BITS 2022: Dark Nature (2022)

Dark Nature (2022)

Director (and co-writer): Berkley Brady

Cast: Hannah Emily Anderson, Madison Walsh, Daniel Arnold, Helen Belay, Kyra Harper, Roseanne Supernault

It tells the story of a therapy group that is forced to confront the monsters of their past when an isolated weekend retreat tests their emotional resilience and ability to survive. – IMDB

Nature is always a great setting since it gives us beauty but can also give us danger and isolation. Set in the beautiful forests, valleys and mountains of Canadian Rockies, Dark Nature uses the mysterious unknown hidden in the nature to its advantage to give its monster a lot of hidden moments to spectate the women who are on this retreat to heal but also gives these women a lot of moments to question what is actually there and what is set up for their treatment.

The threat here doesn’t really have a name but comes into recognition when its brought in conversation. Clever conversation is so important in films and this brings up such a good bridge to this one. The film teases a little whether its a bear or cougar or something else and while it breaks that belief very soon in the film, this spirit does some pretty scary stuff. The design of it is also revealed fairly late in the film and does have a creepy design.

The film is relatively well-paced. There are only five women in this group and each of their struggles and why they are at this support group is exchanged fairly soon. The film also starts off on a strong note which sets up the situation of why the main character Joy is there and the domestic abuse she experiences. The entire first scene is done really well from atmosphere to sound to its overall cinematography. In the nature, they aren’t a lot of bodies but they drop, boy, do they drop fast. It comes to a second half that reminds heavily of that of Rogue (review).

Overall, Dark Nature is a pretty good horror film. You can definitely see some of its inspirations of other horror films in some of its scenes and yet, it still gets the job done. Its part creature feature and spiritual and nature film. The acting is acceptable and the overall script and dialogues are pretty good to highlight the distinct character traits of each of these women. There is a decent setup before the situation gets worse. Of course, there’s also some big reveal at the end and this actually has plenty of clues working up to it so its not completely unpredictable but still is well-executed overall in pacing and cinematography.

BITS 2022: Cult Hero (2022)

Cult Hero (2022)

Director (and co-writer): Jesse Thomas Cook

Cast: Liv Collins, Ry Barrett, Tony Burgess, Justin Bott, Jessica Vano, Charlie Baker, Jonathan Craig, Justin Darmanin, Steve Kasan

Manager-summoning control freak Kallie Jones attempts to rescue her husband from a “wellness center” with the help of a washed-up expert Cult Buster. – IMDB

Playing on the ghost hunting investigative reality show, Cult Hero isn’t about ghosts but about cult as its name implies. The film starts off with the downfall of a renowned Cult Buster, Dale whose operation goes immensely wrong when the cult ends up not only following through with the ritual that causes his show to be cancelled. Right away, it sets the tone of the film as the debunking and things going wrong ends up in some over the top silliness. This story takes place 5 years later when the chance comes to hopefully revive his character and his show when a realtor sends her husband to Hope Acres under the recommendation of their therapist in hopes to get him out of his negative mindset when a weekend turns into a permanent stay.

Taking the film from the perspective of Dale, Kallie and the inside operation of Hope Acres, it is a fun and silly viewing experience. Comedy isn’t for everybody but they have a very good balance of the silliness that is needed which makes it a very quick-paced and intriguing story as there’s always that wonder whether its just Kallie’s control freak side which is viewing Hope Acres as a cult when she asks for help but when things start to become much more dangerous, it becomes apparent that her claims are actually rather grounded and even those little things she mentioned before all seem to slide into place and makes sense in the whole spectrum of the narrative and script.

There’s no doubt that films like this are fueled by their cast. Here we have Ry Barrett who is a very familiar face in Canadian indie films of all genres like drama film Still The Water (review) or a bunch of indie horrors from Black Fawn Films and even last year’s BITS festival film The Chamber of Terror (review) who plays Dale Domazar who is the over the top character and plays the heck out of this character in such an entertaining way. He’s been a lot of films that I’ve been very impressed with so this film was already set for some fun times and it definitely delivered. The other main character Kallie Jones is played by co-writer of the film Liv Collins who played alongside Ry Barrett before in Deadsight (review) and she is almost very convincing in her role as a control freak. It feels like her character isn’t quite the same level of silliness and maybe it could have gone a little further but there is still a good balance of her character to keep things a little grounded to reality for this situation. Plus, the film does script her a fantastic big finale moment.

Overall, Cult Hero is straight forward and simple. Its all about having a silly fun time playing on the world of the exhibition of reality shows and the ridiculousness of cults. Sometimes that’s exactly what we want in cinema. To be fair, Cult Hero reminded me a lot of last year’s The Chamber of Terror as it felt the same level of fun. There’s laughs, over the top characters, some guts and gore and while its not a film for everyone as most comedies aren’t but there’s nothing wrong with a film that aims to deliver a good old fun time and it certainly did that for me.

***Cult Hero is as part of the Blood in the Snow program on November 26th at 9:30pm at the Isabel Bader Theatre***

BITS 2022: Shifted (2022)

Shifted (2022)

Director (and co-writer): Adrian Konstant

Cast: Michael Wurtz, Derek Lackenbauer, Victoria Dunsmore, Brian Otto, Alyssa Anne Blasak, Zach Parsons

Murderous creatures roam the streets bringing certain death. Neighbors trapped inside a house with one killing the others. A monster inside and monsters outside. Who will save you when the world has Shifted? – IMDB

Creatures, zombies, shifted humans: Call it whatever you like for Shifted but we’ve basically seen horror films like this or a familiar style of being stuck in one setting like one of the most popular examples, Dawn of the Dead or The Mist, granted they are stuck in malls and this one is being stuck in a house. Its always a little nervous getting into films like these because its always a question of how they can spin it in a different way. Shifted definitely does do that since its story isn’t purely a zombie/creature film but rather its also a whodunnit mystery. The two storylines do crossover with each other pretty good.

A great part of what makes Shifted work is also the cinematography. While its only set in one location in the house and its vicinity, the camera work manages to make this space come alive along with the people in it. It also manages to use the calmness and silence to create a sense of isolation. A feeling that perhaps is the most connected to the story as a house full of mostly strangers have to help each other out as they can’t quite figure out whether to leave or to stay as their rations dwindle and actual strangers end up there.

The execution for Shifted is good as well. For one, it has a little fragmented storyline style as the present story moves along while it has scenes in between which shows how each person ended up at the house together. Its clever since the little snippet gives a good idea of who is connected previously and also those with their dilemma. There is no beginning of how the “shift” started but they also try to deduce their commonalities that they didn’t change. As much as the discussion about leaving is a big topic in the story, its also about the change in dynamic when two strangers end up in the house and deaths start to happen.

That leads us to the cast. Honestly, the cast is pretty decent with a few standout like stranger #1 Bill Winters played by Michael Wurtz who is hands-down the best character in the story from his wandering outside to his arrival to the house. Another one of the characters played by Zach Parsons is also a decent character as well. There are a few iffy characters but it has to do with their character design, but it all comes together when the dilemmas start to surface and the deaths start to happen.

Overall, Shifted is a pretty great premise. Sure, the zombie genre is done to death but Shifted is a bit reminiscent of it but has its own creature design, one that almost feels like its infested by some kind of parasite perhaps an alien. We never quite know what it is but the creature design is pretty cool, other than some dodgy effects when the “parasite” is in action. The whodunnit has enough space to breath and build and everything does make sense as the finale drops the big reveal. Its a solid one-setting horror film about a world that has now mostly shifted. It reminds me a bit of the concept behind South Korean Netflix series Sweet Home but with a little less depth on the creature.

***Shifted is part of the Blood in the Snow Film Festival and will show on November 24th on Super Channel at 12am EST.***

BITS 2018: Altered Skin (2018)

Blood in the Snow (BITS) Canadian Film Festival kicks off tomorrow, November 22nd at the Royal Cinema in Toronto, Canada and runs until November 27th. This festival celebrates contemporary Canadian horror, genre and underground films. While the festival only runs a few days, it is filled with not only full-length feature films but also two short film showcases, industry panels as well as a web series showcase.

You can find the festival schedule here.

Altered Skin (2018)

altered skin

Director (and writer): Adnan Ahmed

Cast: Robin Dunne, Juggan Kazim, Salman Shahid, Ali Kazmi, Nimra Bucha

An American expat living in Karachi, Pakistan, Craig Evans is married to Insiya Zia, a Pakistani doctor. During a routine hospital round, contracts a virus called the MN-2. A devastating pathogen, the virus causes uncontrollable outbursts of violent rage. Then when the dead body of an investigative reporter turns up in a sewer, it sets off a domino of events that lead Craig to the mystery behind the virus…and to the last chance at saving his wife. – BITS 2018

Medical thrillers are not frequent as thriller material but have had its success. Altered Skin comes somewhere midway. The execution is clear-cut and straight forward. It starts off on the first act setting up the story and what happened to reach the point of conflict. The second act focuses on the suspense and mystery and just like any thriller, building up the unanswered questions that keep its audience intrigued and the third act works towards unraveling the final reveal. Thrillers thrive on how well the setup of the mystery is done to create the shocking yet logical fundamental twist or reveal. In some ways, that is one of the elements that slightly miss the mark. There is missing a wow factor here. While the execution is done pretty well and the suspense does build well enough, the pacing at times feels like it lingers too long on unnecessary bits.

Looking at the cast and characters, there are a lot of them. The focus is on Craig, played by Robin Dunne, who for some reason feels very rigid in this role. Something never quite feels convincing enough. Maybe it is the script and dialogue that feels slightly clunky in parts. Maybe it is the sheer amount of characters that shuffles around that never creates enough depth to connect or care about anyone of them. Or maybe it is the flow of events that sometimes try to add horror to its pure thriller roots but never seems to fit in and at times, some moments feel slightly contrived and predictable.

However, all is not lost. What works here is the setting in Pakistan plus the effects are done well, both sound and visual. The altered skin victims also have a zombie-like sort of nature to them which is also pretty impressive to see and adds to the mystery element. Altered Skin might not be perfect, but it has the makings of a well enough thriller. Packed with some intense moments throughout, the only thing lacking is the build up to the reveal that becomes slightly generic and falls short of its potential.

The world premiere of Altered Skin will be showing at BITS at The Royal Cinema on November 23rd at 7:30pm.