Double Feature: Great White (2021) & The Reef: Stalked (2022)

Halloween month kicks off with an Australian shark film double feature. I couldn’t think of a better way than to pair up my fave horror subgenre to kick things off! Let’s check it out!

Great White (2021)

Director: Martin Wilson

Cast: Katrina Bowden, Aaron Jakubenko, Kimie Tsukakoshi, Tim Kano, Te Kohe Tuhaka, Jason Wilder, Tatjana Marjanovic

A fun filled flight to a remote atoll turns into a nightmare for five passengers when their seaplane is destroyed in a freak accident and they are trapped on a raft, 100 miles from shore with man-eating sharks lurking beneath the surface. – IMDB

Great White is an Australian shark film which is mostly similar to The Reef (review), playing on the more serious shark film style where it builds up on tension and atmosphere. The story takes form with the group stranded in open waters and being circled by sharks in a lifesaver as they gradually paddle their way to the closest land. In theory, the film holds a lot of potential since this formula does work well. The emptiness and loneliness of the location plus the unknown elements at play all contribute to that formula. However, what puts Great White in disadvantage is that the story and writing itself is not well-executed and the characters mostly feel a little lacking.

Looking at the story and writing, there’s some big execution issues here. If you follow the time stamps on the film, there’s a decent set up for the situation where the bad stuff happens also relatively quickly. In usual circumstances, that’s a rather decent pacing. However, where things fall apart is that the events focus heavily on the group of stranded characters and the many hidden emotions they have with each other which leads to the story, despite the presence of the shark in the background being a threat, it also brings up on the human side a lot where some characters truly become a very grating experience and wondering when the next attack would be. Thing is, once they start off, things do happen but they do have a great deal of time together in this floatation device before the shark makes a move. The shark attack themselves are rather fun especially since a good part of the film is in the dark so the unknown becomes even more apparent.

The writing issue touched on the characters themselves and Great White has a cast of some good and some bad characters. On one side of the spectrum, there are the knowledgeable resourceful people and on the other hand, the whiny and annoying character (one truly stands out) who is filled with some jealousy in his mind that causes him to act out with some dire consequences. If there was any sort of redemption, its that the final face off with the shark, because there always is one, was really fun to watch. A little wild but still an exciting way to wrap up this whole thing while tying together some of the story pieces together.

Overall, Great White is a more serious shark film that leans on tension and atmosphere. In this case, this was counterbalanced by its human interaction which had its pros and cons. The shark bits themselves were done really well however there were some petty human relationships and conversations that ended causing a lot of nuisance to the story as a whole.

The Reef: Stalked (2022)

Director (and writer): Andrew Traucki

Cast: Teressa Liane, Ann Truong, Saskia Archer, Kate Lister, Bridget Burt

After her sister’s murder, Nic, her younger sister and two friends seek solace through a Pacific island kayaking adventure. Hours into the trip the women are stalked by a shark and must band together, face their fears and save each other. – IMDB

For those who have seen The Reef, this one has no connection to it other than featuring a shark who stalks its characters. The Reef: Stalked plays a little faster pace than The Reef which was a much more slow-burn experience. Looking at this one, the pacing and more frequent action bits adds to the shark film experience while the part which lowers it might be the obvious lower budget Go-Pro camera filming and the very odd cuts from one scene to the next at times including the snippets of the shark, however the shark does make a good few appearances. As much I am comparing the two, its truly to give a general picture for those who have seen The Reef, like myself. The Reef sequel wasn’t really necessary but it can be appreciated.

Taking the approach of films like 47 Meters Down which takes their sequel in a new story with a similar shark concept, The Reef: Stalked definitely finds itself in a different sort of film. This time, the characters are at sea coping with a loss with different members having different experiences and know-hows which contribute or hinder the group’s progress as they go out on kayak. Its mostly focuses on the flotation devices at this point from kayaks to boats to balances which can create their own dangers with the shark’s appearance. Its a neat element for sure as a lot of the more mainstream shark films haven’t played around with kayaking yet so it feels fresh in that sense. The shark also is more active in this one so the danger hits much quicker. Trading in relationship issues, this time the main character is torn between a tense sister relationship and something like post-traumatic stress disorder from a past event creating its hindrance as well.

The acting here is okay for a shark film. No one here feels like they are super awkward but its adequate to get the role across. The dialogue has some decent moments and some that truthfully feels a little hard to digest. It does have a moment which calls sharks “men in grey suits” which of course, that character gets offed first because we all know to not mock sharks in silly descriptions and strip them from their danger element in these films. There is also a moment of childhood endangerment that also creates a rather tense piece which has somewhat of a callback to various other shark films but fits well in this piece to kick off the final act to not only seek help. It is a rather awkward transition of events when the group decides the only way to escape is to kill it which feels like an oddly sudden deduction of events for their situation.

The Reef: Stalked is an average shark movie overall. Compared to its first film, this one is probably easier to get into because it has more action and shark attacks and things move along much quicker after the first scene is established to build up its main character. However, the film does have some moments which transition awkwardly from the weird shark footage cuts to some odd decisions from its characters, its not exactly unpredictable but there are a few good moments.

Holiday Marathon: A Castle For Christmas (2021)

A Castle For Christmas (2021)

Director: Mary Lambert

Cast: Brooke Shields, Cary Elwes, Lee Ross, Andi Osho, Tiny Gray, Eilidh Loan, Stephen Oswald, Vanessa Grasse, Desiree Burch

To escape a scandal, a bestselling author journeys to Scotland, where she falls in love with a castle – and faces off with the grumpy duke who owns it. – IMDB

Looking at A Castle For Christmas, I couldn’t help but ask two questions. The first is when was the last time I saw Brooke Shields and the second, when was the last time Cary Elwes was in a romantic comedy? Was it The Princess Bride? On top of that, this film is directed by Mary Lambert who has directed plenty of horror films but not so much romance (as I take a quick look over her filmography and yet, she is at the helm of this film.

Set in the small town Scotland setting and mostly in a castle, A Castle For Christmas is really not all that bad. The cast helps a lot and the whole tone is pretty nice. The plot points do have some odd moments that feel like it edited out a scene or two that was supposed to link it all together. The romance at times is a little bit on the cringey side of things but the setting is really nice for Christmas as it brings these two characters together. The holiday element is also done pretty well also as they transform the castle into a more festive setting and giving it a little more life.

The cast is really the highlight here. Whether we look at the main leads or the supporting cast, they all add a lot of charm to this small town and breathe more life into the film as a whole. The little discussions as they knit or decorate together. It makes the famous author on the run feel accepted when this group understands her point more than the others in the big city. There is a very positive feel-good vibe from those moments alone. It somehow puts the romance element in the background. However, thats not saying that Cary Elwes and Brooke Shields in their respective leading roles should be ignored. Brooke Shields fits into this role nicely whereas Cary Elwes feels at times a little awkward. However, his character is set as a bit of a loner so where he shines is before the whole romantic bits start with their little feud as he tries to get her to leave and she works hard to fit in and stay.

Overall, A Castle For Christmas is an alright holiday romantic comedy. Its cast does it the most favors and makes it a fun feel good film. The romance gets lost a little in the whole setting and the holiday and the supporting cast from the small town and yet, that does do the film a lot of favors as the romance element isn’t its strongest but Brooke Shields and Cary Elwes does fit relativelt well in their individual roles.

Double Feature: A California Christmas (2020) & A California Christmas: City Lights (2021)

A California Christmas (2020)

Director: Shaun Paul Piccinino

Cast: Lauren Swickard, Josh Swickard, Ali Afshar, David Del Rio, Katelyn Epperly, Amanda Detmer, Natalia Mann, Gunnar Anderson, Julie Lancaster

With his carefree lifestyle on the line, a wealthy charmer poses as a ranch hand to get a hardworking farmer to sell her family’s land before Christmas. – IMDB

Being from a place where a white Christmas is usually how it goes, these snowless holiday films sometimes do feel a little strange as it focuses more on the actual romance than the holiday but I suppose that’s how it goes with these sort of Netflix-style “Hallmark” films. A California Christmas is really rather basic. In fact, everything is very simple and predictable whether its the characters to the whole plot itself. It doesn’t carry a whole lot of depth. In these cases, its saving grace will be the chemistry and its setting which the whole small-town farmland has its little fun moments while the chemistry does work seeing as the two leads are actually married in real life which definitely helps things and makes it feel rather natural.

What saves this movie a little bit is that the rich spoiled brat male lead comes to this town to try to pretend to be someone else and use that as a manipulative plot to get them to sell as per his company and his mother the CEO’s request, with that plot comes the blending together and a somewhat fish out of water story as he learns how to do all these farm tasks, posing as a farm hand called Manny who ends up trading up that life for a rather relaxing one with his assistant, Leo. Where the film did have its most fun was the ridiculous and rather comedic moments between Leo and Manny as their friendship grew throughout. Of course, the romance wasn’t all too bad either considering they pulled in a family angle that tugged a little on the heartstrings.

A California Christmas is really everything that you’d expect from this type of holiday romance. Its acceptable for those who enjoy these films but nothing too special for anyone looking for something more.

A California Christmas: City Lights (2021)

Director: Shaun Paul Piccinino

Cast: Lauren Swickard, Josh Swickard, Ali Afshar, David Del Rio, Natalia Mann, Raquel Dominguez, Laura James, Noah James, Julie Lancaster

Follows Callie and Joseph one year after they fell in love, now running a dairy farm and winery, but their romance is threatened when business and family obligations call Joseph back to the city. – IMDB

The sequel of last year’s A California Christmas moves the farmland setting to the city lights of San Francisco as Joseph is summoned back to the city to take care of the company as his mother runs off and passes the duties over to him. Faced with the upcoming nuptials and fitting into the city as well as the different person that Joseph seems to be in the city as well as a lot of revelations about his past life there, Callie starts to have her own doubts.

A California Christmas: City Lights is a step down from the first film. While the first was predictable, this sequel actually feels a lot more unnecessary. Some things in the script feel like a stretch and there is this very odd tone especially with some very cheesy and over the top moments, specifically one where its probably meant to be humorous but didn’t quite hit that way with Manny’s character as he tries to capture the attention of Callie’s best friend Brandy. Its a rather empty sort of pursuit as the connection goes from nothing to something in a very short amount of time. The family element also gets traded out as Callie and Joseph is away in another city but still trying to get those moments in.

The focus is still on Callie and Joseph, the main couple here who is caught up in this new location and new responsibilities respectively. Between the plots of the ex-girlfriend and this whole other side of Joseph comes to light for Callie, it creates these moments of tension as the city undoubtedly tears them apart literally, making it hard to find time to spend together. This plotline actually is one that I’m not a huge fan of in general. Call it a romance film issue that is used so frequently with just secrets and lack of communication which is usually the source all the problems. While its inevitable that it needs to be used to create conflict, it also feels like for the frequent viewer of such films, it such a simple solution whether its talking things through or just commuting to see each other to sort things out whether than each sulking in their own corners.

Sure, I didn’t have high expectations for A California Christmas: City Lights since the first movie was a rather average sort of viewing experience. This film however took some very odd and silly plot points that just felt like while the backdrop of San Francisco has some really nice cityscape, and the world they shift to is rather glamorous, the film in general is dull. It actually took quite a few sittings to get through it. Some of the issues once resolved were pretty decent but the script and the execution was just not too balanced.

Halloween Marathon 2021: There’s Someone Inside Your House (2021)

There’s Someone Inside Your House (2021)

Director: Patrick Brice

Cast: Sydney Park, Theodore Pellerin, Asjha Cooper, Dale Whibley, Jesse LaTourette, Burkely Duffield, Diego Josef, Zane Clifford, BJ Harrison, Sarah Dugdale, William MacDonald, Andrew Dunbar

The graduating class at Osborne High is being targeted by a masked assailant, intent on exposing the darkest secret of each victim, and only a group of misfit outsiders can stop the killings. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Movies and Tea for Friday Film Club segment*

One of Netflix’s October offerings is this teenage slasher flick that plays similarly to popular slashers like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Based on the novel of the same name by Stephanie Perkins, There’s Someone Inside Your House follows Makani, a transfer student to the Nebraska high school that soon becomes caught up in the gruesome murders involving other students in the school and eventually her own friends but also making her face her own secret, a past that haunts her and the reason she ends up moving from Hawaii to Nebraska for a fresh start.

Slashers have been a popular horror subgenre for quite some time with a lot of titles entering into classics territory. Making something new is fairly difficult at this point and time. There’s Someone Inside Your House doesn’t do anything different with the formula and if you’ve seen the previously mentioned slashers, you probably will have a good idea of where to direct your suspicions on who is behind the masked killer – aka the person that you probably didn’t think of in the first place but then, perhaps its just messing with your mind as it casts suspicions on certain characters as well. In that sense, There’s Someone Inside Your House does execute that element rather well to create some second-guessing.

With all that said, There’s Someone Inside Your House does tick all the boxes of being a decent horror slasher. It has the typical group of teenagers that fit the different criteria of the normal crew. Its final girl, the main female lead Makani, played by Sydney Young, does a pretty good job and the whole home invasion concept where someone knows all the deep dark secrets and uses it to their advantage is actually pretty entertaining. It also manages to keep its group of teens fairly grounded to cover their little secrets from each other. The masked killer being able to create masks of their victims is also a neat angle to take and has a nice creepy vibe.

There’s Someone Inside Your House is a straightforward teen slasher reminiscent of those in the 90s. While its a tad predictable and keeps a familiar structure, the characters are still pretty fun to follow and the backstory for its main lead is well-developed. Sure, everyone wants something new and shiny and different (and I do appreciate as much as any horror fan) however, for what its trying to accomplish in this horror subgenre, it still manages to be pretty engaging.

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.

TV Binge: Midnight Mass (2021)

Midnight Mass (2021)

Creator: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Kate Siegel, Zach Gilford, Kristin Lehman, Samantha Sloyan, Igby Rigney, Rahul Kohli, Annarah Cymone, Annabeth Gish, Alex Essoe, Rahul Abburi, Hamish Linklater, Henry Thomas, Michael Trucco, Matt Biedel, Crystal Balint

An isolated island community experiences miraculous events – and frightening omens – after the arrival of a charismatic, mysterious young priest. – IMDB

The third Netflix limited series of Mike Flanagan takes a completely different direction. Midnight Mass is bigger than the haunted house set-up but instead tackles an isolated island community and the uprise in religious faith after their new priest is able to create a miracle. This review will be mostly spoiler-free so some things will be much more general. If you’ve watched it, you might what I am addressing.

Diving religion and belief is a pretty ambitious direction to take especially since it also is a rather touchy subject for the most part. It brings up a lot of different viewpoints of religion in community which in a small little island setting does show the diversity of how many people treat religion on a daily basis as well as the extremities of beliefs and perhaps the dependency on it when faith creates miracles. There’s quite a few themes here but in reality the most important element being how these characters are crafted from their experiences and the relationships that grow whether on a family, romantic and friendship. The setting itself gives it a closed off and isolated environment but also manages to create a lot of diversity. When you bring in a stranger, the unknown and mysterious parts of this stranger become a spotlight and brings on the curiosity especially when they are more charismatic than dangerous. Much like someone returning to the island with their own background also has a sense of a new character where they try to re-establish themselves.

Where Flanagan’s shows are most successful is how the story crafts its characters. It makes human nature be the biggest force in what creates the creepy elements sometimes even more than the horror and sinister elements themselves. That’s not saying that Flanagan doesn’t create some genuine startling moments which does bring on a lot of questions especially with their unknown “monster’ that is rumored from their deserted off island where the youths go to hang out in the beginning to its appearances showing up across town. It brings back memories of Absentia when Flanagan creates a character with so little revealed that it creates so much suspense and mystery that brings along the horror. Of course, that’s been while ago and Midnight Mass has much more budget where it can create something a little different in what is actually going on. Although, in terms of execution, it does feel like the big reveal was done a little too early which makes what happens after feel like it drags a little bit longer than it needs to therefore losing the effects. its not to say that its not a shocking ending or that the end result does leave space to contemplate about some of its messages.

That being said, its hard to not talk about the characters here which are pretty well-casted overall. Starting off from Zach Gilford as Riley who returns from his four year prison sentence after killing a woman in an recent accident that causes him to be haunted by the scene over and over again every night. He returns to having to readjust both to the small town and their judgments as well as getting back to good terms with his family so that they can accept him while also facing his ex-girlfriend, Erin (Kate Siegel) who he soon finds out has returned back to the island pregnant but has followed her mother’s footsteps as a schoolteacher. Their reunited friendship keeps both of them comfortable as Erin helps Riley find somewhere that he belongs and isn’t judged but also understands the hurdles of coming back while they respectively have changed in their faith in opposite directions as Riley has lost his religion and faith where Erin has found it upon her return. These two characters are no doubt the center of the entire plot. Much like the island’s new sheriff, Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and his son Ali (Rahul Abburi) also have a pretty strong role as their difference in appearance and religion create their own hurdles of how certain members of the island creates barriers of how they don’t understand how the island operates, sticking to their own ways. This leads to the church portion which brings on a very well-portrayed in the most frustrating sort of character who sits at an extreme of the religious spectrum in her absolute faith and belief, Miss Keane who is one of those very strong type of characters that carries the sharpest words, narrow-minded and is overall a pretty extreme type of person who acts like she is doing good when she is actually a pretty mean person as she manipulates others using her influence. Which leads to the new member of the Church, the young priest Father Hill who temporarily replace their elderly priest who is both charismatic and wise with his views and plays the mystery stranger role which has quite a shocking reveal.

Midnight Mass is full of well-developed characters which each contribute so much to the plot itself. There’s a lot to love about this mini series. In some ways, it dances around the sensitive topic of religion and faith when it is taken to its extremities and how it turn into something that can be freely interpreted using the Bible with any situation to manipulate situation when its believed to be good but it isn’t. As the character dynamics change with the constantly changing situation, this island and community becomes so intriguing to watch. Even if the ending seems a little wild, it does manage to keep its audience contemplating about the deeper messages portrayed here whether its about loss, grief, belief, faith, religion, etc.

Halloween Marathon 2021: Escape the Undertaker (2021)

Escape the Undertaker (2021)

Director: Ben Simms

Cast: Mark Calaway, Ettore Ewen, Kofi Kingston, Austin Watson

Can The New Day survive the surprises at The Undertaker’s spooky mansion? It’s up to you to decide their fate in this interactive WWE-themed special. – Netflix

Escape the Undertaker is a mystery comedy Halloween interactive film which runs about 30 minutes to get to the end. The goal is to escape the spooky mansion alive and destroy the Undertaker’s urn. First things first, wrestling is a blind spot for myself. The only wrestlers I have heard of are the mega famous or turns to actor ones and all I know about wrestling world are the basics, mostly from the documentary You Cannot Kill David Arquette (review).

However, this special has nothing to do with it other than the wrestling figures here, The New Day and The Undertaker as the leading roles as The New Day goes to The Undertaker’s mansion to borrow his urn which takes them for a ride when one of them ends up almost losing their soul and needs to save it before the ritual is complete, sending them on their separate paths. Of course, in the heart of choose your adventure, you only get to choose one of the three to follow, meaning you can always go back to see what the other paths are like, depending how much time you want to toss into this film. For myself, I at least went through until I could get the intended ending where they escaped and destroyed the urn. Its pretty straightforward so it was achievable on the second run where it also gave the chance to explore some other options to see a little bit more of this mansion. Its not particularly hard to find the right path that they want but I’m sure there are many other outcomes if you wanted to test out other paths to expand the experience.

The New Day has a pretty positive vibe overall and they seem fun enough to watch without anything too cringe-y in terms of dialogue or acting so its decent entertainment. Much like The Undertaker that has this somewhat campy villain sort of feeling as well. The two sides of the spectrum from the good and bad have a decent contrast taken from their wrestling personas. I mean, I’m just basing it on what I saw in this film so you can let me know if I’m completely wrong or this film was playing it up on any element.

With that said, Escape the Undertaker is somewhat of a silly idea and feels a little random overall as its all a little too straightforward perhaps. However, its a fun enough time. You are going into a film featuring a cast of wrestling figures in this interactive movie, so I’m not exactly sure how high the expectations should be. For myself, its not exactly anything too special but it was a good time. As a simple Halloween themed choose your adventure, I think its ticks the box well enough with some silly, fun and not so spooky escape adventure.

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (2021)

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (2021)

Director: Adam Robitel

Cast: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Thomas Cocquerel, Holland Roden, Indya Moore, Carlito Olivero, Deborah Ann Woll

Six people unwillingly find themselves locked in another series of escape rooms, slowly uncovering what they have in common to survive. Joining forces with two of the original survivors, they soon discover they’ve all played the game before. – IMDB

Taking place soon after the ending of Escape Room (review), the sequel starts off the previous films survivors trying to track down Minos and reveal their evil plans. However, they yet again get caught up in another escape room game when their subway tram breaks away from the rest and takes another course where they realized that the other people are all past survivors of previous Escape Rooms each themed with their own experiences and traumas with one survivor quickly revealing the subtitle of the sequel “Tournament of Champions” near the very beginning.

While Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is a sequel, it isn’t completely necessary to see the first film as the beginning of the film does a quick recap of what happens and fills in the audience of the key elements that needs to be remembered and if you happen to be one of those adventurous audience who likes to jump into sequels regardless of its prior film, then that should helps. Much like its first film, it manages to retain one of its strengths and that is the room designs themselves. The room designs here right down to the different dangerous elements and the time countdown really kind of ups itself from its predecessor. If anything, the progression of room designs all have their own story and even their own sort of flow. For viewers of the first film, it might start seeing this sort of similarity in the general progression of the rooms. This one starts on fairly high stakes as it plays with electricity and does slow itself down. There’s a lot to love here as each room gives pretty engaging obstacles to solve its puzzles, each having its own theme as well.

Looking at the characters itself, as mentioned before, they are all people that have won/survived previous Escape Rooms designed by Minos which gives an idea of who they are when they talk about their themed sessions of the group that was gathered. The main character is still the girl from the first film, Zoey (Taylor Russell) who gets involved after dragging along the other survivor from her game, Ben to follow the trail of clues to hopefully take down Minos, however getting caught back into its claws for the next game. These two are almost like the brains of the operations. Perhaps its the element that these all are survivors and know what’s at stake and want to flip it around, they work together much more quickly and figure out the puzzles with a lot of cooperation. The whole cast here is actually pretty decent. There is some bad dialogue and some overacting which happens fairly early in the film but slowly does fade away as other elements of the game starts to piece together.

Keeping to my spoiler-free style here, the pieces all come together to a fairly interesting twist to the film which brings it to its final act. The twist itself being pretty good overall and demonstrates the manipulation and power of this “evil” corporation on many different levels. Sure, I’m going to say it again like with the first film that I’m not a fan of films that seem to want to bait the unnecessary sequel set-up or leave it at this weird cliffhanger like there’s always more which doesn’t keep it as standalone and plus, its so normal for films to do that now that it makes it so predictable and yet, its hard to say that there isn’t a smidge of cleverness and curiosity on how far they can carry this concept.

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is currently available to watch on demand and was released on Blu-Ray and DVD today (October 5th).

*Screener received from TARO PR*

Halloween Marathon 2021: The Superdeep (2020)

Welcome to this year’s Halloween Horror Marathon! This is the kick-off post for this year. While I had initially wanted it to be a double feature, I figured that this is a great way to show what this month is going to be about: diving in to the Shudder catalogue especially on the Shudder Originals as much as possible along with some Netflix horror films that I’ve missed this past year or so, plus a few other little fun bits. There will be other stuff as well like TV binges and hopefully books. I have a lot of horror catch-up to do in every department. Also, this year’s highlight, thanks to Shudder’s release of V/H/S 94 will be the V/H/S franchise. As its only 4 films, it’ll be released one film per week. The first V/H/S review will go up in a few days. With that said, the goal is to have a total of 31 reviews at the end whether its in the form of single reviews, double features or TV binges, so maybe not a post everyday but I will definitely try.

With that said, nothing like a Shudder Original to kick things off as we dive into an English dubbed Russian horror thriller called The Superdeep. Let’s go!

The Superdeep (Kolskaya Sverhglubokaya, 2020)

Director (and co-writer): Arseny Syuhin

Cast: Milena Radulovic, Nikita Dyuvbanov, Kirill Kovbas, Sergey Ivanyuk, Vadim Demchog, Nikolay Kovbas, Albina Chaykina

A small research team went down below the surface to find out what secret the world’s deepest borehole was hiding. What they have found turned out to be the greatest threat in history. And the future of humanity is in their hands. – IMDB

The Superdeep is a 2020 Russian sci-fi horror thriller with elements of creature feature and body horror. Running at almost 2 hours, this film has a decent pacing. Aside from some below average effects and some debatable slow motion cinematography choices in various parts, this film is fairly well-executed in premise. If anything, its dubbed in English which for some characters feels a little more obvious which is a peculiar choice as the version to be on Shudder as there’s one part of news broadcast which is in Russian so not exactly sure why this is the case. However, it does a decent job in the dubbing for the most part so its easy to get used to it quickly.

The Superdeep is mostly winning for its premise and setting. The setting takes a lot of credit here as the underground element being a deepest borehole in the world makes for a lot of other dangers mostly from elevation, air pressure and oxygen. The setting itself also has various floors in their underground facility which gradually falls apart. As the characters move through these spaces, the use of space gives the setting a character of its own especially in a relatively unknown area. Plus, from other horror movies, the depths always have something sinister going on and in this case, it feels a lot like an experiment gone wrong bringing in some sense that it drew inspiration from video game Resident Evil 7. I mean in appearance and nature but not exactly what the whole premise is. There are also other inspirations here that draw from perhaps The Thing and Alien which might be the most recognizable. While there are bits that feel familiar, the threat itself is still rather intriguing and has its creepy elements.

If there was anything to criticize about the film, it is the unnecessary frustrating bits where there’s a critical moment set in slow motion which probably was meant to either add drama or anxiety but didn’t seem to achieve it. The already runs at 2 hours so some of these bits seem to be pointless however, thinking more about it, it could be trying to play on the danger element and the pain of it all. In reality, the whole film is fairly decent even if some of the characters are fairly predictable in their place in the film but the setting itself and the danger element is designed well but it all comes crashing to a rather disappointing sort of ending. The ending itself is acceptable if it wasn’t executed the way that it was. However, from the limited Russian films that I’ve seen (I’ve only seen 4 or so at this point), I’m not sure that I’ve seen a film that has given me a very good ending yet even if the whole film itself was a great time overall. It all dials down to whether the sum of its parts is worth your time at the end of the day. For this one, it does on some levels.

While Shudder has a slew of bad and average reviews for The Superdeep (when I saw it), I actually think the opposite. Its a pretty fun premise which did appeal to myself. It had some decent body horror moments and the virus or creature that it creates is decently designed as well. For sure, there are issues with this like the lack of character development and some predictable moments and a very lackluster ending (which I do hope isn’t an attempt to create another film for this world). That isn’t say that I didn’t like the film but the reason that I see this film working is because of the underground facility setting which brings in a lot of other unknown factors that makes this intriguing to watch. Strip that element away and this film probably might not have had the same effect. With all that said, its a decent enough way to kick start this marathon.