FNC 2021: Bound (2020)

Bound (2020)

Director (and writer): Jean-Armand Bougrelle

Bound is a Japanese documentary that explores the traditional art of Japanese rope bondage in today’s society in regards to women. While bondage as a term itself has strong sexual connotations, these women share a different view depending on how they view it and the different roles that they have assumed to the meanings that it has for them. Its an interesting topic to explore to say the very least and has not only acts to open the society towards this community of women who practice but also the deeper elements from the techniques and art to the deeper feelings and different settings that it can take place.

Bound takes an interesting angle. It dives into the interviewers which are primarily all women who practice in different avenues. It looks at what got them interested in the first place and their own journeys with shibari and the feelings that it exposes. For some, its a liberation, others its about vulnerability, a few view it as an art while others enjoy it for its capability of being able to communicate without language. It also emphasizes on the differences in context when performed between two women or a man and woman, and whoever leads as the rope artist. In some ways, it shows a part of how these women feel about the society around them in order to search for these releases.

The community of practitioners of this rope bondage in the society also feels very varies. Its touches on what differs between each of these roles: domina, performers, models, etc. Its rather intriguing to see how the different spaces they choose to do this and the different places that some people have created in order to keep this safe space alive mostly for women who desire to have their own space to have this release and communication and yet, it has nothing to do with the sexual elements where a lot of them especially mostly exploring the women tying up women performing together and the dynamic that they have together which exceeds the romantic interest. It dials right down to the artistic element of how certain performers and models are more pleasant to watch than others.

What completes the documentary is that it also goes into a little history lesson on how shibari formed when its historical roots were as a torture device in ancient times where different knots and methods suggested different class and crime with an end game to kill. Its an opposite of how its viewed now which creates in some cases pain that brings pleasure.

Bound is a straight-forward documentary that shares the community of women who performing this mostly in secret and the different roles. It aims to share a different side of the society and a different angle to how bondage can be viewed. Its a rather eye-opening lesson in general and a rather intriguing topic. In some ways, there is a certain depth to the whole topic explored.

*Watched as coverage for Festival du Nouveal Cinema*

FNC 2021: Compartment no.6 (2021)

Compartment No.6 (2021)

Director (and writer): Juho Kuosmanen

Cast: Yuriy Borisov, Seidi Haarla, Dinara Drukarova, Galina Petrova

As a train weaves its way up to the arctic circle, two strangers share a journey that will change their perspective on life. – IMDB

Compartment no. 6 is one of those films where its about an encounter with a stranger which brings on some new realization. Coincidentally, it is one of the type of film premise that I am very drawn to. The film is primarily in Russian but also has some Finnish as well. Its main setting is during a train ride from Moscow to Murmansk as Finnish student Laura and Russian labourer Ljoha have the same trip to make and is assigned to the same compartment. What starts off as unbearable for Laura specifically ends up taking a turn when she starts to know Ljoha more.

These two characters are absolute opposites at first glance. Ljoha starts off as a loud vodka drinking straightforward Russian guy while Laura is sulking in her emotions from doing this trip alone without her girlfriend Irina but also calmly looking forward to seeing the rock paintings to round out her studies. There is an eagerness for Ljoha to know Laura better at first evem if he essentially feels baffled by her desire to go to the middle of nowhere to see these rock paintings. As they do this trip, the changes between the characters together and individually are executes really well. While it feels a lot more on the surface, there is this subtle feeling that connects these two characters together and to the audience. While this train ride seems unbearable at the beginning, the time they spend together end up being rather entertaining. Thinking back, its hard to really specify one single moment that stands out but yet, its the little moments where Laura observes Ljoha or the conversations they have or the friendly gestures extended that gradually makes them into friends. There are undertones of romantic connections here and yet the film leaves that open-ended.

The charm of these sorts of films is mostly character driven and in this sense, Compartment No.6 delivers very well. It does feel at times a little more on the surface but its sufficient to connect with them and their motives. At the same time, the Russian setting and its train ride also has its charm as its not only a tight space but also its many stops reveals a variety of adventures especially since it is in a cold and snowy time. When she goes for a car ride with him to meet an old lady or when Laura invites a Finnish guitar player to their compartment, there is a different dynamic that comes in. The first being one where Laura learns more about Ljoha and the views on life in general between two women while the latter almost feels like an intrusion into their dynamic in the compartment. Much like the train ride also gives the supporting character of the train attendant her own spotlight as she starts off fairly rude but proceeds to being rather nice at the end as well.

Overall, Compartment No. 6 is a really nice film. A good part of it is thanks to a great script that builds up two really good characters and their time together on the train and slightly after. It also is credits to the actor Yuriy Borisov and actress Seidi Haarla that play Ljoha and Laura respectively who captures their roles and delivers their connection and chemistry really well. At the same time, the setting itself its pretty nice. It is fairly isolated the further they go but it emphasizes the contrast between the cold barren outside versus the crowded and tight space inside the train. As a final note, a lot of people seem to compare this to Before Sunrise, which is a film that I haven’t seen yet (but will soon) however, I wouldn’t mind seeing a follow-up on these characters years after just to see what happens to them.

*Watched as part of Festival du Nouveau Cinema coverage – The virtual platform is available until October 31st. You can find the film selections HERE*

TADFF 2021: The Free Fall (2021)

The Free Fall (2021)

Director: Adam Stilwell

Cast: Andrea Londo, Shawn Ashmore, Jane Badler, Michael Berry Jr., Elizabeth Cappuccino, Dominic Hoffman

After attempting to take her own life, a young woman must wrestle with an overbearing husband. – IMDB

The big finale for my coverage of Toronto After Dark Film Festival is also the high point of the entire festival with this clever, thrilling and tense psychological horror film. There is so much to love about it and yet, what really pulls it together is its fantastic twist that gives this movie such a unique concept that pulls together the whole film in a way that hasn’t been done before (at least in my film experience). I don’t want to dive into the details as that will definitely ruin what makes this so cleverly structured and written. With any film which relies heavily on the ending being able to pull all its pieces together in a rewarding way for its audience, it also comes with a lot of mysteries and questions built out throughout that will definitely be very mindboggling and confusing. However, trust me on this one, if you stick it out, the ending is well worth it.

Moving away from the element that I can’t talk about, there’s a lot of other things that make this film pretty well-executed. The first has to be its one setting. One setting films are really quite fun as it works well to use its space efficiently, having spaces left to be explored and in this case, with a main character suffering from amnesia also brings in going into spaces that may or may not bring in new memories and create different atmospheres.

The atmosphere is also built up pretty well especially when it comes to the imagery and visuals. The house itself having a lot to do with how some shots are set up in an appealing way. The atmosphere also changes with the fluctuation of the main character Sara as she struggles with what she is seeing in reality or her imagination. It brings in a lot of darker and sinister moments that create the horror lurking in the background whether its through reflections or dark spaces. At the same time, there’s a nice control of how to use some of the scenes repeatedly but also expanding on them to add more to the story as it progresses.

A lot of credit does have to go to the cast here. Andrea Londo as Sara does a great job right from the start as she experiences the trauma that drags her into this situation where she struggles with recovering from amnesia and dealing with all the odd and suspicious things that seems to be happening in her home. Andrea Londo has a good control over her role which is ever so important here as it makes sure there isn’t any overacting. Much like Shawn Ashmore who also delivers a good performance as the husband Nick. Nick’s character is suspicious right at the beginning and in some ways, its meant to have that feeling especially when amnesia and suspicious husband roles come into play as they are estranged characters that haven’t been introduced until that moment. His character develops and changes over the course of the film especially in its character’s intensity and calmness that delivers a different layer.

Overall, The Free Fall is an outstanding psychological horror film. Thrillers are so hard to do great and this one manages to make the ending so rewarding and gives such a unique angle to the horror subgenre that its tackling. The writer Kent Harper deserves a lot of credit. The cast, the cinematography, the writing are all really well-executed, making this film well worth a watch.

TADFF 2021: Ditched (2021)

Ditched (2021)

Director (and writer): Christopher Donaldson

Cast: Marika Silas, Mackenzie Gray, Kris Loranger, Declan O’Reilly, Lara Taillon, Shawna Pliva McGill, Reamonn Joshee, Lee Lopez, Michelle Molineux, J. Lindsay Robinson

After a routine prison transfer crashes in the forest, young Inuit paramedic Melina finds herself surrounded by murderers with a mere 100 feet to climb out of a ditch to escape. When they are attacked by an unseen force in the forest, Melina’s short journey to safety becomes the ultimate contest of wills. – IMDB

Ditched is a 2021 Canadian survival horror film where it almost feelings like Panic Room but in an isolated country road but instead of an actual panic room, its the insides of an overturned ambulance. As the people involved in the accident both in the police car and the ambulance wakes up, they start to realize that there is a group of brutal killers outside waiting to kill each one of them one by one.

The isolated ditch in the middle of nowhere at night is a wonderful horror/thriller setting. It brings in the helplessness and the fear even more as the unknowns lie in the dark. The mystery also comes from why this group has targeted them specifically: Is it for the prisoners that are being transferred or is it just for the hunt itself? The questions that build up do get answered gradually towards the middle which does feel like the reveal is a little bit early at times as this leads into this long face-off period which loses steam as the final confrontation is also drawn out as it faces down to almost monologue moment that also feels a little tedious. This is definitely a pacing issue with the script itself as perhaps the entire plot was structured a little straightforward in the beginning that there isn’t as many angles to play with in execution.

With that said, the tension that is built in the first act is done really well and does trail into a good portion of the second act. A lot of it also comes down to some well-structured kills as they go through them one by one while they try to survive in their own way. Its a rather psychological battle for the most part as well as a battle of the wits in the final act. While there are quite a few characters in these interactions, the main few do focus around Melina the paramedic, the strapped down manipulative prisoner as well some other paramedics that make it out. As they use the resources in their tight ambulance space to survive, it does make for some nice fight back moments.

The main element with Ditched is that where it works and doesn’t work is in its plot. Where is doesn’t work is in how it seems to get to the reveal point of what the goal is as mentioned before. However, it also works in the plot as it creates this more conflicted view towards people in general where it makes the audience think about whether the killers are actually bad and the survivors are actually good. In more simple terms, the gray area gets explored here in human nature and probably how some people aren’t exactly what meets the eye completely while also leaving some room at the end for a little further contemplation about whether what is done as the big finale is actually justified.

Overall, Ditched is a decent horror thriller. It does show a lot of low budget elements. It also does feel like it has a lot of influences in terms how certain moments are treated. The director’s message at the beginning does talk about his intentions of creating something that feels like it been the missing 80s film that no one ever saw before but finally get a 4K release and in many moments, it definitely feels like an 80s film whether in dialogue or the effects or how certain scenes are structured.

TADFF 2021: Nightshooters (2018)

Nightshooters (2018)

Director (and writer): Marc Price

Cast: Adam McNab, Nicky Evans, Rosanna Hoult, Jean-Paul Ly, Richard Sandling, Kaitlyn Riordan, Mica Proctor, Nicholas Aaron, Ben Shafik, Doug Allen

An action thriller about a group of filmmakers who find themselves on the run from a violent horde of criminals after witnessing a brutal gangland execution. Unable to flee the derelict building they have been shooting in, the hapless film crew must use their technical skill and cinematic knowledge to defend themselves. The stunt man is a martial arts master, the special effects guru disregards safety and sets lethal traps, and the sound department strategically lay radio mics to detect when the hoodlums are on their way. Cue lots of thrills in a cat and mouse game of survival. – IMDB

For fans of The Raid and Snatch, there’s a lot to love about Nightshooters, a low budget action thriller that takes place in one location, a soon-to-be demolished building which almost feels like some kind of the real situation being reflected in a more fictional setting but similar as the story also features a group of filmmakers making a low budget film in a soon to be demolished building with a few hours countdown. This right away sets up this urgency that this will come into play as the two groups goes up against each other. While there is not actual counter, its a little detail that really does bring the setting as a constant reminder.

When the crew ends up witnessing a crime execution in the other side of the way and the criminals goes after them in this building, its all a great set-up in the first act which sets the tone especially in terms of the dark comedy and the characters involved and their basic characters and abilities. Much like how it naturally flows into some fantastic action sequences and choreography when it gets into the criminals against filmmakers running and hiding through this building which is both dangerous as it already has all its demolishment explosives in place which could easily be triggered but also the criminals being rather a wide group of characters and lethal in their own ways as well.

Talking about the characters, there’s so much to love about them as well especially when it comes to the film crew themselves. This group is definitely the characters which are meant for the audience to connect to a lot more. Their different roles and their abilities and know-how come into play as they try to survive the chase from the other criminals. With a lot of the action sequences powered by a fantastic action choreography and sequences with Donnie played by Jean-Paul Ly (also, could the name be a nod to Donnie Yen?), there’s some exceptional moments here through these fight scenes.

However, not only their more professional fight sequences are great to watch but also a moment where the more amateur fight moments like one with the character Kim (Mica Proctor) which was a lot of fun but the other character encounters also leading to some creative death sequences as they defeated the criminals one by one. There are some really cool effects executed there. The stand-out characters has to be the three girls of the film crew as they are very resourceful especially Ellie (Rosanna Hoult) who has some foreshadowing in what she will use at the beginning but also a lot of other know-hows that effectively come into play. Of course, for much more personal reasons, Kim is a character I rooted for (considering I’m also a Kim and she kind of reminded me of myself).

Overall, Nightshooters is a really entertaining low budget action thriller. Its effective in what it achieves as the setting and the tone is used really well. There are definitely nods to other films throughout that are rather apparent but also fit incredibly well and adds to the film itself. There’s a cast of characters that have their own value and personality which adds contrast and makes them all stand-out and fun to watch. Nightshooters has a very straightforward plot which works well with what they are trying to do.

*Nightshooters is available on Toronto After Dark Film Festival from October 13th to 17th on their virtual platform. You check it out HERE*

TADFF 2021: Post Mortem (2020)

Post Mortem (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Peter Bergendy

Cast: Viktor Klem, Fruzsina Hais, Judit Schell, Andrea Ladanyi, Zsolt Anger

A post mortem photographer and a little girl confront ghosts in a haunted village after the First World War. – IMDB

This year’s Toronto After Dark is definitely new experiences coming one after another. Post Mortem is a Hungary horror film. Being someone who hasn’t seen a Hungary film before, this is a completely new territory to explore. Horror movies especially revolving ghosts and hauntings are the creepiest types of horror in my personal opinion so this one was right up my alley.

Port Mortem is set during the times of World War I and after that and the Spanish Flu and centred around a photographer Tomas (Viktor Klem) that has survived a near death experience during the war to come out afterwards selling his craft as a post mortem photography. A little girl Anna (Fruzsina Hais) shows up one day from a neighboring village and asks him to help with her own town’s hauntings. Packed with part skepticism and curiosity, he goes to the town as weird things start happening as he helps the recently deceased and their families with their post mortem photographs.

The story overall is pretty good. The whole investigation and a stranger going into a small village brings in a lot of suspense as he is discovering what’s going on along with the audience. Plus, ghost stories are rather appealing overall especially when it involves hauntings where this one is executed rather well in terms of plot. The film does almost reach 2 hours in length so in the middle it does seem to drag out a little. The setting and time period adds a certain level of atmosphere which makes almost like a gray filter over the screen and adds a very gloomy feeling.

The idea of post mortem photographs in itself is a pretty creepy thing in general. A lot of the unsettling horror moments do involve the actual post mortem photography as Tomas sets up his shots and works with the different bodies. A lot of unexplained things happen creating some great scary and unsettling moments. There are also other rather mysterious and sinister things that happen creating a good part of the horror and bringing in the ghost element a little bit more as Tomas and Anna try to find out why this is happening and what it wants. Some other horror elements include some possession going on which has a rather scary sequence with a little boy involved at one point while in contrast, there’s a part in the final act which sees a lot of people being pulled up levitating in the air that feels a little overdone.

In terms of characters, its main focus is on Tomas and Anna who are really good characters overall. They do have their own little stories through conversations which shed some light on the village itself. At the same time, there is a deeper meaning to Tomas for agreeing to do this for an unknown little girl which also builds up on their dynamic as they investigate together. The older character and the younger girl does have this protective element to it especially putting in contrast their reactions to the scary events happening. I’d like to say that Anna, played by Fruzsina Hais is absolutely fantastic. She is such a charming character despite her age.

Overall, Post Mortem is a pretty effective ghost haunting horror film. There are some moments which feel a little stretched out and some horror elements feel a tad overused losing its effect and actually having an oddly comedic feeling to it. However, its core element of photography and recording technology in that time and era is incorporated well, much like using the post mortem photography as an effective horror element. Its definitely one worth checking out!\

*Post Mortem is currently available from October 13th to 17th on Toronto After Dark Film Festival’s virtual platform. You can find all the info HERE!*

TADFF 2021: Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It (2020)

Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Yernar Nurgaliyev

Cast: Daniar Alshinov, Asel Kaliyeva, Azamat Marklenov, Yerlan Primbetov, Dulyga Akmolda, Almat Sakatov, Rustem Zhaniyamanov, Yerkebulan Daiyrov, Bekaris Akhetov

Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It is a 2020 Kazakhstan horror comedy that tells the story of Dastan (Daniar Alshinov), a husband awaiting the birth of his child. As his wife Zhanna (Asel Kaliyeva) hounds him over the name for their first child, he suddenly decides to take a day trip to escape with his two friends, Arman (Azamat Marklenov) and Murat (Yerlan Primbetov) to go fishing on the countryside. As they start their fishing, they end up seeing something that they shouldn’t have and from then on, their fishing trip takes a dangerous turn as they need to run for their lives to not get caught and get out of this predicament alive.

First off, let’s go on the record that this is definitely the first Kazakhstan film that I’ve ever seen. Being completely new to country’s offerings, this was a really great first film experience. The film starts off setting the tone pretty well with a lot of comedy between the couple quarrelling over their newborn baby and the name that they should give it. From the reactions to the facial expressions to the whole interaction, it gives a good idea of the main character Dastan right away and also sets up the comedy tone right away. The film is not about this couple though because shortly after, Dastan runs off for a fishing trip with his two buddies. During the car ride, it reveals a lot about these three guys and the ridiculousness and in turn, the hilarity that will ensue especially when the truck is full of sex dolls that ends up being turned into a makeshift raft when these three going on a fishing trip and know nothing about fishing.

At the same time, the film also focuses on a group of mobs/psychopaths living in the area that is bringing their hostage to settle some issues with them when they end up angering a killer in the vicinity who goes after them one by one. As this group crosses with Dastan’s group and they witness something that they shouldn’t, the mob ends up chasing their group as the one-eyed killer goes after them and then all three get tangled with each other. Thing is, the film’s horror comes from the one-eyed killer hunting down them and the different ways that he kills them right up to the end. At the same time, it mixes in these hilariously ridiculous moments that are so over the top that its hard to not find it funny even if some of it is so silly and absurd. And yet, somehow it works so well and creates a fantastic balance between the comedy and the “horror”.

The film does have really good pacing. Its executed really well as it does pick up as it moves along especially when these guys are all chasing after one and another. Right down to some pretty well-choreographed action sequence in the final act as they all reconvene in a tight space trying to get out of this. There are some other moments where this feels very apparent with their action sequences. It almost feels a little comedic like one moment where one of the friends flies through the window and then ends up coming back through the other window on the other side almost feeling like a cartoon.

Overall, Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It is this fun little slice of life horror comedy especially for these friends as they experience this whole predicament which feels too ridiculous to believe. As usual, comedy is a rather subjective thing so perhaps this feel might feel dumb to some people but I’m a big fan of over the top absurdities and this film is a absolute trip, an awesome one at that!

*Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It is available to stream across Canada on Toronto After Dark Film Festival’s virtual platform throughout the festival from October 13th to 17th. You can check it out HERE along with the rest of the schedule.*

TADFF 2021: Canadian Shorts After Dark

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2021 goes completely virtual this year as it kicks off its 15th annual edition milestone filling five days of horror, sci-fi and action films from October 13th to 17th. If you are in Canada, film festival access is nationwide so you probably don’t want to miss out! You can find the schedule line-up HERE.

Kicking off the festival on Day 1 to start off in a little bit of a unique way and probably the way I’m used to previously covering TADFF is with its short films selections. Nothing like some Canadian Shorts to kick things off with 9 short films in the Canadian Shorts After Dark showcase. There’s a few that I have seen before in film festivals but the majority are first time watches.

Morbus (2020)

Director: Kerim Banka
Cast: Nicole Hrgetic, Benjamin Liddell, Konstantina Mantelos

Morbus is a second watch and one that I remembered fairly well except I can’t remember from which festival I first saw it and then didn’t end up reviewing. However, better late than never as Morbus does have a rather intriguing premise.

Morbus tells the story of a young couple that is halted on an isolated country road by blocked cars in their path. When they get out to investigate, the woman notices something in the distance and they follow in pursuit to find a woman in the woods who has some weird growths and attacks them.

There’s so much to love about this. The isolated road is a fantastic setting. There’s a lot of mystery with this type of body horror-esque phenomenon where its not certain what is going on but yet, it shows the signs of humanity of the woman’s infection causes the man to react in his own ways. As much as its horrific and a tad disgusting in terms of the whole body changing, there’s also a human element at play that gives the story a little more depth. Its only a short and yet, there’s so many things to explore with this one.

Le Reflet (The Reflection) (2018)

Director: Louis-David Jutras
Cast: Laurence Anais Belleville

Alone in her apartment, Anais realizes that something is wrong with her reflection. Trapped, she tries to escape this entity that manifests itself only through reflection. – IMDB

Reflections and mirrors are such a great tool when it comes to horror films. Le Reflet does a great job and using its sound design, a lot of quiet moments and the different reflective surfaces to play with this reflection premise. While some of the scares are rather predictable, it all depends on the timing and anticipation that it manages to ramp up before executing the scare that makes it rather effective. Plus, it creates this unknown of why this is happening.

I’m a big fan of films with this sort of horror style which is much more subtle and atmospheric. For myself, this short was absolutely outstanding. Plus, it leaves such a mystery that it feels like the premise could be expanded into a full film and potentially be a rather fun horror experience.

Maybe You Should Be Careful (2021)

Director (and writer): Megan Robinson
Cast: Dan Beirne, Brittany Rae Robinson, Kelly McNamee

Maybe You Should Be Careful is about a young couple trying to reignite their passion and intimacy when the boyfriend finds a post about a female killer in the neighborhood that is shockingly similar to his girlfriend and starts building paranoia and fear towards her in his mind.

Paranoia and fear is such a great pair to use when doing a horror film that it adds this whole psychological element to it that works incredibly well especially in this case. This is a quirky little short. There’s a weird dynamic between the couple but then the suspicions start to form, its quite fun to see how it progresses. In many ways, its simply a miscommunication between the two and a different type of focus during the entire encounter that drives to a finale that is fairly expected once it happens but does leave a lot of space during the entire short of whether the girlfriend is or is not the killer preying on the men in their neighborhood.

Family (2020)

Director (and writer): Mark Pariselli
Cast: Neil Paterson, Tarick Glancy, Peter Campbell, Tracy Woods

An accident on the way to the cottage has horrifying consequences for an interracial gay couple contemplating parenthood. – IMDB

The elements of the road trip are pretty well set up at the beginning from the relationship between the two and their many stops which fit this season especially with pumpkin stalls and corn mazes. Plus, for those familiar with the dark country roads, there’s really nothing quite as spooky as its only lit up by the car headlights making what’s ahead a complete mystery. The mood is set up really great with the isolation and quiet rural area while adding in this dire accident which needs to be taken care of. It takes quite the alarming twist as the film progresses which is a pretty neat turning point. For gamers like myself, it might actually feel very familiar giving hints of Resident Evil 7 especially with a dialogue. I’m not sure whether that is deliberate or just a coincidence but its pretty fun.

Kweskowsiu (She Whistles) (2021)

Director (and writer): Thirza Cuthand
Cast: Sera-Lys McArthur, Aiden Devine, Sebastian Bertrand, Eileen Li

On the way to her girlfriend’s place, an Indigenous woman is assaulted by her cab driver. Amidst the struggle, she discovers a deadly supernatural power that may help solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. – IMDB

There’s a lot to love about this short. For one, it dives into Native American beliefs and/or myths about the Northern Lights specifically regarding what happens when you whistle at it. Using this as not only a faux-pas in conversation but also afterwards, using it to the main girl’s advantage. Second is the familiar face of Sera-Lys McArthur who is really good here especially after seeing a good performance of hers earlier this year in Don’t Say Its Name (review). The conversation between the cab driver and her character during the taxi ride is actually rather unnerving especially awakening some fear about how much privacy is being pried but also touching on the prejudices towards Native Americans in the community as well.

Whether its the thriller element or the other messages portrayed in this short film, its a very intriguing one overall and one that opens up unfamiliar myths which adds to the intrigue and at least for myself, lead me to do a little more research.

Sang Jaune (Yellow Blood) (2019)

Director: Julie Roy
Cast: Catherine-Audrey Lachapelle

Sang Jaune crafts a story of Jenny whose life is relatively routine as it revolves around work and collecting sports cars. One day, she wakes up in a yellow field in the middle of nowhere when she starts realizing that her belly is growing abnormally and things start getting weirder after that.

Sang Jaune is a second watch for myself. I believe that I had seen it in Fantasia 2020 but never got around to reviewing it. There are some great ideas here which center around some kind of unknown creature or alien as a subcontext. It revolves around one character. The area and the premise is rather intriguing overall and leaves a lot of space to connect the dots. However, it is one that feels a little abstract at times.

The Silent Lay Steady (2020)

Director (and writer): Travis Laidlaw
Cast: Katrina Elmsley, Spencer Hanson, Justin Hay

A woman finds herself alone with the body after a funeral in her 1860’s farmhouse. – IMDB

The Silent Lay Steady is definitely one of the standout shorts in this programming. The premise and the story is very multilayer as it plays around with this starting point that loops back at the end. Its a rather fun play on the supernatural element and some shots actually remind me a little of The Haunting on Hill House (review). There’s a lot of different horror elements executed really well where there’s a bit focus on sound design to create the atmosphere.

The most outstanding element has to be its cinematography. Each shot is framed very uniquely that creates this different feeling, leaving some things hidden behind the walls. Whether the camera is following the character or its framed on one spot while the character moves in and out of rooms or keeping sounds and lighting coming from off screen, there’s a lot of really great visuals that make the whole short film even more engaging.

10-33

Director (and writer): Alexander Maxim Seltzer
Cast: Alison Louder, Andrew Chown

Ava’s quiet date night out at the cinema turns into a nightmare when she’s trapped in a toilet stall during an active shooting attack. With only a thin door separating her from the gunman, she is forced to confront him and try to find a way to survive. – 10-33 Website

Shootings anywhere is always a scary scenario to imagine. The films crafts it in one location when Ava is hiding into the toilet stall after hearing the other girls in the washroom being shot. As she tries to stay quiet, unnoticed and stay calm, things don’t go exactly as plan. The interaction between her and the gunman is through the stall door. Its a rather normal sort of conversation but reveals quite a bit about both Ava and the gunman which also works to build up the tension.

To be fair, the film premise and execution is overall very engaging. Ava’s fear and the gunman being an unknown factor other than his voice makes it all the more nervewrecking to watch. Whether its to show an aggression or frustration or to highlight the type of person the gunman is, the dialogue has a lot of f-bombs. At one point, it felt necessary but over time, it felt a little annoying as pushing something too much feels like an overuse. Its just a little observation for myself and very much nitpicking at the details since 10-33 really did standout a lot.

Crawl Space (2021)

Director (and writer): Andrew Ellinas
Cast: Andrew Ellinas

A man battles a giant spider in his garage. – IMDB

Wrapping up the Canadian Shorts After Dark is this creature feature which centers around this man finding this crawl space and digs through the spider webs to find a giant spider living in it and it ends up battling it. There’s a definite budget at play here that makes the spider a little funny-looking but spiders are really unnerving in general especially then its a big one. Its uses the things in the garage at hand for the fight and it is pretty fun overall in a silly sort of way.

Not exactly one that I’m especially impressed with but spiders as creature features seem to be wildly underused. I definitely appreciate that this one plays on that creature but also adds a little twist in the end.

Halloween Marathon 2021: V/H/S (2012)

The highlight franchise for this Halloween marathon is here as we dive into the first V/H/S.

V/H/S (2012)

Directors: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence

Cast: Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett, Hannah Fierman, Drew Sawyer, Mike Donlan, Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal,

When a group of misfits are hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house and acquire a rare VHS tape, they discover more found footage than they bargained for. – IMDB

V/H/S is a 2012 American horror anthology film which features a selection of found footage horror shorts linked together by a mainframe story which shows a group of misfits that go to burglarize a home owned by an old man to get a valuable VHS tape and one by one as they search through the house and through the tapes, one by one they disappear. The mainframe story itself isn’t exactly anything to call home about. In fact, it feels like its a background story that frames up these other stories well but feels a little more empty. It has a lot to do with the misfits really being shown as very unlikeable starting with their parking lot prank pulling up a girls shirt and their goal to earn more money going further doing bad things. There is a lot of suspense but its mostly unresolved. The mystery and creepy vibe does give it space for further sequels, of course.

Being a rather big fan of found footage style horror films, V/H/S has a decent variety of horror subgenres in its shorts compiled here. Not to mention its list of directors involved do have a lot of familiar names mostly with Adam Wingard (directing the frame short mentioned above), Ti West and Joe Swanberg. Another director in this group is David Bruckner which when this anthology released had directed primarily short films in 2012 but is more familiar now as he’s gone on to do Netflix British horror The Ritual (review) and recently, The Night House. Glen McQuaid is probably the lesser know director in this group with only a few films to his credit while Radio Silence rounds up the anthology and is probably now best known for its group of filmmakers making the awesome film, Ready or Not (review).

The first short in V/H/S that gets shown “Amateur Night” directed by David Bruckner is perhaps one of the most appealing ones which also ends up getting turned into a full feature called “Siren” afterwards. Amateur Night is a fantastic little creature feature of sorts as these guys try to get it on with these girls they pick up at the bar and it includes an odd girl Lily who eventually turns into some mythical creature or something. The found footage is from the angle of some surveillance glasses so making everything at eye level for the most part with the character wearing them. Its a great first horror short to kick off this anthology series and for myself, perhaps the highlight until it reaches the big finale.

“Second Honeymoon” by Ti West and “Tuesday the 17th” by Glenn McQuaid are a little odd overall or perhaps feels a little less surprising overall although the latter definitely has an interesting premise especially with the ‘slasher’ style that it chooses and the idea and design of the whole character that is the major threat. Its basically called “The Glitch” which tells all about what it is. The whole part is very static-y for the most part and it makes a lot of the details harder to grasp as its flashing through. Its a good idea and yet something about how it starts feels so hard to get into.

“The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger” directed by Joe Swanberg is an interesting premise. The endgame is a little abstract, at least in my interpretation compared to what I learned after some research. This type of story is odd but still has a sort of suspense where it lingers between the mystery of whether its supernatural or whether its something else. It plays well with the darkness and the whether there’s some other plot hidden. These sort of stories are pretty intriguing overall as it leaves a lot of room to guess. Its found footage style is through a computer screen which is the “screen life” style that I absolutely love as well.

Wrapping up the anthology is “10/31/98” directed by Radio Silence which is one of the longer stories as it sets itself on Halloween where some friends goes to the wrong house for a Halloween party and what they thought was part of a realistic haunted house set-up turned out to be some exorcism ritual being performed which takes them for a whirl when they need to figure out how to leave before they get caught. The whole setting really comes to life here. There’s a lot to love here. Apparently, there’s an alternate ending this segment which was shot as a joke that has a better ending.

Overall, V/H/S is pretty decent as a horror anthology. Most of the segments are pretty fun overall and have some clever twists and premise in general. As with most anthologies, there are some that stand out a lot more than others. For myself, the best ones were Amateur Night and 10/31/98 with The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger all working well.

Halloween Marathon 2021 Double Feature: The Boy (2016) & Brahms: The Boy II (2020)

The Boy (2016)

Director: William Brent Bell

Cast: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle, Ben Robson, James Russell

An American nanny is shocked that her new English family’s boy is actually a life-sized doll. After she violates a list of strict rules, disturbing events make her believe that the doll is really alive. – IMDB

At the first glance, The Boy feels like a generic horror film. Using dolls who come alive with evil outcomes isn’t exactly a novel idea at this point with Chucky and Annabelle taking its own stage. This also makes for some obvious horror tropes that show up in this film as well which feels a little predictable at times. However, the setting does itself a lot of favors as the mansion that its set in is the Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Nothing quite like a castle to capture the expansive space which is used incredibly well throughout the film as it navigates through the different areas of the house which all has its own purpose.

The foreigner going to a huge mansion for a nanny job is also a decent angle as the audience learns about the house and discovers its secrets along the way. The rules itself and her little observations along with the conversations she has and relationships she builds also brings a lot to the table as her story gets revealed. A girl running from her recent past to evade her own set of dangers and hoping that it doesn’t chase after her as well as facing her own losses which all become all too relatable in terms of the story of the family living in the house.

However, The Boy is its best when the big reveal is shown as it does has quite a shocking element. Of course, for those who are like myself who went into this knowing very little, I’m keeping that part spoiler-free. If there were any creeps, its definitely the big reveal that does pay off in the long run. In that element, it definitely exceeded expectations.

Sure, The Boy isn’t some top tier horror film with some sophisticated scares and for the most part, its more creepy than actually scary. However, it does have a clever twist reveal and the setting does have its haunting elements. There are some obvious issues with it but somehow, its always fun to find something that exceeds expectations and creates some surprises, right?

Brahms: The Boy II (2020)

Director: William Brent Bell

Cast: Katie Holmes, Christopher Convery, Owain Yeoman, Ralph Ineson, Daphne Hoskins, Keoni Rebeiro, Joely Collins

After a family moves into the Heelshire Mansion, their young son soon makes friends with a life-like doll called Brahms. – IMDB

Its a tad surprising to see that The Boy got a sequel mostly because the first movie does wrap up the situation enough and doesn’t really need to be further explored however, here we are! The sequel expands on the story in the future as years has passed between the first film’s events to the current events as a family moves into the guest house on the Heelshire Mansion property to heal from a burglary attack in their home that has caused psychological troubles to both the mother and the son. As they arrive and their son strays off into the woods and finds the life-like doll Brahms from the first film. Questions automatically pop up as to what has happened since and why its been buried outside. This makes the audience right away more aware than the characters themselves.

In reality, what made the first film shine was its use of the rather unique twist which gave it a lot of boost from its rather generic horror style. The sequel dials back to be a lot more predictable. It has to do a lot with already knowing what tricks the doll is capable of doing and knowing what it will do and rather just having that moment of building atmosphere to when it will do it. However, this film dives further into the lore of Brahms from the origins of the dolls to its dark past which changes the game a little for the film but still taking a more normal path. It ends up adding to the story which can be appreciated but it doesn’t feel too unpredictable that its much less enjoyable overall.

Brahms: The Boy II brings in Katie Holmes as the mother in the leading role. Its been a while since I’ve personally seen anything of hers and with what she had to work with, it was a pretty decent job. Whether its how the film tracks her character development from the traumatic start at the beginning to having to pull out the stops to protect her son from this doll before it would take him away. There is something rather sinister about the whole situation and the son played by Christopher Convery does a decent job as well. There are some well-executed horror moments in the film.

As a sequel, its pretty much exactly what would be expected. Even if it did build on the lore of the doll itself, the film overall is pretty bland. Its fairly predictable and expected. There’s not really anyone who says or does anything to unexpected and nothing too surprising that happens. It goes exactly as you’d expect a sequel from The Boy might go right down to the ending where it pretty much tries to set up the film for the unresolved issue under wraps, just in case it ever gets greenlit for another sequel.