The much anticipated thriller from filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar makes its DVD and Blu-Ray – as well as digital and On-Demand platforms – debut on May 10, 2106. The film is set in 1990, as a Minnesota youth, Angela (Emma Watson), accuses her father of sexually abusing her as a child. Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) investigates the girl’s allegations and becomes embroiled in tales of repressed memories and Satanic rituals. The palette of this movie is suitably dark and, like Amenabar’s genre-hopping classic, THE OTHERS, the twists and turns here keep you guessing. The plot features elements of horror, crime drama and psychological thriller all rolled into one, as first Angela, then her father begin to remember a past that may or may not be real. Hawke is at his brooding best as Detective Kenner, while the rest of the formidable cast (including David Thewlis) are swept along in his vortex. Watson is doing her best to move past her HARRY POTTER character, as she chooses roles that are far edgier than the sweet Hermione Granger. Just watching the trailer, I’m not sure this will earn her any new fans (or convince her longtime fans that she is anyone other than Hermione). Time… and a full viewing of REGRESSION… will tell.
(RLJ ENTERTAINMENT/SHORELINE ENTERTAINMENT/EMERGENT BEHAVIOR-ACCELERATED MATTER PRODUCTIONS/AMBUSH ENTERTAINMENT (85 minutes; Unrated); 2015)
As much as I love science fiction movies, I’m not big into the whole Artificial Intelligence (AI) thing; cyborgs, robots, androids are okay (Deathlok, that canned dude from LOST IN SPACE, the Vision) but, a lot of times, the attempt to make these types into a “normal” human-like construct just leaves me cold. With that as background, I wasn’t sure about UNCANNY and where it would fall on the spectrum; the advance publicity and trailer promised a creepy sort of stalker thing with the possibility of a very violent second half. Uh… kinda.
The story has a rather claustrophobic feel… it mostly takes place in one location (an apartment/suite/laboratory called Workspace 18) with only three characters for roughly ninety-eight percent of the movie. David Kressen (Mark Webber, who strikes me as a younger version of the brilliant Jeffrey Combs) is a reclusive (and amazingly well-adjusted) boy genius who has been left to his own devices for the past ten years, charged with creating the ultimate robotic AI; his roommate, Adam (David Clayton Rogers), is the result of Kressen’s work and has taken his creator’s last name. The introduction of a third individual, reporter (and failed roboticist) Joy Andrews (Lucy Griffiths), is initially met with trepidation and mild annoyance from David and confusion from Adam. Joy has been sent to conduct a week’s worth of interviews for a feature story on Kressen and his work. She is totally taken aback when David reveals the truth about Adam and, thus, the three embark upon an intellectually stimulating few days; as the continued interaction leads to more intimate feelings between Kressen and Andrews, Adam begins to exhibit some very human reactions: Love, jealousy, confusion and, finally, hate and revenge. By the fourth day, the situation has become a bizarre lovers’ triangle, with Adam infringing upon and, at times, outright sabotaging the others’ time together. Adam also develops some new voyeuristic tendencies, which come to a head when he gives a gift to Joy, in the form of a prototype robotic eye with, naturally (and completely unknown to the receiver), a camera. The better to secretly watch you mediate in your underwear, my dear.
The whole movie is very quiet and serene, three highly intelligent beings discussing the things that they enjoy most and interacting in the most reasonable fashion imaginable… until the final twenty minutes or so. When Joy discovers what Adam has been up to, she takes Kressen aside to let him know what his creation is capable of; Kressen tells her she shouldn’t worry too much… it’s just Adam adjusting his learning curve and adding new stimuli and knowledge to his matrix. David does, however, confront Adam about his actions; Adam apologizes and – as far as Kressen is concerned – the incident is forgotten. Adam hasn’t forgotten and, when he tries to stick his tongue down Andrews’ throat, she objects and David chastises Adam, sending him to his room like a misbehaving child; a very childlike outburst from Adam stuns creator and reporter alike. That’s really the extent of the violence, though there is a nice (if rather anticipated) twist-ending that delivers the “evil corporate construct” message like a very quiet sucker-punch to the solar-plexus. That message, delivered by Rainn Wilson as the deliciously sinister Simon Castle, Kressen’s benefactor/employer, will send a chill down your spine and have you looking over your shoulder as you conduct your day-to-day life for, at least, a few days. And, that, friends, is what a good piece of science-fiction should do… leave you questioning the reality of the subject matter at hand; first-time screenwriter Shahin Chandrasoma (who is a surgeon specializing in robotic urology) and acclaimed director/editor Matthew Leutwyler have certainly accomplished that.
UNCANNY succeeded in holding my attention and stimulating my mind much more than I would have thought possible, given the subject matter and the subtly delicate approach. This kind of story probably isn’t for everybody… teens and young kids will undoubtedly be bored out of their gourds waiting for something, ANYTHING to happen and, by the time it does, will probably have given up on the whole thing. However, if YOU stay with it, I think that you’ll be grateful you didn’t give up on UNCANNY too soon. The movie is available on DVD and as a digital download.
(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/MAIN STREET FILMS/RAPIDFIRE ENTERTAINMENT (93 minutes; Rated R); 2015)
When I was solicited to review this Australian import, loosely based on a series of executions (or, murders, depending on your sense of justice), I wasn’t sure what to expect. To be perfectly honest, I envisioned something akin to one of those horrible, schlocky Steven Seagal flicks. Boy… was I wrong! Steven Seagal would choke on his own tongue and break every bone in his body if he were to attempt a nuanced performance like that given by Jamie Bamber as JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE.
Here’s the story: A man identified only as John Doe (a chilling, steely-eyed performance from Bamber), an accused serial killer of 33 – all reprehensible people who needed killing (pedophiles, abusive partners, gang members, crooked police, unscrupulous businessmen, et cetera… you get the idea) – is standing trial for his crimes. The scene shifts to the courthouse steps, where protestors (for and against Doe’s actions) and a rabid media are on hand as the prosecuting attorney steps to the microphone to announce the verdict; just as he is about to utter the vigilante’s fate, a huge explosion tears through the crowd. From there, the film takes on a sort of cinema verite feel, with scenes of John Doe’s brutality (as well as the injustices that led to that brutality) interspersed with a series of worldwide news reports, incidents of other like-minded citizens, a movement they call “Speak For the Dead,” taking up the cause (and their baseball bats) and – most intriguing – a prison interview with the man called John Doe, conducted by a reporter named Ken Rutherford (a brilliantly understated turn by Lachy Hulme). One reporter, closely linked to Doe, tells the camera, “He was killing career criminals. Nobody cared until the body count started rising.”
Apart from the chaos at the courthouse and a few very violent scenes of retribution, there really isn’t a lot of action going on; JOHN DOE… is what you would call a psychological thriller. If you’re thinking that means this flick is boring, I guarantee you… it is anything but; even with everything basically laid out in front of us since that first scene, there are more than a few “gotcha” moments that will stun you and leave you wondering how you could have missed some rather obvious (in retrospect) clues; even the ending will leave you guessing. By exploring the killer’s psyche, we are forced to confront the societal and personal demons that we too often ignore or accept without question. In the end, we learn that, like the system of justice we live under, we are all somehow tainted and a little corrupt. JOHN DOE: VIGILANTE will have you thinking and, maybe, looking over your shoulder… just in case.
I’m not really sure how to characterize this film; I mean, it probably wouldn’t make a great date movie and, with the R rating and all of the scenes of violence and brutality, it really isn’t made for family viewing, either. When and with whom you decide to watch, just know that you are in for an emotional roller coaster of a ride; it is, hands down, one of the most riveting, purely psychological explorations since 1990’s MISTER FROST.
(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/RLJ ENTERTAINMENT/QUIET BOX PRODUCTIONS (84 minutes/Unrated); 2014)
I have an extremely high level of tolerance for creep; the new movie, PHOBIA, has creeped me out more than anything I’ve witnessed… and that includes the nearly four minutes of KEEPING UP WITH KARDASHIANS I accidentally saw when my remote’s “channel up” button wouldn’t “channel up.” Now, I have to live with the image of that Bruce Jenner chick every time I close my eyes! As disturbing as that was, the nightmare inducing images of Rory Douglas Abel’s directorial debut full-length film should easily over-ride that.
Agoraphobic Jonathan MacKinley (portrayed by a disturbingly believable Michael Jefferson) hasn’t stepped out of his house in over a year, since the death of his wife; he wanted to go to a party, she wanted to stay home; he drank and insisted that he was fine to drive home after the party. In his impaired state, he didn’t see the car that ran the red light and struck the passenger side of his vehicle (although, I suspect something more sinister… probably involving that ‘stache). Since that time, the only people that he’s had actual physical contact with have been his best friend, Taylor (Andrew Ruth), his therapist, Doctor Edmondson (Peter Gregus) and a grocery delivery person. Early in the story, Taylor phones MacKinley to let him know that he’s found a new delivery person, a young woman named Bree (Emma Dubery). MacKinley’s tenuous grasp on reality has been eroding quickly of late, as the solitude takes its toll via frightful dreams and macabre visions, blurring the line between his reality and his horrible fantasies. (On the surface, this whole scenario may seem highly improbable; however, I can say from family experience, that this is quite plausible: I had a cousin… a cousin that I never met. She suffered from agoraphobia and had locked herself in her home, pulling all of the blinds. The only people she would allow in was a sister and a daughter. The years of separation from the outside world had a negative effect on her mental health, including the belief that her life was in constant danger. The delusions were very real.) And, so, back to our regularly scheduled review…
MacKinley, fighting against his own sanity, opens up to Bree, allowing an intimacy that he hasn’t known since the death of Jane (Sarah Schoofs, who generally appears in all of her post-autopsy glory… uh… gore). As the visions and dreams become more frequent and more realistic, MacKinley places an emergency call to Doctor Edmondson, putting into motion a chain of events that, while expected, are, nonetheless, very disturbing. In a wonderfully twisted move, Abel (who is also co-writer, with Matthew Barnes) introduces enough elements to the story to open up the possibility that MacKinley’s psychoses may actually be the work of a malevolent entity (appearing in his waking nightmares as “the Shade,” played by Sandra Palmeri). That’s one of the theories that the individual viewer will have to accept or discard on their own.
The movie, like most indie flicks, is not without its problems, chief among them being the particularly stilted acting from Jefferson in the first few scenes of the story; of course, this could all be his take on the phobia and dementia that is overtaking his life. As that dementia progresses, Jefferson’s acting becomes more natural and… more manic. The fact that the majority of the story takes place within the confines of a cramped, dark brownstone only adds to the creepiness, allowing us to – in a fashion – experience MacKinley’s torturous life. Working in such a small area may not be most movie-makers’ ideal situation but, this tale would not have worked under any other circumstance. The set and the lighting is dark and claustrophobic, making the few moments of bright light (usually seen when Bree or Taylor enters the home) seem like searing shards of metal boring into your cerebral cortex. If PHOBIA had been Abel’s third or fourth film, these aspects would be considered outstanding film-making from an experienced hand; with it being his first, these choices point to a visionary of phenomenal potential in the horror/thriller genre. Personally, I can’t wait to see what he has planned for us next. Oh, yeah… for whatever reason, the package art has absolutely nothing to do with the story. Just sayin’.
Please be aware that PHOBIA features graphic scenes of violence and gore, as well as, nudity. This film is not for the weak of heart or for anyone younger than fifteen or so. It will definitely have you looking over your shoulder and under your bed for a day or two; but, then, that’s why we like it so much.
(XLRATOR MEDIA/SEMI-PROFESSIONAL PICTURES (111 minutes/Unrated); 2014)
So, you know those cute, little (occasionally out-of-context) blips in movie advertising that say “Wicked fun!” or some such exclamated proclamation exhorting you to spend money on whatever movie they’re hyping? Well, that one is mine… “Wicked fun!” and, the publicity people handling the horror/comedy flick HOUSEBOUND are more than welcome to add it to the ever-growing list of expletives regarding said flick. But, just like all of those other quotes about all of those other movies, that’s just one phrase plucked from an entire review about the film… I don’t think that the guy from TIME or ROLLING STONE could get away with a review that said simply, “Heart-stopping thrills!” or “Madcap murder and mayhem!,” although I would definitely go see whatever film the latter was tagging. But, I digress (regress?). Likewise, my review would have to be something a bit more substantial than “Wicked fun!,” even if that capsule statement sums up the matter rather effectively.
After a string of bad decisions (the last one involving an attempt to purloin an ATM or, at the very least, the funds located within), Kylie Bucknell (sardonically portrayed by Morgana O’Reilly) is placed under house arrest. Here’s the catch: The house the judge remands her to for the next eight months is a musty old place occupied by her ditzy mother, Miriam, and befuddled step-father, Graeme… a place she hasn’t visited for a few years because, well, that’s where her ditzy mother, Miriam, can be found. Miriam (the gloriously over-the-top Rima Te Wiata) flits about the house and around Kylie like a hyperactive squirrel on speed (just let that imagery soak in for a bit), glad to have her errant child back home and continually fretting over her well-being; Graeme (a delightfully somnabulistic Ross Harper) just stands back, hoping that he is well out of the line of fire. Glen-Paul Waru appears as the bumbling tech specialist Amos, who is responsible for activating Kylie’s ankle monitor and running her to ground when the alarm goes off. Regarding said monitor, Miriam notes, “It’s such high tech, isn’t it? Aren’t you lucky, Kylie, having all that fancy technology on your foot?” You can understand why Kylie would rather have spent the eight months in a prison cell.
Strange happenings are afoot in the house, as various electronic devices go haywire and electrical wiring and outlets are causing major disruptions to the trio’s way of life. Miriam, in typical fashion, is convinced that the house is haunted; Kylie, in typical fashion, is convinced her mother is insane. When a power outage sends Kylie to the basement to check for a blown fuse, a noise has her believing that someone has broken into the house; when she is grabbed by a skeletal hand, she is definitely starting to come around to her mother’s way of thinking. As it turns out, the incident damages the monitor, eliciting a visit from Amos, who is definitely down with the thought that a spirit or other-worldly entity may be causing the electrical problems at Casa Bucknell. Things get weirder as Kylie begins to dig into the history of the familial abode, discovering that, at one time, it was a “halfway house” for wayward teens (rather like a younger version of Kylie herself) and the scene of a brutal murder. As she becomes more immersed in the mystery, her court ordered therapist (Cameron Rhodes) shows up for their first session. Kylie, uncharacteristically, starts to open up to Dennis, the analyst and, naturally, the recurrence of unexplained activity heightens. From this point forward, the scares and the laughs come fast and furious, leading to a completely implausible ending that is as satisfying as any haunted house movie in recent memory.
First time director (and scriptwriter) Gerard Johnstone has taken a pretty stale premise and given it a new car shine, with witty dialogue, an ingenious twist and brilliantly gloomy lighting. The chills are quite convincing; the relationship between Kylie and Miriam is, alternately, hilarious and very touching; the underlying mystery is as much fun to unravel as an episode of CASTLE or BONES. Of course, all of these, along with a great cast, make HOUSEBOUND wicked fun. (I bet you thought I’d forgotten that one, huh?)
(K’wan; 128 pages; INFAMOUS BOOKS/AKASHIC BOOKS; 2014)
Halfway through the first chapter of K’wan Foye’s new novella, BLACK LOTUS, I knew that this story must be made into a movie and that the lead character, Detective James “Lone” Wolf, is destined to be a franchise hero. The edgy, no nonsense persona immediately put me in mind of a cop with a cool Odafin Tutuola (Ice T’s LAW AND ORDER: SUV character) vibe with a hair-trigger anger-management problem like Fin’s SUV colleague, Elliot Stabler. Toss in the swaggering confidence and well-earned street cred of a John Shaft and this character is a no-brainer superstar property; in fact, almost immediately, my mind’s eye put Richard Roundtree in the role of Wolf. Wolf’s backstory puts him at the top of the anti-hero heap and, of course, it doesn’t hurts that BLACK LOTUS is an absolutely riveting read.
The story opens with the brutal murder of a well-loved priest, an action that sets in motion a series of events that will force Wolf to face the demons that have haunted him since his last case as a homicide detective, the disappearance and murder of a small boy. Wolf had since moved to the narcotics division and, having just busted (and busted up) a few dealers in and undercover sting, his mentor and former captain in homicide contacts him for help in tracking down the priest’s killer. The detective reluctantly agrees, but only after the captain promises to make some of Wolf’s questionable past actions disappear from his record, specifically, the stigma that he murdered his former partner (a claim which was unsubstantiated and, of which Wolf was ultimately cleared). From that point, Wolf is thrown into a web of lies, deceit, betrayal, political intrigue and the answer to the murder of the little boy so many years before. Along the way, the Black Lotus killer leaves a trail of mayhem and retribution. The story is an edge-of-the-seat nail-biter that packs a surprising amount of action and character development into the short 128 pages. With no shortage of suspects, the twists and turns lead to an unexpected ending that, ultimately, is one of the most satisfying in recent memory.
BLACK LOTUS is the fourth title from the Infamous Books imprint, which is curated by Albert Johnson, better known as Prodigy, of the iconic hip-hop group, Mobb Depp. He brings a street level grittiness to an audience that has never before been afforded a viable voice in the literary world. And, make no mistake about it… this is literature – a uniquely American form of literature that should be read and treasured. BLACK LOTUS and other Infamous titles are available at all the usual places or direct from akashicbooks.com. Treat yourself… you won’t be disappointed.
(DVD and Digital; ARC ENTERTAINMENT/DREAMRUNNER PICTURES/MOUNTAIN FILMS (99 minutes/Rated R); 2014)
AUTUMN BLOOD is a very quiet, almost pastoral movie, filled with moments of unbelievable brutality, violence and pain. Beautifully filmed in the mountains around Tirol, Austria, the scenery is breathtaking and there is a sense that we may be watching a story set in the untamed wild west of the United States; the only things visible to place the movie in modern times are the vehicles, farm machinery and weaponry. The opening sequence of the film sets the stage as, six years earlier, a farming family’s lives are shattered when the father is killed by the mayor of the nearby village. The inference from what happens prior is that the mayor either raped the mother or they were having an affair. At any rate, the father is dead, leaving the mother to care for her two young children.
The movie shifts to the mother and her now sixteen year old daughter (played with an innocence that seems almost too real to be acting, by Sophie Lowe, an ethereal, waifish beauty who may be best known for her role as Alice in the television series, ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND) and ten year old son (Maximilian Harnisch), who hasn’t spoken a word since witnessing his father’s death. There’s a gentleness and a sense of idyllic contentment, or maybe it’s resignation to their lots in life… whatever it is, the mother does her best to give the children a good life.
The girl’s innocence is probably best displayed as she swims/bathes in a secluded pond; she lays, drying on the rocks, completely at one with her surroundings. As she lay there one morning, dreaming, a hunter (the mayor’s son, played by Samuel Vauramo) breaks her reverie. Totally unaffected and unashamed, she doesn’t try to cover herself. It isn’t until the man grabs her and bends in to kiss her that she begins to understand his intentions and tries to fight him off. Beaten and bloody, the girl eventually makes her way home. She is met by her brother who helps her into their house, where more heartache awaits. As the boy was doing chores around the farm and while the girl was being brutalized, their mother had finally succumbed to the loneliness (or guilt, as there are several clues that she was, in fact, somehow involved with the mayor), ending her own life (at least, that’s how I read the scene). As the girl cleanses her wounds and tries to wash away the rape, she makes the decision to quietly bury their mother and keep her death a secret so that she and her brother wouldn’t be taken from their home and, possibly, separated.
On a trip into town, the girl, still showing signs of the beating she took, is waited on by a caring banker who grows suspicious and calls a social worker to check on the family situation. The girl also encounters the mayor (a steely-eyed Peter Stormare) in the local church, as well as being intimidated by the town butcher (played with a sense of monstrous depravity by Gustaf Skarsgard), the hunter and another friend. Later that night, the three men pay the children a visit, threatening to kill the boy and, once again, forcing themselves upon the girl. The mayor suspects his son and the others are, at the very least, up to no good and, possibly, in far more trouble than he has the power to get them out of.
Now knowing of the mayor’s suspicions, the three decide to kill the only witnesses to their crimes. As the girl and her brother try to allude their would-be executioners, the film takes on a disturbing DELIVERENCE quality. Amidst the scenic backdrop of the Austrian countryside, the three stalk the siblings for the final third of the movie. As is always the case in such chase scenes, the villains are dispatched, one in a fairly standard fashion, the other two in less obvious ways. The chase sequence, which encompasses two days, is chilling, thrilling and nicely staged. I do, however, question the need for the girl to doff her clothing once she finds a suitable hiding place for the night; it just seems incongruous and more than a bit exploitive. If you’re paying close attention all the way through AUTUMN BLOOD, the final scene offers a little hint as to the relationship between the mother and the mayor and… I ain’t sayin’ no more. You’re going to have to connect the dots yourself.
As mentioned, the movie has some nudity, violence and two brutal rape scenes, so it has an R rating, though it seems that most teens (say, 12 and over) wouldn’t be too shocked or permanently damaged if they watched it, depending on their sensitivity to such things. I originally felt that the rapes would be dealbreakers for a majority of viewers but, the overall quality of the story eventually won me over. By the way, about those rape and nude scenes… Sophie Lowe was 21 years old when the film began shooting so, everything was above board and legal.
(XLRATOR MEDIA/FORBIDDEN FILMS (103 minutes/Unrated); produced 2012, released 2014)
“My brother keeps a human head in his closet.” When a movie begins with a line like that, you just know that you’re in for a laugh riot… or, one of the most deeply disturbing stories you’re ever likely to see. FOUND. is based on a novella by Todd Rigney, the coming of age, innocence lost story of seventh grader Marty, who discovers that his older brother is a serial killer. As Marty narrates, we learn that, maybe, the creepiest aspect of the whole thing is that brother Steve is the only person in Marty’s life who really cares about him and looks out for him. Well… there is one other thing that kinda came out of the blue and hit me like a hammer, not “creepy” in the strictest sense of the word, but unsettling, nonetheless. More about that later, though.
Marty (portrayed by Gavin Brown) is pretty much your standard issue twelve year old, into comic books and horror movies. He’s quiet and unassertive, not yet into girls. All of these things are like beacons to the school bully, a bigger kid who has problems with authority (and pretty much everybody that doesn’t bow down or cower in fear when he confronts them) and may have been held back a year or two due to his disciplinary problems. The first time we get a look at Marcus (belligerently played by Eddie Jackson), he flips off the teacher and is shocked – shocked, I tell you! – that she has the audacity to punish him. The scenario sets up a confrontation between Marty and Marcus and, later, Marty and his best friend, David (Alex Kogin). Both scenes add to Marty’s misery, alienating him even more. The episode with David quickly devolves as he aggressively starts to verbally abuse Marty during a sleepover. Marty finds himself questioning his life and wondering if he could do what Steve does, wondering if all of the abuse will make him a killer, too. Once Steve (Ethan Philbeck) discovers that his brother knows what he does late at night, even that relationship begins to fray.
There is a scene between the brothers that is emotional and heart-warming and, oddly enough, the scene that introduces a reason for Steve’s actions. Marty asks him, “Why?” and it’s then that we learn the murders are racially motivated. It’s not exactly out of the blue, because the kids’ father uses a racial epithet early on in the story but, still, it just seems a little… gratuitous. After that bombshell, Steve makes it known that if Marty tells their father or anyone else, he would take care of them. “What about me?” asks Marty. “I would never hurt you, Marty.” As the story progresses, we are also privy to the brothers’ home life, why Steve does what he does and why Marty is the sensitive, quiet one. From that point forward, FOUND. spirals toward one of the most brutally disturbing endings ever put on film.
Marty’s love of horror movies is exploited in the sleepover scene with David, as the two borrow a couple of… shall we call them “art house” movies? One is called HEADLESS, apparently the impetus – surprise, surprise – for Steve’s murderous proclivities; the other, DEEP DWELLERS, comes off as a schlocky monster movie with (intentionally) bad acting. Neither is particularly well-done, but then that’s the whole point; these “movies-within-the-movie” are there, more than anything, to move the plot along. As unbelievably gory (and borderline unwatchable) as HEADLESS is, it’s almost like a bad car wreck: You just can’t look away. There are full versions of both of these “movies” as part of the special features.
This movie (and the HEADLESS short, in particular) is not for the weak-at-heart or the easily offended and, it definitely isn’t intended for anyone under the age of, say, seventeen (yeah, kids, it really is that graphic!). However, anyone older than that who enjoy their horror flicks more on the psychological tip (and you aren’t one of those delicate types that are easily upset with sexually graphic gore), FOUND. is, ultimately, one of the best genre entries you’re likely to see this year. But… be warned: “Stuff like this can really warp a person.”