BITS 2021: Vicious Fun (2020)

Vicious Fun (2020)

Director (and co-written): Cody Calahan

Cast: Evan Marsh, Amber Goldfarb, Ari Millen, Julian Richings, Robert Maillet, Sean Baek, David Koechner, Alexa Rose Steele, Kristopher Bowman, Mark Gibson, John Fray

Joel, a caustic 1980s film critic for a national horror magazine, finds himself unwittingly trapped in a self-help group for serial killers. With no other choice, Joel attempts to blend in or risk becoming the next victim. – IMDB

Being a huge fan of Black Fawn Films since Antisocial (review), its almost like I’ve been following director and writer Cody Calahan from his debut until now. There’s a few little gaps in the filmography however, its always been intriguing and/or fun premises especially when looking at the last film, The Oak Room (review). This latest film which also happens to be available on Shudder right now is very different from the toned down last film premise but still incredibly fun. I’m always a fan when its title sells exactly and much more as to what is expected.

Vicious Fun follows a 1980s horror fanatic and film critic for a horror magazine called Joel (Evan Marsh) who follows his roommate’s new boyfriend Bob (Ari Millen) to this Chinese restaurant-bar and ends up getting himself drunk and passes out in the storage room. When he wakes up, the restaurant is closed and he stumbles into a self-help group for serial killers and gets mistaken for the missing member, Phil. Right when the others buy his impersonation, Bob enters to question his identity and all hell breaks loose as this cast of serial killers start to go after him. As he finds a potential ally, tries to protect his roommate and gets caught up with some dumb cops, the night takes a very dangerous turn. 

There’s so much to love about Vicious Fun. The 80s setting gives it the neon-lit rooms to the synthetic soundtrack that accompanies the entire film. The cinematography here is fantastic right down to the setting of the restaurant from its set design. Vicious Fun also has this rather straight-forward plot but still has a little reveal to another side for its female lead, another serial killer at the group with her own little plan that gets slightly sidetracked played by Amber Goldfarb. Much like some familiar faces as the serial killers especially in the indie film world with David Koechner, Ari Millen and Julian Richings. Each of the serial killers have their own different style which makes it all the more fun to watch. 

The cast here really does need a detailed mention as they all come together to put together this wonderful slasher all combined in one whether its the emotionless thought-out killer Fritz (Julian Richings) who disguises as a clown, the tall masked sorority/summer camp killer Mike (Robert Maillet), the Japanese chef and cannibal, Hideo (Sean Baek), the handsome and smart psychopath Bob (Ari Millen) who is a master of disguise and the Zachary, the government funded killer. This crew embodies all kinds of slashers mashed into one film and gives a little bit of everything as they work together to get rid of their intruder and the mysterious femme fatale Carrie with her own little mission and seemingly turns on them to help Joel. These two are an interesting pairing as well since its usual that we would see the cranky male mentor with the scaredy-cat young follower and yet, this one changes it to a badass lady who really carries the whole situation and Amber Goldfarb takes on this role so well.

Overall, Vicious Fun is a stylistic neon-lit, 80s music filled, blood-soaked and gut-spilling horror comedy. It’s a ton of fun to watch and just an overall good time. The characters are over the top crazy and yet, wrapped up in this wild night is a much more grounded character reacting ridiculously but for some normal joe is also very believable. The horror and comedy balance itself out very nicely. Vicious Fun is currently available on Shudder. 

Fantasia Festival 2020: The Oak Room (World Premiere 2020)

The Oak Room (2020)

The

Director: Cody Calahan

Cast: RJ Mitte, Peter Outerbridge, Ari Millen, Nicholas Campbell, Martin Roach, David Ferry, Amos Crawley

During a raging snowstorm, a drifter returns home to the blue-collar bar located in the remote Canadian town where he was born. When he offers to settle an old debt with a grizzled bartender by telling him a story, the night’s events quickly spin into a dark tale of mistaken identities, double-crosses and shocking violence. – IMDB

Being a big fan of Black Fawn Films ever since seeing the first one at Fantasia years ago, its always a fun time to see them back with another film. The Oak Room is a much different offering that takes place in the middle of snowstorm in Ontario bar tucked underground with stairs to descend. Its a film that focuses heavily on storytelling elements. As a young man Steve appears back home years after to settle a debt, he offers to tell a story to bartender Paul. Between this story about a bartender in the current reality and the one that Steve tells about another bar in a similar landscape, it all feels very random and separate. Except as the separate characters of both stories are revealed more and the conversation between Steve and Paul, revealing their issues and the past and father-son relationships and more, there is this tension that stews in the background that starts being stronger and stronger as the stories start making sense as to how it all works together. There’s some incredible execution to pair up the narrative.

Jeff Maher’s cinematography also grabs the bar setting incredibly well. It captures the dimly-lit setting of the bar but using the neon lights decoration to amp up the atmosphere. Its one of the reasons the opening scene is actually one that captures right from the beginning as it focuses on a bottle of beer sitting at the bar while a fight goes on out of focus in the background. There are a lot of those moments that give a mysterious vibe to the whole setting and pairs amazingly well with the story on hand.

With that said, the characters here are done really well. The two central characters is between a somewhat weaker character in the beginning that feels almost like he’s a bit useless in Steve, played by RJ Mitte. Steve’s character is one that develops a lot throughout as there is somewhat of a power change as the story he tells starts having a lot more substance to support his character and why he has come back. Facing Paul, played brilliantly by Peter Outerbridge, who is a strong character right from the start that commands the scene and has an upper hand over Steve. Steve and Paul play well off of each other. The same goes for the parallel scenes in the story about the other bar starring Michael (Ari Millen) and Richard (Martin Roach). Ari Millen and Martin Roach play their parts incredibly well also and play off of each other well. Their story actually wraps in a lot of tension.

The Oak Room

The Oak Room is a really good movie. Probably one of my faves from Black Fawn Films and this year’s Fantasia Festival so far. There’s this breath of fresh air of how they execute this narrative-heavy story that’s all in the subtlety. The script and dialogue works incredibly well together and its executed on point to build the tension to build up this thriller. Amping up from one story to the next and reveals more and more of the connection between the stories and the characters and it all ends in this point that leaves a lot of space for the audience to guess what happens in the final moment. All that is thanks to timing and pacing of the the whole film that pulls everything together.

Fantasia Festival 2016 Rundown!

Remember on the Montreal Comiccon post that I said I couldn’t make it to the rest of the weekend. Well, Sunday had other plans but Saturday ended up being cancelled for me because Fantasia Festival tickets went on sale!

Fantasia Festival

As some of you know, I’ve been going to Fantasia for the last three consecutive years.  The last two years have seen the festival grow so much as it acquires these really great movies, mostly indie films but a lot of difference from the mainstream since I tend to avoid those. Its opened up my knowledge to so much.  Every year, Fantasia Festival is where I feel like I grow a lot as a movie reviewer. Every year there are surprises and I just have so much fun anticipating the schedule going up then looking at the selections and putting together the schedule and still freaking out before the tickets are open whether I’d get them before they all get snatched up.

I think maybe I skipped putting up this post last year but somehow, I felt like doing it again this year since the choices are pretty spectacular and I had one of the hardest times choosing what I wanted to see while keeping a sensible schedule. Thing is, these three weeks will see a lot of fluctuation despite having a tentative schedule set and trying to prepare for it in this coming week before it starts with the first movie I have scheduled. Its a three week event that includes a lot of late nights and fatigue and sometimes, I might skip a day or two of reviews (or posts) to recuperate or to think about what I’m going to write.

Point is, things might fall out of place here and there but I think I have a rather decent schedule that should help with everything. I have a lot of stuff backlogged and half written but will all be hopefully done by the time we hit the super high season in my schedule.

You know what? Enough rambling! You are all here to see my selections, right? Let’s check it out!!

Rupture [World Premiere] 

Hosted by director Steven Shainberg

The Unseen [World Premiere]

Hosted by director Geoff Redknap

http://video-cdn.indiewire.com/players/JMnCBzmT-PbCxl3wn.html

Lights Out [Special Screening]

We Go On

Hosted by screenwriter/co-director Andy Mitton and actor Jay Dunn

Kidnap Capital

Hosted by director Felipe Rodriguez

Train to Busan [North American Premiere]

Before I Wake [Special Screening]

Hosted by director Mike Flanagan

Bed of the Dead [World Premiere]

Hosted by director Jeff Maher and members of cast and crew

I Am Not a Serial Killer

Hosted by actor Christopher Lloyd

Don’t Breathe

There was a lot of choices that I had to give up and I think the hardest ones that were on my list initially was: Trash Fire, Abbatoir and Therapy.

While Fantasia had a lot of variety this year from a lot of Westerns to even more foreign movie variety to dramas and comedies and the likes, this festival (at least to me) is still rooted in horror and fantasy sort of movies. I always try to support a few Canadian productions because they usually are underrated and hidden gems buried in there.  Its why Black Fawn Films (Bite, The Drownsman) is one I always check out even if it means I need to shift my schedule around. This year, they are here with Bed of the Dead and I’m pretty excited. The Canadian selection is The Unseen which only has that one exclusive trailer but the plot looks so great.

Also, I love choosing world premieres and to go to hosted movies because it offers an insight on the movie and helps me determine whether the message was delivered or whether I interpreted it as they had intended (or not, if it was meant to be abstract). This year, the hosts are incredible from Christopher Lloyd and Mike Flanagan from my own list to Richard Bates Jr and AnnaLynne McCord to Takashi Miike and also Guillermo Del Toro with his masters class after a documentary. On top of that, Special screenings for Lights Out and Before I Wake have got me super hyped. Between you and me, I’ve been spooked by the Lights Out trailers for a few days. And well, the really cool premise of Don’t Breathe, especially after watching Hush.

That’s it for me! I’m just excited! Next year, I really should work on trying to get that Press accreditation.

 Are you going to Fantasia Festival? What movies have caught your eye? Any film festivals near you?

Fantasia Fest 2015: Bite (2015)

Black Fawn Films has been on fire with tons of horror.  The year before last, it was Antisocial.  Last year, it was responsible for The Drownsman.  This year, other than Antisocial 2 (which I will review next), its Bite.  The love and passion for horror is fully apparent in the producers and directors at Black Fawn Films.  The Drownsman aimed to bring in a new memorable figure just like how Jason and Michael Myers was supposed to do and for Bite, it is at the level of David Cronenberg’s The Fly (which I haven’t seen).  Regardless, I chose this film because despite having a little issue with The Drownsman, there is no doubt that director Chad Archibald is really great at doing horror and for all that passion I see during last year’s Q&A, I would go see whatever other projects him and his company will release.  So there I was, lining up super early, because I had nothing else to do, at the world premiere of Bite.

Right before the movie, we get a little gift handed out to us and I tweeted about it.

Official Bite Barf Bag

Official Bite Barf Bag, includes: promotional card for Bite and Antisocial 2 and 2 mints

That was a thing and it made me a little worried about what to expect.  I usually can stomach pretty gruesome things but really? A barf bag? At least it got me mentally prepared 😉

Bite (2015)

World premiere

Bite

Director: Chad Archibald

Cast: Elma Begovic, Denise Yuen, Annette Wozniak, Jordan Gray, Lawrene Denkers

Casey (Elma Begovic) going away with her two girl friends Kirsten (Denise Yuen) and Jill (Annette Wozniak) to Costa Rica for her bachelorette party.  While exploring there, she gets bitten by something in the water.  When she gets home, what seemed like a small bite starts to get infected and worsen.  Soon, she starts feeling a change.  These changes intensifies as her fear for getting married with her fiance Jared (Jordan Gray) shadow over her.

I’m sure that whole disgusting thing is looming in the background of your heads after the whole barf bag gift so I’m going to start with that.  While I don’t know if it was related to the movie or just the massive heat wave we had last week, I do know that one girl seemed like she wasn’t doing well as she exited the theatre after the first scene or two that was pretty stomach-turning.  At the end of the show, they were saying that 3 people left and paramedics had to come.  I sure hope they are doing alright but yes, while I didn’t need to use my barf bag, there were a few scenes that it was so revolting that I resulted to taking off my glasses for one or two scenes and turned away for a few seconds in the earlier ones.  If that was their goal, applause to them, hell, even standing ovation to a phenomenal job!

bite

Consider that part more of a warning of what to expect than my criticizing it because Bite was a very good horror movie.  It starts off in a pretty mellow way to set up the situation of how Casey and her feelings towards her upcoming wedding and her dynamics with her friends and their personality.  It gives us hints of what will happen.  Being away only took a little bit of time but being back in her place, it doesn’t have a lot of places that it moves around from.  Casey and her apartment building is where mostly everything happens and that location has a really nice atmosphere to it (even though the exterior of that building makes me question its believability as a residential building).  The atmosphere is what I love the most about Chad Archibald’s work, even in The Drownsman last year.  This one has a rather sombre texture to every scene, especially when Casey starts her transformation.  That whole set of her apartment is a work of art in the third act in all its super nauseating and creepy way.

I guess the only thing I can rag on about Bite is the dialogue.  Its not exactly engaging and it can be too much.  The opening sequence was a little bit of burden and I got a little worried we had entered into the found footage film which only applied to that first little bit in the exotic getaway part where they were setting up the stage.

While, the best parts is in some very good performances from the cast.  The very successfully mean future mother in law was done in the most convincingly nasty way that you will hate everything about her.  Casey was portrayed very well by Elma Begovic.  The whole physical transformation and the things she does, her reactions are really awesome.  She was able to embrace the character from emotional fear to the physical changes. As for the other characters, the best friends have this balance of good and bad while the fiance, and I honestly believe his character was meant to be like this, a little frustrating and kind of a jerk. But that is the character and everyone fit well in their spots so I’m happy with it.

Bite

Q&A Session

Overall, Bite is a very good horror film. The cast was great at letting us know the characters in this story especially Elma Begovic as the main character Casey. While the first act isn’t quite as solid, it picks itself up in the second act and excels in the third act.  The atmosphere and particularly the set is done very well.  One of the most outstanding features is in the incredible set transformation and also Casey’s transformation from the after effects of the bite.  Its a slimy, gooey and very disgusting movie but if you can stomach it, you definitely should give this a go! 🙂

Thoughts on Bite?