Short Film Review: Not in My Mouth (2018) Duration: 4 min 54 sec

poison 5 jpgWhen you have a total runtime of under five minutes you have to pack a lot of content in to create a memorable experience. Fortunately Not in My Mouth does just that and is able to do a lot with it’s micro story in just a few short minutes. Set against a delightfully discordant and aggressive score by White Gardenia and Geimhreadh, the film is directed by (and stars) Poison Rouge, director of the newest American Guinea Pig film, Sacrifice.

It’s hard to talk much about the short plot without giving it all away but let’s just say it involves a bath, some torture, and even packs in a nice reveal at the end. The rest you’ll have to see for yourself and see it you should because NiMM is brutal, sexy, and just a great way to spend a few minutes. The gore is well done and the reverse shots from inside the mouth of the torture victim are especially innovative and fun. Really delivers everything you could want in a what’s essentially a music video and a bloody good one at that.

4-stars-red

Beloved Beast (2018)

Beloved BeastWriter/director Jonathan Holbrook’s new film Beloved Beast is his latest example of what has come to be known as ‘Holbrookian Horror’ following his excellent 2016 feature Tall Men. The term is apt because much like that film, Beloved Beast is imbued with the director’s signature style, one that successfully channels the surreal Americana of David Lynch, while maintaining it’s own unique flavor. In both cases, the viewer gets the feeling of slipping into a cozy nightmare, one that you want to envelop you as you willingly slide into the depths of its subtly surreal world.

After young Nina (Sanae Loutsis) is involved in a car accident that claims the lives of her parents, she is put into the care of her estranged ne’er-do-well aunt, Erma (Joy Yaholkovsky). At the same time a dangerous escaped mental patient named Milton (played by Holbrook) is carving a bloody swath through Slough Town, where Nina lives. Through a series of unusual circumstances, Nina befriends Milton who (after donning his signature rabbit mask and wooden mallet) becomes known by his new identity, Harvey, Nina’s violent and unstable protector.

Beloved Beast is presented in the style of a dark, gruesome fairy tale and absolutely captures that aesthetic. The characters themselves are grounded in enough realism to make the viewer invested, while at the same time the world itself is awash in a subtle dreamlike quality. The story is very engaging and I was thoroughly invested in seeing what would happen next as it dove deeper into the dark world hidden beneath the veneer of small town civility. While the actual style is a bit more of a horror-drama hybrid that defies easy categorization, it certainly has enough blood and menace to keep horror fans satiated as it twists and turns through it’s unpredictable plot.

In this case it is very fortunate that the story is so interesting because with a runtime that’s just shy of three hours (!) it really puts the goodwill of the audience to the test. In fact, my only real criticism of the film is that there is just a bit too much of it, and it would greatly benefit from an aggressive recut. While I did enjoy every scene I watched, I would have preferred if several of them had been relegated to a ‘deleted scenes’ section on the Blu-ray because the cumulative effect drags down the pacing a bit. With about forty-five or so minutes trimmed off, this could become a sleeker and more horror focused film with a greater amount of tension and suspense.

Still, even in it’s current form, it is an incredibly interesting and delightfully twisted film that’s well worth your time. The myriad of strange and off-kilter characters make the journey a unique experience you won’t soon forget. Hell, I would love to see a spin-off that focuses entirely on The Belgian and the dark underworld that he inhabits. So, do yourself a favor and block off an evening for this grim fairy tale with a style all it’s own.

3-5-stars-red

Unlisted Owner (2013)

Unlisted OwnerAhhh, the found footage sub-genre, staple of the independent filmmaker. Some entries are notable and utilize that technique for innovative storytelling, but many others are simply trying to cover up low production values and a lack of budget. Ever since The Blair Witch Project exploded onto the horror scene in 1999, and raked in a quarter of a billion dollars on a $60,000 budget, filmmakers have been trying to capture a piece of that low-cost, high-profit magic.

With Unlisted Owner writer/director Jed Brian puts a slight spin on the well-worn formula by revealing through on-screen text at the start of the film that the following footage was gathered from five separate cameras and edited together by the police. The footage itself reveals the series of events that took a group of friends from an ordinary camping trip to a harrowing fight for survival inside the house of a recently murdered family.

Initially, I thought that the concept of stating that the footage had been edited together by the cops was a novel way of justifying the fact that there was intercut footage that couldn’t possibly have come from one camera. However, this device creates as many problems as it solves since it leaves the viewer wondering why the police would re-cut evidence in a murder investigation in such a titillating and dramatic fashion. Also, I’m pretty sure that editing down raw footage of a crime into a feature length video isn’t a service that the police provide.

Ultimately, that’s a minor quibble though, because it’s really what’s on the footage that counts. To that end, I did appreciate that Brian made the characters feel as real as possible and realistically captured the shit talking and ball busting that occurs when guys hang out. I also liked that an effort was made to make the characters feel like a group of real people rather than having each of them embody a single cliched character trait.

I always appreciate it when indie directors know their own limitations and play to their strengths rather than trying to recreate a high concept Hollywood production on a fraction of the budget. In this case, Brian wisely sticks to minimal locations and uses tension and practical effects to pull off some solid, bloody kills toward the climax of the film. Once the blood starts being spilled it becomes quite entertaining but the lack of immediate danger throughout most of the lead up makes the pacing suffer a bit.

This brings me to the central issue with the film which is despite a seventy-four minute runtime, the lack of imminent threat to the central characters for much of the movie results in it feeling overly long at times. This is not helped by scenes where characters repeat exposition we’ve just heard, and makes a strong case that, ideally, this could be cut down to a tight thirty minute short. But regardless of the pacing issues, the final result manages to be an entertaining enough way to spend seventy-four minutes.

2-5-stars-red

Bus Party to Hell (2017)

BPtHWhen a movie is titled Bus Party to Hell and features a masterclass thespian such as Sharknado alum Tara Reid, you have a pretty good idea what you’re in for. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with an over-the-top film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, provided it’s actually enjoyable to watch. There’s a surprisingly thin line between outrageously fun and irritatingly stupid and today we’ll see if BPtH falls more along the lines of the campy, gory fun of Father’s Day or the interminable slog that is Kudzu Zombie.

The film stars Tara Reid and by stars I mean she is in it for literally ten minutes before it shifts focus to follow a group of cliched caricatures of party-goers on a bus that’s en route to Burning Man. When the bus breaks down and the driver (Sadie Katz, whose raspy voice makes Tara Reid sound like a velvety seductress by comparison) is nowhere to be found, things quickly go bad for the passengers as their bus is descended upon by a group of cannibalistic maniacs.

When a film plays out like a softcore porn rip-off of The Hills Have Eyes, the one thing I would hope is that it’s at least fun. Unfortunately, what we have here is a series of tiresome scenes that serve no purpose other than to get you to the next cheap kill or an excuse to strip down the actresses. The script itself is treated with about as much respect as the female characters as the actors spew out cringe-inducing attempts at humor, regardless of the peril they are in. Given that each character’s entire personality can already be summed up by a single word (nerd, virgin, rich) it makes actually caring about anything that happens utterly impossible.

I’m not really sure who this is for, but my guess would be it’s aimed at 13-year-olds who want to see tits and haven’t realized that PornHub is a thing. Despite its desperate attempts to seem edgy by shoehorning in nudity and blood, the end result actually makes the film feel dated and irrelevant. The experience reminded me of watching cheap pay-per-view T&A flicks like The Bare Wench Project back in the dial-up internet days when porn was actually hard to come by.

The biggest problem here is that if you are going to eschew plot and story in service of showcasing sex and violence, then you need to bring it when it comes to those areas. This is why the American Guinea Pig films and Portraits of Andrea Palmer work so well despite having very little plot, they are willing to lean into the edgy content instead of just paying lip service to it.

Despite all this, the film is not without some positive attributes. The gorgeous establishing shots of the desert remind us that, had the filmmakers cared enough to include interesting and even somewhat grounded characters, they could have easily made a very watchable movie. In addition, even though many of the blood gags look generic or just plain silly, the scene where they cut a woman open and pull a live snake out of her belly actually worked quite well. Still, the end result feels like something that was conceived of and shot at Burning Man over a weekend and was (hopefully) a lot more fun to make than to it was to watch. This is certainly one bus ride that you are better off letting pass you by.

1-star-red

The God Inside My Ear (2017)

TGIMECreating a surreal film that really works is an incredibly difficult feat. In the hands of masters like Lynch and Jodorowsky the final product can be a multilayered work of art with symbolism and subtext that will have people in spirited debate for decades. On the other end of the spectrum are the myriad of films that bombard the viewer with “weird for the sake of weird” imagery, with no inherent meaning or intent, and no subtle clues to decipher what’s going on until we are simply told. Any surreal film is bound to fall somewhere along this line and today we’re going to see how close to the top (or bottom) The God Inside My Ear ends up.

The film opens with a montage of strange, seemingly unconnected images, underscored by sinister music that culminates in two people in hazmat suits working on a dusty control panel in an abandoned looking room. After this, the movie is segmented into chapters and follows the story of Elizia (Linnea Gregg) who’s life begins to become more unhinged and surreal after she is suddenly dumped by her boyfriend.

The opening minutes of a film can reveal a lot about what you’re in for and one thing that stands out immediately about TGIME is how incredibly well shot it is. The image quality is rich and beautiful, the shots are well framed and artistic, and the use of disorienting video effects and colored lighting does an excellent job in creating a surreal, unstable feeling when needed. Writer/director Joe Badon certainly has a keen visual sense and there’s no question that the cinematography of this film is beyond reproach.

Of course, the look of a film is only one piece of the puzzle, as we also have to take into account the quality of acting and the backbone of the movie itself, the script. The results for the former are a bit varied as some actors deliver solid performances and others belie the professionalism of the footage quality with stilted, unnatural delivery. Although, to be fair, at timesit can be hard to tell how much responsibility can be attributed to the actors when so much of the dialogue is awkwardly constructed and full of attempts at comedy that fall completely flat.

TGIME starts to become a bit more interesting as it progresses, shifting tone from awkward “comedy” into surreal, light-horror. The main problem here is that the first act, which was supposed to create a baseline for the characters and their reality, is instead spent doing tired shtick that ultimately made me less invested in the outcome. Even so, TGIME does become more watchable as Elizia’s reality becomes more warped and viewers can expect to be treated to some well-constructed and delightfully bizarre imagery.

It should also be noted that this film does in fact have underlying meaning to the images and the reveal at the end sheds light on the story that preceded it, as well as make you think about the clues that were given along the way. However, while the reveal does serve to better explain what was happening, it also raises some very important practical questions that it leaves unanswered, which I can’t go into further detail about without spoiling the twist. What this all adds up to is a visually stunning film with an interesting (although not wholly original) concept and a script that could have been compelling with another rewrite, or three.

 

2-5-stars-red

Darkness Comes (2018)

Darkness ComesThe incredible advances in digital technology over the last few decades have made it more possible than ever for aspiring and indie filmmakers to make their vision a reality, or at least attempt to. Freed from the burdens and excessive cost that goes along with shooting on film stock, many indie directors will attempt to replicate the lavish production values of multi-million dollar films with elaborate DIY sets and numerous on-screen characters. This almost always results in a disastrous final product but is still a far more common practice than the more sensible approach of using a small cast and a primary central location.

There are, of course, plenty of indies that do understand the importance of a more contained, focused approach and with only three characters and one main location, Darkness Comes is certainly one of them. However, a more intimate approach also amplifies the importance of the acting and storyline, so let’s see if this method ended up proving successful in this case.

The film starts with a young, attractive couple Eddie (Owen Whitelaw) and Suze (Kelly Wenham) well on their way to hooking up in a strange, abandoned looking room. However, things quickly take a turn and it becomes apparent that Eddie is in for a very different night than he had been hoping for.

When I first noticed that this film only had a runtime of 67 minutes (!) it did make me skeptical about what exactly was in store for me with a story that was going to fall awkwardly between the lengths of what can be considered a short and a feature. In this age of digital streaming though, films no longer need to adhere to the same kind of strict parameters that they once did and upon completion I realized that this was the perfect length for the story that was being told.

In fact, if it had been padded with another 20 or 30 minutes to simply achieve feature length, it would have spoiled the tight pacing and engaging plot of what turned out to be a very interesting movie. But it’s not just the pacing that makes this successful, the excellent acting, beautiful camerawork and simple yet brilliant special effects makes this a film that really fires on all cylinders. Director David Newbigging also makes excellent use of the single location and keeps the story feeling fresh and engaging within the confined space.

That’s not to say there aren’t still a few blemishes to be found. Between the thick accents of the cast and a background audio mix that threatens to drown out the dialogue at times, it may be a good idea to turn the subtitles on for this one. There were also some minor instances of inconsistent character motivation but neither of these issues loomed large enough to really take away from the overall experience.

It’s always refreshing to see a film that really knows how to play to its strengths and understands its limitations. Newbigging also uses the concept of an ominous, unseen horror to great effect and the FX that are used are simple and well executed. The film itself may be a bit more on the abstract side for those seeking a mainstream horror experience but for viewers want to indulge in an unusual and exceptionally well crafted film, this is an indie movie that gets it right.

4-stars-red

Parallel (2016)

Parallel alternativeThe idea that alternate realities could simultaneously exist in the universe is certainly an interesting one and a concept that has become ever more pervasive in the popular consciousness of late.

However, much like the concept of time travel, it can also become somewhat of a quagmire for writers seeking to apply logical explanations to a concept that defies conventional logic. Regardless of it’s setting though, good storytelling is always king and the films that maintain a compelling, character-driven core while exploring unusual concepts are the ones that are really worth your time. Conversely, films that don’t, will simply collapse under the weight of their facile ideas and today we’ll see where Parallel falls on that spectrum.

After formally meeting at a party, co-workers Heather (Faye Sewell) and Neil (David Magowan, also the screenwriter) begin their seemingly perfect relationship. After a chance meeting with a self-proclaimed psychic named Machlis (Brian Carter) the couple soon finds themselves voyeuristically peering into a parallel version of their lives, to see what much darker versions of themselves are up to.

The very concept of this film is based upon the idea of there being “light and dark” versions of each of our lives playing out in simultaneous timelines, which is exactly the kind of intellectual quagmire I was referring to earlier. The very idea that there could be a “good” reality and a “bad” one is the kind of thing that sounds cool at first and then completely unravels as soon as you start to think about it. Sure, you can show a few isolated characters with alternate versions of themselves engaging in more morally questionable behavior, but what about the world at large? The implication seems to be that the protagonists exist within our normal reality, not some kind Utopian version, so are we supposed to swallow the idea that we live in the good version!? At this point I would like to introduce Magowan to a little thing called the news….

Despite all the real world horrors that plague our planet, it makes just as little sense to say we are collectively an amalgamation of all the worst versions of all the people who have ever lived. The concept of infinitely branching parallel universes is interesting but the idea that they could be distilled down to two oversimplified versions is just ridiculous. Frankly, it takes a very privileged perspective to look around at the world we have and think “wow, what if there was a bad version of this….”

Now, concept is a big factor but so is execution and in the case of this film the results are varied. Overall, the most positive aspect of the production is the acting. Carter especially shines as the somewhat put-upon psychic who may have more up his sleeve than he initially reveals. Sewell also does a very solid job with the material she is given and handles her character’s emotional range skillfully. From a technical standpoint, the film is decently shot but does run into some the classic pitfalls that plague inexperienced filmmakers such as occasionally clumsy edits and some noticeably bad instances of sound design.

Those issues aside, the film as a whole does a decent job of holding your attention, especially as the more debaucherous elements start to come into play. It’s a creative concept with a decent execution that simply suffered from a series of rough edges through all aspects of production. A few tweaks to the central concept, some more natural dialogue, and a smoother edit and this could have been a very interesting film indeed. Too bad we don’t have that cut of the movie, maybe it exists on a separate timeline.

2-5-stars-red

The Forces of Horror Anthology: Volume I (2017)

Forces of HorrorIt wasn’t that long ago that horror anthology films were far less common than they are today. They never went away entirely of course but once the 90s rolled around they were pretty much relegated to cheap, straight-to-video cash grabs, most of which have been deservedly forgotten. That all changed with the success of modern anthology horror like Trick ‘r Treat and The ABCs of Death which revitalized a subsection of films that seemed destined for irrelevancy. As someone who is a big fan of anthology films, I couldn’t be happier with the unprecedented quality and abundance of these films today. Of course not all films are created equal and today we’ll see if The Forces of Horror Anthology feels more like a product of the modern anthology renaissance or a throwback to the dark days of the ’90s.

As so many anthology films do, TFoHA uses a wrap-around story as a framing devices for the shorts contained within. In this case, it centers around a 7th grade girl named Libby (Gracie Whitton) meeting with her therapist Dr. Svengali (Lance Eakright). The short films themselves consist of the four disturbing dreams that she discusses with him throughout the session.

Putting aside, for the moment, any discussion of the actual quality of the writing or acting, the first issue I need to address here is the film’s length. Clocking in at the incredibly awkward fifty-six minutes, this can neither be considered a short nor a feature, which tends to add an unnecessary level of additional difficulty when trying to distribute a film. Honestly, at this point writer/director Roger Sampson would be better off shooting additional footage to expand it to feature length or even chopping it down to short film levels of under thirty minutes. As it is, it doesn’t feel like there’s enough there to be satisfying as a feature but is still too long to pick up and watch as a short.

I wish I could say that the length of this film was the only significant issue here but unfortunately that’s just not the case. I wouldn’t say the acting is bad but as so often happens with indie films this one is yet another example of “everybody’s trying but nobody’s killing it”. TFoHA isn’t exactly killing it in terms of cinematography either, as the flat lighting and static camera give the film a look that’s more ’90s than modern day. Given that the core of the story is focused on dreams themselves, it would have been nice to see Sampson apply a bit more experimentation and creativity to the visual style, especially during the dream segments. This would have also helped to juxtapose them with the visually stark office of the therapist.

On a positive note, this film does get some important things right. I was initially skeptical about the seemingly low-stakes concept of having all the central action being confined to a series of dreams but the wrap-around story actually ties them in in a way that justifies the concept. The effects here are clearly DIY but solid overall and result in some nice use of blood and severed body parts.

In any anthology there is bound to be a range of quality and this one is certainly no exception. The first dream may start out a bit slow but builds to the best and most horrific ending of the four. The second dream, involving zombie parents, is the weakest of the group while the fourth, featuring a man and young girl whose car breaks down, is merely adequate. However, the third segment does utilize the concept of a little girl being terrorized by a monster in her room to create the most effectively ominous and creepy moments of the entire film. So, while it may not exactly be The Theatre Bizarre or V/H/S it’s not Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror either, and there’s something to be said for that.

2-5-stars-red

Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh (2014)

Three TearsIt takes an unbelievable amount of work to make a feature length film and of course the longer your film, the more work it requires. This is why it’s unusual to see films venture past the standard ninety to a hundred five minute window, and downright rare for scrappy indie productions to attempt it. But this is exactly what writer/director (Jakob Bilinski) did with his ambitious and, uh, interestingly titled Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh. Now, ambition is good, but it’s only half the battle so the real question here is, “how well does he pull it off?”

When a young woman named Lexie (Sidney Shripka) is murdered near her small town home, her last act is to get a letter out to her uncle Dominic (Bill Gobin) asking him for help. Now Dominic, with his unwilling teen daughter in tow, must return to the place he thought he’d left for good and figure out the truth about what happened to Lexie.

The title seems intended to evoke the idea of this as a kind of American giallo. However, this doesn’t so much read authentic giallo to me as just “revenge thriller with a dusting of horror.” Still one thing that’s apparent right from the beginning is that this film has a real visual flair. Some scenes feature quick cuts and use handheld to great effect to give a stylish and authentic sense of movement. Other times the scenes are appropriately stoic and carefully framed but throughout, the film maintains a rich quality image with excellent and inventive use of color.

I also appreciate that this film doesn’t shy away from violence and a couple of scenes in particular that feature graphic disembowelment and fingernail torture stand out as delightfully grotesque. However, for a film so willing to go all in on the blood, it remains perplexingly chaste about the nudity. Despite featuring multiple sex scenes and spending a significant amount of time in a strip club, TToBF never quite manages to get up the courage to bare any flesh, bloodstained or otherwise.

Of course, the amount of nudity in a film is a minor factor, but length and pacing on the other hand are major ones. While there are certainly a lot of positive aspects to this film, the most significant issue it bumps up against is the runtime. Clocking in at a staggering two hours and twenty minutes (!) this is one film that is absolutely begging for an aggressive re-cut. The story itself is interesting and enjoyable to watch unfold, which is why it’s frustrating to see it weighed down by an excessive amount of scenes that are redundant and/or don’t advance the plot in a meaningful way.

Gobin puts in a solid effort as the lead but just isn’t quite able to get to the point of coming across as a genuine character rather than an actor going through the motions. This makes the multiple scenes of emotional torment that Dominic goes through feel more like a chore than a journey and I wish that Bilinski had taken a leaner, subtler approach and trusted the audience more to connect to the story without being led by the hand. In general though, a lot of solid casting choices and Jim Dougherty’s portrayal of the abrasive small town sheriff stands out as a highlight.

Overall, certainly a film worth watching and viewers who do take the journey will be treated to a great visual experience with some satisfying, brutal kills. This is a solid movie with an even better movie buried inside, just waiting to shed it’s fat and come out.

3-stars-red

The Hallow (2015)

HallowCreating a film that inspires a genuine sense of dread and tension, with a small cast and limited locations, is no easy task. There is no sure-fire recipe for success with this, but there are two components that are required if a film is to have even a remote chance of working. The first is a genuine sense of realism, regardless of how fanciful the story, and the second is characters you can truly connect to as human beings so you are invested in their struggle. It sounds simple yet it’s amazing how rarely it’s pulled off effectively. So, does director Corin Hardy (great name btw) manage to succeed with his Irish folktale inspired film, The Hallow? Well, let’s discuss.

The film centers around Adam (Joseph Mawle) a British scientist whose work with plant and fungal life requires him to move to a remote Irish village along with his wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic) and their baby son. Adam is initially dismissive of the locals’ warnings about the supernatural presence inhabiting the woods near their house, but before long finds himself and his family in a fight for survival with malevolent forces they can scarcely comprehend.

Right from the opening shots, this film does an excellent job transporting the viewer into the world of the story, through the gorgeous cinematography that showcases the emerald forest of Ireland in exquisite detail. As I previously mentioned, realism is an essential part of immersing the viewer in the experience and the rich, detailed image quality found in every shot is largely responsible for the excellent sense of realism that Hardy brings to the project. Of course, a quality image is only one piece of the puzzle but luckily the entire cast, down to the smallest role, is able to deliver top-notch performances that keep the viewer thoroughly engaged in the story as it unfolds.

Since the film itself is built on such a strong foundation, the scares have far more impact and I felt myself genuinely invested in the horrific ordeal the characters were facing. I am a firm believer that practical effects should be utilized over CGI whenever possible and this film is a shining example of how well that can work. Because of this, the creatures have a tangible, living quality to them that is far more menacing than the cartoony CGI abominations that pollute so many other films.

On top of all these other important attributes, this film has the most important of all, a tight, well-paced script that will keep you engaged and entertained throughout and makes you care about the characters without resorting to cheap, melodramatic dialogue. Overall, a great film that hits all the marks and will make you think twice the next time you want to take a walk in the woods.

4-stars-red