ray Stevenson, David Oakes, Aura Garrido


what_it_is_review_header
A man (Oakes) with a mysterious past takes a job as a weather observer on a desolate island near the Antarctic Circle. Upon arrival, he meets the island’s only other resident, the eccentric misanthrope Gruner (Stevenson), and is informed rather unconvincingly that his predecessor died of typhus during his year-long mission. Come nightfall, however, he learns there are much greater things to fear than Gruner lurking about.


what_it_does_review_header
To an extent, it’s like an adaptation of I Am Legend, if H.P. Lovecraft had written it instead of Richard Matheson. However, the themes explored throughout Cold Skin are more related to Matheson’s work than they are to the cosmic terror of Lovecraft’s stories. Regardless, the film approaches its subject matter as both a visual epic and as a contemplative narrative.


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Starting out, Cold Skin presents its story as a man’s struggle for survival against things he doesn’t understand in a place he probably shouldn’t be. That, along with the early 1900’s time period, the isolated setting, the verbose philosophizing intellectual who serves as both the protagonist & narrator, and, perhaps most obviously, the vicious humanoid sea dwellers who persistently raid the island are all staples that would suggest the film to be a quintessential Lovecraftian tale. Without turning this into a bio of the immensely complicated and infamously xenophobic author, his works explored almost exclusively fear of the unknown & unknowable and the possibility of humanity’s lack of value in the greater scheme of things. Despite the setup, that’s not where this movie decides to go.

Within the first half hour, Cold Skin shifts its focus largely to the precarious coexistence between the nameless protagonist and the brutish roughshod Gruner, who lords over the derelict isle’s lighthouse. To complicate matters, Gruner is obsessed with exterminating the aquatic humanoids, all the while keeping a female sea person captive as an abused pet and sex slave. While Ray Stevenson gives the lout a very compelling portrayal, he’s hellishly unlikable and the nameless dude – who I’m tempted to just name Bob for the sake of simplicity – generally regards Gruner with the mildest of irritation. Considering we know so little about him, it’s difficult to really understand or reconcile any of his – Bob’s – motivations, reactions, or contemplations on anything, as they all become quite contradictory when examined as a whole. Maybe that’s the point – the film is based on a novel by Albert Sánchez Piñol that I have never read, so I’m somewhat unsure on the matter, and that raises an interesting issue with the movie.

Apparently, this is an extremely faithful adaptation of that book, which is a rare thing in the film world. While book lovers often convey their disappointment in adaptations of their favorite novels, that’s generally because the nature of the storytelling itself needs to be radically transformed to compliment the attributes of another medium. Literature is exclusively for the imagination while film is predominantly an audiovisual experience, and without going into a lecture on psychology, the way we process the two types of information are dramatically different. Of course, the essence of the same story can be told in both formats, but what is successful for the one does not translate directly to the other – changes need be made. That is a very specific diagnosis as to why the pacing, tone, and overall narrative presentation of Cold Skin comes across as awkward and off-putting. The pursuit of faithful adaptation is a noble one, but in my opinion, is also a self-inflicted injury.

Despite a story that moves in erratic jolts that drag down the pace, Cold Skin is a beautifully directed movie. The scope of Xavier Gens’ filmmaking talent has expanded greatly since his debut, Frontier(s). While I liked that movie more than this one, Gens has grown from a director of backwoods horror to one who is capable of an epic. This isn’t quite the great one yet, but damn it if he wasn’t close. The cinematography work of Daniel Aranyó needs to be commended here as well for likewise making the film visually spectacular. It’s an exceedingly small cast, but as alluded before, Stevenson mostly runs away with it as Gruner, but Aura Garrido deserves credit too for her wordless role as his confused and victimized captive.

There existed here all the components for a potential classic, but Cold Skin proves again that a movie starts with its script. That’s not to say that it was poorly written, but that the adaptation was perhaps ill-conceived. Aside from what I mentioned earlier, the movie also struggles with the presentation of its weighty themes. It puts them down on the table for consideration, but then hasn’t much of anything interesting to say about them other than that they exist. That would generally be easier to overlook, if those themes were not the reason the film itself seems to exist.

Cold Skin gets a rating of
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What the Waters Left Behind

STREAMING BANNER 2
Amazon-Instant-Video
Released Oct. 26, 2018
Language: Spanish (Argentina)
Unrated (equal to hard R rating for graphic and sadistic violence including rape and torture, sexual content, and language) – 1hr 38min
Directed by Luciano & Nicolás Onetti
Starring Agustín Pardella, Victoria Maurette, Victorio D’Alessandro


what_it_is_review_header
A documentary film crew sets off for the flood-ravaged ruins of a ghost town. Once there, they become the targets of a depraved and bloodthirsty family of cannibals.


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It’s everything you thought of when you read that description – nothing more and nothing less. It’s the Argentina Chainsaw Massacre Inferno of 1000 Corpses that Have Eyes.


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There’s a fine line between paying homage and being a copycat. Among notable filmmakers, Quentin Tarantino is probably the most adept at walking that tightrope. In the horror world, Rob Zombie is well-known for wearing his genre influences on his sleeve, and while he stumbles from time to time, he’s typically successful in making references to his favorite films and still creating something that feels fairly fresh with its own identity. What the Waters Left Behind does not do this. It goes to work with a hillbilly horror checklist and it does not roll the end credits until every single box has been marked off.

After watching the comparably superior Terrified (Aterrados), I was in the mood to see what else is going on in the Argentina scene and this appeared to fit the bill. As I try to approach a movie as blind as I can, all I knew here was that people go to a creepy flooded place, and then What the Waters Left Behind delivered to me its singular surprise, in that it wasn’t a monster movie. The opening sequence made it pretty obvious, but as soon as our hapless protagonists – the horny one, the princess type, her bf Overly Serious Guy, the sassy lesbian, Mr. Plain Vanilla, and She Who Is Most Likely to Survive – drive up to the world’s most impossibly disgusting gas station and meet the wildly eccentric and menacing individuals that live there, it became abundantly clear what kind of experience was in store. There’s the overly aggressive and territorial mechanic. We have a filthy old woman selling mystery meat pies and telling awkwardly grim stories to clearly uncomfortable people. We got the mysterious perv in the back room fapping to something incoherently bizarre on an antiquated TV. Meet our cannibals, ladies and gentlemen.

The whole movie progresses in this reliably predictable manner – its steadfast commitment to choosing the most obvious possibility at virtually every opportunity is impressive in a twisted, upside-down way. The biggest shame about the cliché-worn story is how good the film looks. First and foremost, the filmmakers employed the greatest set designer that will work for free – nature. The ruined city of Epecuén is a very real place that was devastated by a cataclysmic flood in the 1980s and it makes an extremely effective setting for a horror film. Its beautifully haunting devastation makes for an unsettling backdrop to the movie’s ugly events (and I’m sure, in Argentina, the place is likely steeped in urban legend, providing greater subtext to audiences there). It’s frustrating though that What the Waters Left Behind could not make more of this unique locale.

Also, the film is rather well-directed in regards to style and technique. Many shots are artistically and compellingly framed. Color is very well implemented throughout. There’s some pretty amazing tracking shots taken utilizing the Epecuén ruins that are maybe more ambitious than necessary. The Onetti brothers may have flubbed it when they wrote the staggeringly derivative script, but What the Waters Left Behind serves as quite the impressive demo reel for what they can accomplish behind the camera.

Overall, this is such a ‘been there, done that’ movie, it elevates many other such movies to a place of greater creativity by comparison. By taking no risks, it’s devoid of suspense, but it’s still rather effective when it wants to make you squirm. However, with nothing interesting to say about anything, the sadism seems rather cheap and empty. It’s still not a bad horror movie though. Setting aside, it may not have an original bone in its proverbial bone collection to which every cannibal family devotes at least one room in their ramshackle house, but it accomplishes its objectives with style, and that’s more than can be said about a lot of flicks.

If hillbilly horror is still somehow new to you, then go up a couple notches – otherwise, What the Waters Left Behind gets a
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Kuntilanak

STREAMING BANNER 2
NETFLIX
Released Oct. 12, 2018
Language: Indonesian
Unrated (equal to PG-13 for violence, imagery, and mild language) – 1hr 45min
Directed by Rizal Mantovani
Starring Sandrinna Michelle, Aurélie Moeremans, Fero Walandouw


what_it_is_review_header
Five adopted children are left in the care of their foster mother’s niece for three weeks. In the meanwhile, the niece’s boyfriend has procured a nice gift for the aunt – an ornate antique mirror. Unfortunately, the mirror is cursed with a ‘kuntilanak’, an evil spirit that feeds on the souls of children, preying especially on those without mothers.


what_it_does_review_header
The Ring meets Oculus by way of E.T., all rooted in Indonesian culture and folklore. It’s mostly jump scares, a twitchy demon with crunchy bones that flops around the floor a lot, and some tonally inconsistent kiddie hijinks.


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Kuntilanak started well enough. The intro focuses on a young boy, Anjas, mourning the recent loss of his mother and dealing with the erratic behavior of his father, who is drowning his sorrows in booze. He’s a perfect mark for the mirror-bound ghost, and she makes quick work of him. This sequence is actually quite effective – it’s properly creepy and suspenseful while also managing to be surprisingly sad. The actor who plays Anjas, Naufal Ho, does a good job at selling his character’s grief and survivor guilt. However, the movie’s primary problem starts to grow apparent even in this early scene.

The film throws every single thing it can think of at the wall and doesn’t wait to see what sticks before it begins throwing more. It doesn’t take long for the haunted mirror to find its way into the home of the main protagonists, and once it does, the set pieces are a relentless bombardment of creepy sounds, supernatural tropes, jump scares, and shrieking violins. Kuntilanak wants to beat you over the head with a shoe while screaming, “ARE YOU SCARED YET?!?! HOW ABOUT NOW?!?!” So much is employed so quickly, it doesn’t take long before scares are being recycled. By the midway point, I was just exhausted with the whole endeavor and was dragged along apathetically through the remainder of the runtime.

The film must have been exhausted too, because it is at that halfway mark when a new plot device is introduced and our plucky child heroes are literally packing their bags and going elsewhere for about a half hour. I’m not sure I could adequately explain why they do this, other than to conveniently tie their story in with the opening sequence. The brief respite as they travel from one location to the other is welcome, because once they arrive to the other house, Kuntilanak goes right back to pummeling us with the spooky shoe again. “THOSE CANDLES LIT THEMSELVES!!! YOU SCARED NOW?!?!”

There’s some odd stylistic choices and tonal inconsistencies throughout as well, but I attribute a lot of that to my own lack of familiarity with Indonesian culture, so those elements probably held my interest better than most everything else in the film. Indonesia is a rapidly developing economy with quite the burgeoning horror scene, so there’s plenty more offerings on the way – Kuntilanak was probably not the ideal introduction though. It would’ve been impressive if it had pulled off the whole ‘The Grudge with an 80’s Speilberg vibe’ motif it had going on, but it showed so little restraint that it worked better as a parody than a horror movie.

Kuntilanak gets a rating of
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Review Roundup #4

That’s 9 more reviews and this was easily my favorite batch of movies so far, with 5 making strong cases for the upcoming year-end Best Of list. Our Stream Picks Friday feature got benched this week, but will return as an every-other-Saturday thing, rotating with the Review Roundup. The next two weeks will see the introduction of a Spotlight feature, an article focusing on a specific movie, genre celebrity, or year in horror. So, this marks 50 days of Terror Spective, continuing to provide daily horror content free of ads and clickbait, and the plan is to keep it that way. Now, for each Roundup, I go over my review process to help explain how I decided upon a particular score. REVIEW RUBRICI look at premise, story, characters, pacing, visuals, acting, atmosphere, effects, music, and the presence and quality of what can just be called ‘horror elements’ (scares, gore, things like that). I don’t score each category individually – just weigh them all out against what works for or against the premise and crunch it all into a letter grade. The intention is that, if the idea behind the movie is solid and that movie is also well-made, then it will get a good grade regardless of what kind of horror movie it is – keep my personal preferences to a minimum to focus on the quality alone. So, with that, here’s the reviews:


Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil – 2018 – Grade: A-

ERREMENTARIAvailable on Netflix. Set in the Basque region of Spain, a government official arrives in a sleepy village still reeling in the aftermath of a civil war. He is in search of a blacksmith who allegedly absconded years earlier with a fortune of ill-gotten gold. Meanwhile, young orphan and local misfit Usue has the head of her beloved doll ripped off by bullies and thrown over the wall of the blacksmith’s forbidding makeshift fortress. These two sets of circumstances will collide to expose the fearsome blacksmith both to the horrors that he hides from and those he keeps trapped within. Full review here.


Halloween – 2018 – Grade: B

HALLOWEEN 2018 - HORROR WATCHNow playing in theaters everywhere. Forty years after the infamous Babysitter Murders devastated the town of Haddonfield, the killer – Michael Myers – is being transferred to a lesser facility after decades of silence and docility. He escapes to continue his obsessive-compulsive killing spree, seeking out the one who got away, Laurie Strode, but she has spent her entire adult life waiting and preparing for this day. What she doesn’t count on is that her granddaughter Allyson will wind up in his path. Full review here.


Prodigy – 2018 – Grade: B

PRODIGYAvailable on Netflix. Child psychologist James Fonda is brought in as a consultant for a government project by an old associate. He is caught completely off guard by his new assignment – to counsel and evaluate a sociopathic super-genius child named Ellie who is handled as if she is a monster. How dangerous can this little girl possibly be?… Full review here.


Terrified – 2018 – Grade: B

TERRIFIEDAvailable on Shudder. Residents of a city street are plagued by intensifying supernatural phenomena that begins to claim lives in a violent fashion. In an effort to clear the name of a man falsely accused of his wife’s murder, three paranormal investigators and a police captain team up to discover the source of the malicious activity, which may be more horrible than they could have imagined. Full review here.


Unsane – 2018 – Grade: B

UNSANEAvailable on Amazon Prime Video. Sawyer Valentini is a successful and ambitious business analyst with a tough-as-nails persona on the outside, but inside, she’s plagued by constant anxiety and depression following a traumatic stalking by a relentless admirer, David. When she seeks counseling for her issues, she is conned by an unscrupulous treatment facility into consenting to ‘observation’. Locked inside with no means of escape, her nightmare only worsens when a new orderly named George is a spitting image of her psycho stalker. Full review here.


Chopping Mall – 1986 – Grade: C+

CHOPPING MALLAvailable on Amazon Prime Video, Hoopla, & TubiTV. A shopping mall installs a state-of-the-art security system, complete with three automated robots and steel shutters that seal the place tight from midnight to sunrise. On the first night of operation, an electrical storm shorts out the rooftop control unit, turning the security droids into haywire killbots. Meanwhile, four young couples have arranged an after-hours party at the furniture store. You see where this is going. Full review here.


Extraordinary Tales – 2015 – Grade: C+

EXTRAORDINARY TALESAvailable on Netflix & Hoopla. An animated anthology of some of Edgar Allen Poe’s greatest stories – The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell-tale Heart, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, The Pit and the Pendulum, & The Masque of the Red Death. They are thread together by a story of Poe himself in the embodiment of a raven debating the nature of his life and work with none other than Death, taking the form of a graveyard statue. Full review here.


Ghost Stories – 2018 – Grade: C-

GHOST STORIESAvailable on Hulu. Professor Philip Goodman has made a career of debunking claims of the supernatural and even hosts a TV show on the subject. He’s contacted by another academic, Dr. Charles Cameron – a fellow skeptic who happens to be his personal hero – who hasn’t much time left to live. The dying man challenges Goodman to debunk three cases that have shaken him to his core, leaving him to question his life’s work. What Goodman discovers may destroy him completely. Full review here.


Seven in Heaven – 2018 – Grade: C-

SEVEN IN HEAVENAvailable on Netflix. While at a keggar, Jude and June are picked to play the game Seven Minutes in Heaven, where a random couple go into a closet to maybe make out, maybe not. Jude and June don’t, as they’re not particularly fond of each other, but when they emerge, they find themselves in a different but similar reality – one where people are much more hostile, their friends hate them, and Jude is a wanted killer. Full review here.


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Terrified

STREAMING BANNER 2
SHUDDER
Released Oct. 12, 2018
Language: Spanish (Argentina)
Unrated (equal to R rating for graphic violence, imagery, and language) – 1hr 27min
Directed by Demián Rugna
Starring Ariel Chavarría, Maximiliano Ghione, Norberto Gonzalo


what_it_is_review_header
Residents of a city street are plagued by intensifying supernatural phenomena that begins to claim lives in a violent fashion. In an effort to clear the name of a man falsely accused of his wife’s murder, three paranormal investigators and a police captain team up to discover the source of the malicious activity, which may be more horrible than they could have imagined.


what_it_does_review_header
Terrified wisely avoids the found footage format that has become so popular for telling these kinds of stories in favor of a traditional presentation. However, the movie is split into two distinct halves – the first told largely in flashback during an interview and the second moving forward from there. The narrative though generally works to provide a platform for set pieces with big scares in mind.


how_it_does_review_header
Terrified exists for only the one objective – to get under your skin. To its credit, it largely succeeds. Despite the fantastic circumstances that drive the plot here, the proceedings ground themselves firmly in reality. It plays everything with a straight face and an unblinking stare. Frequently, that’s not enough in itself to really sell the material and can often backfire into unintentionally laughable seriousness, but director Demián Rugna demonstrates a great awareness of the subtle details that promote suspense and uneasiness.

Those little flourishes are played with patience and confidence throughout, so when Terrified makes its move and hits with the jolt of a scare or the horror of a gruesome reveal, it worked to earn that moment. When a grown man checks under his bed in a panic before he dares to put his feet on the floor, it has a lot of unnerving impact since all that has been established by then is how truly malevolent this mysterious presence is – we don’t know what he was expecting to see under there, but it certainly can’t be good. That’s a single example that doesn’t give too much away, but those types of set-ups provide the backbone of the film.

The story, on the other hand, could have benefited greatly from that same meticulous consideration. The movie is only interested in providing hints at the greater nature of the forces at play, but those hints neither satisfy nor are they necessarily coherent when taken as a whole. There’s definitely an interesting mythology guiding the action behind the scenes that invokes shades of Event Horizon and Prince of Darkness, which are less typical influences for a haunted house flick, but the glimpses into those inner workings mostly serve to baffle and frustrate, especially for a film that centers so much around the process of investigation. Also, the ending is something of a shrug. Don’t get me wrong though – the horror elements of Terrified are strong enough to overcome the weakish plot.

The other components of the movie hit the mark as well. The acting contributes to the sense of gravity that provides an effective contrast to all the phantasmagoria. The score, composed by Pablo Isola, is properly creepy, even if it isn’t particularly distinctive with its droning synth and haunting piano notes. The setting of a cramped urban street in Buenos Aires provides an outer layer of claustrophobia on top of the interiors of the homes themselves. Aside from a moment midway through when the plot focus shifts for the back half of the film, the pace moves along nicely.

Terrified is a great example of a pure horror experience. The story is rather thin, there’s no ambitious attempts at allegory or messages to interpret about greater themes, and it’s not concerned with portraying some visually elaborate style. It just wants to scare you. It plays somewhat like Hereditary‘s leaner, meaner Argentine cousin – it just wants to get down to business, and fortunately for the audience, business is good.

Terrified gets a rating of
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