BITS 2020: The Return (2020)

The Return (2020)

The Return

Director (and co-writer): BJ Verot

Cast: Richard Harmon, Sara Thompson, Echo Andersson, Marina Stephenson Kerr, Erik Athavale, Gwendolyn Collins, Zoe Fish, Kristen Sawatzky

After the death of his father, a brilliant college student returns to his family home where he learns that the horrors from his childhood aren’t as dead and gone as he once thought. – IMDB

There’s no doubt that based on the synopsis above that The Return sounds like a unique horror experience. However, The Return isn’t quite as generic as it makes it out to be. In fact, its one that starts off with a general horror tropes seen in ghost stories. Creepy dolls, jumpscares, slamming doors: the basic elements of a haunted house, right? Its all wrapped up a college student going back to his childhood home after his father passes away in a questionable manner. With his girlfriend and best friend in tow, they go to the funeral and sort through the house when his long return dredges up something else and eventually bringing him to dig up some things in the past that he has forgotten.

The Return’s first part although fairly predictable in its scares actually manages to build a decent atmosphere. However, the first part is also the weaker part of the film. Not only are the scares fairly familiar haunted house tropes but its really the pacing of revealing this “ghost/monster” (whatever you want to call it) to quickly that messes up a little of the turning point/twist. With that said, it also tries to pack in too many scares in a short amount of time that decreases the scare element. At one point, the “monster” revealed itself over and over again in quick frequency and anything in frequent amounts tends to dull the effective of what its trying to achieve. With anything lurking in the background, the mystery of how its executed is incredibly important and somehow that seems lose a bit of that in the first half, even though the set up was done well enough story-wise.

The second half is much stronger as it consists of a clever twist and at the same time, it has a lot more action of the characters actually being in some kind of peril. The threat is in action a little more. While some reactions were a little silly, the search for what happened to the main character and his lost memory along with connecting all the dots to why his childhood home is haunted does add a lot to making it much more unique and adding in some of the mixed genre elements, in this case a bit of science fiction and time travel.

The Return is one of those movies that might not be really at first glance or even the beginning segment as the setup does feel a little been there done that in horror films however, once the past of the main character becomes more clear and and the things start to build up along with a clever twist, it does add a lot of charms to it. Its not exactly a pure horror film however, its unique because of this and adds a lot of extra points when those other elements come into play.

TV Binge: The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)

The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)

Creator: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Victoria Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Amelia Eve, T’Nia Miller, Rahul Kohli, Tahirah Sharif, Amelie Bea Smith, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Henry Thomas, Carla Gugino, Alex Essoe, Roby Attal, Kate Siegel, Katie Parker, Martn McCreadie

After an au pair’s tragic death, Henry hires a young American nanny to care for his orphaned niece and nephew who reside at Bly Manor with the chef Owen, groundskeeper Jamie and housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. – IMDB

After the success of The Haunting of Hill House (review), Mike Flanagan helms his next mini- series with another haunted house story called The Haunting of Bly Manor. The Haunting of Bly Manor takes some of the execution style of Hill House but is essentially its own story. After the Hill House experience, its hard to go into this one with a little more alertness and always on the lookout for whats hidden in the background (at least for us, it had that effect for at least a few episodes). Its unfair to compare the two even if there are a similar cast returning from Hill House in mostly supporting roles and being helmed by Flanagan as a creator but less this time as director. In fact, Bly Manor is a different beast in itself with Bly Manor being a new haunted house that comes to life with new characters and backstories and some new ghosts to discover which makes Bly Manor a creepily fun time and its has children so add in a little of the unsettling creepy children element.

Using the same execution of breaking down the episodes to discover the backstory of each of the characters on the past and present is a clever way to do this. In some ways, it gives it this feeling of peeling layers of an onion before every piece fits together and one twist/ secret gets revealed after the next while also getting to know each of the characters more to give them greater connection. Other than that Flanagan takes on the main role of writing which is what gives this piece a lot of style and atmosphere. He only takes the director’s seat for the first episode which sets off the story in a great direction in terms of setting up the proper atmosphere however, even in the hands of other directors, the TV series does still manage to keep a certain atmosphere that is always rather unsettling and creepy but in this one, its definitely more about the mystery and suspense built from what is actually happening.

With that said, the characters are the true star as each of their story comes to life. Victoria Pedretti plays a great role as the American au pair Dani who brings on some change to Bly Manor as she tries to dig into what is causing those abnormal things to happen whether with the children or the inexplicable things she sees or experiences. At the same time, the baggage she carries does brings on a few twists as well. The cook Owen (Rahul Kohli) is also a really fun character especially with some hilarious puns like Al-Cohol You Later (one that we have a lot of fun right now saying randomly). One of the best characters and possibly the one with one of the best episode is for the housekeeper Mrs. Grose (T’Nia Miller) who delivers a hell of a performance. Not to mention the kids deliver some great performances by Amelie Bea Smith and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Flora and Miles respectively. Then you have some comeback roles with one or two episodes as some decent characters with Henry Thomas as the uncle, Carla Gugino who is the narrator and Kate Siegel as a key character to the past of Bly Manor to just name a few. There’s a whole lore of how the ghosts and spirits work that becomes a very nice twist.

Bly Manor brings its own setting by itself. The grounds and the manor itself all comes to life with all the stories that slowly comes to surface. The cast brings quite a lot to the story just like the first one as they all have a great deal of depth and its never solely a ghost story but much more than that which is what makes The Haunting of Bly Manor so good. Its something of a love, revenge, family, drama with supernatural elements. There’s some heartwarming moments and some comedy and then there’s a lot of creepiness and fantastic eerie atmosphere at times that’s pretty well balances. Its the not the same as Hill House but different in an equally good way.

Double Feature: #Alive (2020) & The Bridge Curse (女鬼橋, 2020)

Next up in the Halloween movie marathon is an Asian film double feature with South Korean Netflix zombie film, #Alive paired with Taiwanese horror film, The Bridge Curse, both on Netflix fittingly for this themed month.

Let’s check it out!

#Alive (2020)

#

Director (and co-writer): Il Cho

Cast: Ah-In Yoo, Shin-Hye Park, Bae-soo Jeon, Hyun-Wook Lee

The rapid spread of an unknown infection has left an entire city in ungovernable chaos, but one survivor remains alive in isolation. It is his story. – IMDB

There’s no doubt that there is no shortage of zombie movies out there. I mean, we’ve covered a ton of them here but after the success of Train to Busan, its hard to write-off what South Korean cinema has to offer. #Alive is a little different. In many ways, its about survival during the zombie apocalypse (which movie isn’t) but its more than that as its about two characters self-quarantined during this post-apocalypse. As much as there’s zombies, its about a guy and a girl both in their own apartments in the same complex surviving in their own way. Its a different angle because its also very character-oriented. #Alive is structured in a good progression from a focus on the guy and his survival to realizing he isn’t “alone” and then reuniting the characters to survival together. Its a little far-fetched in some scenes when they reunite and plays upon how lucky they are to beat a ton of zombies but it does work pretty well in terms of the tension and atmosphere.

In reality, there is where #Alive stands out and that’s the two characters. In reality, the zombies are a definite threat but they are less scary than the desperate situation that the two characters are caught in. With their wits and their own know-hows, they end up being quite a team of helping each other out and each having their own story and unknowingly saving each other in some subtle moments that clues in on their individual characters that the other doesn’t learn about. Zombie movies at this point are the best when they are entertaining to watch which #Alive is absolutely there. Sure, it doesn’t give anything new with the zombies or the post-apocalypse situation and maybe even the characters but the angle and the premise or making it more character-oriented and a lonely quarantine probably lands even better because its released during the current landscape in our own reality and at least made me question my own preparedness at home for whatever survival needs that I might be lacking.

The Bridge Curse (2020)

Director: Lester Hsi

Cast: JC Lin, Vera Yen, Summer Meng, Ning Chang, Ruby Zhan, Yi-hung Hsieh, Cheng Ko

University students, planning a bravery initiation test for their fellow classmates, choose a campus bridge rumored to be haunted by a vengeful female ghost. – IMDB

I’ve always been pretty skeptical about Chinese horror movies in general. As much as they try, it all turns out to be fairly generic and full of horror tropes. With that said, I’ve only started going through some horror stuff sporadically from Taiwan (prior it was mostly Hong Kong horror) and The Bridge Curse is one of those that recently landed on Netflix. The Bridge Curse has some strong vibes of Dreadout, the game and not the film adaptation, which was decent enough. Actually there are some scenes that almost replicate that of one or two cutscenes from the game. The Bridge Curse plays on a lore about a female ghost haunting a bridge where at midnight, the steps leading away from the bridge will mysteriously have one extra step and if the person walking the steps counts to the extra step and turns around then they will see the ghost and be haunted. The story itself is fairly generic and it does have some creepy moments but most of it is rather expected. Where it does fall flat is that the surprise in the finale is a bit lackluster and it has to do a lot with the execution. In some ways, it may have benefited from being either a full found footage film instead of bouncing back and forth between that and the normal film structure. It might actually have worked better as the former.

The Bridge Curse’s structure is a parallel of bouncing between the past where the university students perform this initiation set-up/demonstration for their juniors and the story progresses at the same time as the present where a reporter is on location investigating the details of it to get to the bottom of this Bridge Curse and whether there was something more to the case. The structure is pretty good as it pairs up the two parts from one side reaching a certain room and then bouncing back to the present being in that room. The pieces of clues that she finds and how she connects it together also works well logically.

As much as that, the university students has their own little issues and some of the parts and the dialogue is not scripted that good, making these characters a little empty as well. At the same time, the scares are all fairly predictable even if some of the execution did turn out a little creepy although the ghost reveal did happen a little too early and the scares at times happened a little too frequent which made it lose its effectiveness by the end.

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen these two Asian horror films?

To Wake The Dead (The Dead Dreamer #2) by Sarah Lampkin

Review for To Dream is To Die, Book 1 of The Dead Dreamer Series HERE

To Wake The Dead
(Dead Dreamer #2)
By: Sarah Lampkin

to wake the dead

*Book received in exchange for honest review*

Brenna Whit teeters the line between the living and the dead. Now that she’s back for her sophomore year at Nephesburg College, she’s determined to focus on the waking world. But when her own soul is trying to kill her and a new Dead Dreamer is fighting for power, Brenna is dragged back into the world of the dead.

The Gatekeepers are doing everything they can to restore the power they once held over the town of Nephesburg. With a mysterious set of twins arriving in town to help them prepare, Brenna must decide what’s important: continuing to hide her secret or reveal herself and fight for what she believes is right. The decision could end up leading to a permanent death for Brenna so she must choose wisely. – Goodreads

To Wake The Dead is the second book in The Dead Dreamer Series. The story picks up a few months after the events of the first book as university resumes again for Brenna. As a sequel, the story itself fully utilizes the foundation of the first one and builds from those events. However, its more of a second level deal. In the first book, it showed more of the general world of how the alternate plane, Fade would work and the different roles of Dead Dreams, Watcher, the Gatekeepers and more. The story goes further this time as it picks up those pieces and drives it towards something with a deeper scheme with even more characters and other elements involved and some more mysteries. It all says a lot to the entire world building for the premise itself and its incredibly well thought out as more factors come into play.

The characters are mostly the same as before. To Wake The Dead is in first person narration by its star Dead Dreamer, Brenna who tries to navigate the situation. What really builds on her character is that its not only a “battle” with the outside dangers in the Fade and the Gatekeepers but at the same time, its a battle with herself, the whole soul and spirit fight makes for a lot of the intrigue as her inner person, Maura, speaks up once in a while and then also has its danger elements. These unknown moments creates for changes in her mood and unexpected results of different severity and show of abilities that were unseen before. There’s a constant changing element presented each time and it makes Brenna become an intriguing character to follow in her adventures. Of course, it helps that her friends, Aeria and Damon also have a great part as they also get pulled deeper into the equation. The three actually find a balance in their characters especially with the banter between Damon and Brenna (which started off in the first book) and these situations that come up in the story also create some tension as expected.

Overall, To Wake The Dead is a very decent sequel. There’s more depth in world building, plot development and character development. The story does start off a little slower than the first book therefore, pacing at the beginning dragged just a little bit to set up the new situation. Once things started moving again, it was an engaging read. Solid sequel and can’t wait for the next book!

Score: 4 out of 5

Double Feature: Hell House LLC II:The Abaddon Hotel (2018) & Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire (2019)

Wrapping up the Hell House LLC franchise from the first movie’s review HERE, its time to look at the remaining two movies. Let’s check it out!

Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel (2018)

hell house LLC II

Director (and writer): Stephen Cognetti

Cast:  Vasile Flutur, Jillian Geurts, Joy Shatz, Dustin Austen, Brian David Tracy, Kyle Inglemen, Amanda K. Morales, Laura Frenzer, Danny Bellini

It’s been eight years since the opening night tragedy of Hell House, LLC and still many unanswered questions remain. Thanks to an anonymous tip, investigative journalist Jessica Fox is convinced that key evidence is hidden inside the abandoned Abaddon Hotel-evidence that will shed light on the hotel’s mysteries. She assembles a team equally hungry for answers with one goal: break into the hotel and discover the truth. – IMDB

I’m going to be honest here and say that after watching Hell House LLC, it never seemed like it needed a sequel or that a sequel would be in the picture. Of course, it did leave some space to explore the whole Abaddon Hotel mystery a little further. Hell House LLC 2 is supposed to be just that. It takes up the same found footage concept. This time, its years later and this anonymous tip sets this new crew on a search to find some answers. Suffice to say that things get a little out of hand, or else there wouldn’t be a movie to watch.

Thing is, Hell House LLC 2 is about The Abaddon Hotel and yet, the story itself seems like it gets lost in its story a little and what it wants to tell. While the haunted house element pays a lot of tribute back to its original and it tries to dig a little deeper into the history of it again, the story is not quite as unique as its first one. A lot of elements are very predictable and it doesn’t have the same effect of making this work out quite the same way as this group goes in with something of a paranormal investigation mindset. There’s a little more paranormal and less of the atmosphere building that gives it what it originally shone in the first one.

Overall, Hell House LLC 2 felt a tad unnecessary. It does try to add more context to the Hell House LLC haunted house deal and who is behind the situation that went down in the first movie and does add to the story. Its execution, however, is where it falls short. The movie starts off relatively okay as the crew groups together and they break into Abaddon Hotel but the further it goes along, the movie loses a bit of steam up to this ending with a rather annoying monologue bit.

Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire (2019)

hell house llc 3

Director (and writer): Stephen Cognetti

Cast: Elizabeth Vermilyea, Sam Kazzi, Theodore Bouloukos, Brian David Tracy, Brigid Abrams, Leo Defriend, Jordan Kaplan, Danny Bellini, Gabriel Chytry

The Abaddon Hotel will once again be open to the public. Russell Wynn has taken his audience-interactive show, Insomnia, into the abandoned hotel that is rumored to be haunted. – IMDB

Right after we talk about how unnecessary Hell House LLC 2 was, this series ends on the third movie, Hell House LLC: Lake of Fire. Lake of Fire was talked about in the second movie and here we see something of a first movie rehash as they try to rebuild the haunted house. The movie itself tries to pull the first and second movie together and then propels itself to an ending that wraps up the whole ordeal. There’s a lot of cuts that go back to those previous films as they go through the haunted house parts and draws parallels to the original and first sequel.

Its hard to tell whether its the pacing or the constant flashbacks or parallels drawn that make this film feel slow and rather boring. As the movie progresses, despite its shortcomings, it does add to bring in the “lake of fire” idea to the whole story and what makes it work especially when the haunted house experience is open the public. Its not hard to imagine what will be the result but how it all happens is on one hand cool in certain areas especially in this one area with the white corridor and adding in those creepy elements that link all three movies together actually work really well but then there are some shots that are cool in execution like using the camera on a turn table or display case or something that works out really well but at the same time, the believability of that scene has some flaws.

One of the better elements of this movie is how it chooses to wrap up the series to makes it more grounded and has some kind of conclusion. The ending ending itself is pretty clever. It sounds bad to say that the ending is the best part but the ending itself is structured to give the whole Hell House LLC something of an answer to what happened and why this is happening and how it all finds some kind of ending. Horror movies nowadays refer on the cliffhanger ending so they can have the “what happens next?” but with this third movie, Hell House LLC feels like its wrapped up and done and while I think it would have ended at the first movie at its strongest leaving some questions unanswered, somehow the ending of the third movie was good to have those answers as well.

Overall of the franchise: While Hell House LLC is strongest at its first movie, the haunted house and the whole location and lore that it brings is pretty solid. The execution in the second and third leaves a lot to be desired for the most part but the base story and what it tries to tell is still there.

That’s it for this double feature!
We wrapped up another horror franchise!
Have you seen the Hell House LLC movies? Thoughts?

Daguerrotype (2016)

Daguerrotype (2016)

Daguerrotype

(original title: Le secret de la chambre noire)

Director (and screenplay): Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Constance Rousseau, Olivier Gourmet

When an assistant to a daguerreotypy photographer falls in love with the latter’s daughter the relationship mirrors the art form as love and pain combine. – IMDB

Even though I have only seen Pulse from Kiyoshi Kurosawa, its safe to say that he is a director who takes his time to build atmosphere. Daguerrotype takes on quite the same style as Pulse to be honest which is a good thing. For his first film outside of Japan, Daguerrotype is safe as it plays with a ghost story, slow pacing and builds on the atmosphere to create an uneasiness in this fantasy drama with horror elements. As an indie film, it does a lot of things right especially using a classic photography theme as its main focus. Some cultures believe that photography snaps away your soul and it uses this point as a centre of making his subject immortal, (at least that is what I make of it). Perhaps that is where the inspiration comes from. Classic photography and building the big contraption is definitely the eerier parts of Daguerrotype and adds this older style and mystery.

daguerrotype
The outstanding elements of Daguerrotype is its atmosphere and the setting. It uses a dark and gloomy setting. This matches well with its characters which seem torn in their will to each break free in their own way. The camera does a great job at panning out and zooming in whenever necessary to capture and reveal what it wants to show. There was especially one part where it follows a character that is particularly immersive. It uses lighting very well to create the uneasy moments. The soundtrack is used appropriately  with a beautiful orchestral piece in various parts however still uses a mix of subtle and abrupt sounds to immerse its viewers during quieter scenes. While it may seem a little cliche and overdone, Daguerrotype uses the classic creaky doors opening slowly to create uneasy moments.

daguerrotype
Daguerrotype also has a pretty decent cast. Tahar Rahim plays Jean, the young man here who gets the job as a photographer assistant because of his inexperience and a general interest for photography. He is the main character and the script writes him quite in depth as we see many personality qualities of his. The story only does have about six roles aside from the small cameos roles with three being the leads. Playing opposite Jean is his photography obsessed boss, Stephane who has an unusual love for Daguerrotype photography which requires its models to stand for a long time motionless and uses a contraption to aid them. Stephane is played by Olivier Gourmet and he does a great job at capturing the grumpy perfection seeking artist with his own secrets. Stephane’s only perfect subject is his daughter Marie, played by Constance Rouseeau, who is a shy and quiet girl with a love for botany and struggles between going to pursue her dreams or staying to accompany her father and being his model.

The bottomline is that Daguerrotype does many things right however it is for the most patient of viewers. At over two hours run time, the story moves very slowly and sometimes might feel like the plot is lost in the little details and sidetracks making it feel fragmented and doesn’t come together however, it is also these fragments that may give this story something to think about after its finished. For horror fans, this might not fit the bill as it doesn’t have a lot of scares but more uneasy atmospheres and is more of a fantasy drama. However, Kurosawa’s skills of atmosphere, setting and tone along with the decent cast here that carries their role well are all good reasons to give Daguerrotype a watch.

Opening on VOD Nationwide on Tuesday, November 7 on all major platforms including iTunes, Sony, Google Play, Amazon, Microsoft, Vudu, Comcast, Charter, Cox, Vimeo, and various other cable operators.