Project Wolf Hunting (2022)

Project Wolf Hunting (2022)

Director (and writer): Hong-Sun Kim

Cast: Seo In-Guk, Dong-Yoon Jang, Dong-Il Sung, Gwi-Hua Choi, Park Ho-San, Moon-sung Jung, Jung So-Min

Follows dangerous criminals on a cargo ship who are transported from the Philippines to South Korea, as they unleash a sinister force after an escape attempt leads to a riot.- IMDB

Premiered at the TIFF Midnight Madness as the opening film, Project Wolf Hunting is an violent action thriller that fits the term madness to a tee. Recent years (maybe even decade or more) has seen a rise of hyper violent films hit the market and create a lot of accolades and conversation especially on the film festival circuit, a good example being The Sadness (review) which is one of the most gruesome and disturbing films I have seen to date. Project Wolf Hunting does a lot right from the setting to the hyper violence but it also lacks in its overall plot and characters.

Setting a film on any marine vessel as its one setting (for the most part) is actually a rare move (although look at director Hong-Sun Kim’s filmography, one of his earlier films were also set on a ship). There are a few movies who do it but its still a fairly underused setting. Project Wolf Hunting utilizes its space very well as it moves its characters throughout the ship which poses its own issues right from the get-go. Everything comes into play and they all have their purpose. The narrow passageways and the close pipes and even the deck and different levels all add to what is hidden and how the group can use its abilities to their advantage but also leave space for more discoveries to expose a little backstory to the threat at hand.

This brings up a central issue of this 2 hour film: the story. Sure, we can argue that films like this is all about the visual element in the satisfaction of watching hyper violent scenes, the endless ways someone can be killed ruthlessly and the excessive amount of fake blood a human can actually exude with each kill until every surface is covered in blood. However, we watch this film, there’s no doubt that it all becomes rather mind-numbing especially when the plot is fairly generic in its twist of events. The first part is actually pretty clever when the actual prisoner escape attempt riot starts and not a whole lot of violence has happened at this point so it becomes impressive to see all this being a huge plan that had started even before everyone got on the ship. Even the twist and change of enemy force is expected since it was revealed early on but the enemy design is surprising at first. The deal is that there are a lot of characters, a lot of body count and just not enough cohesive backstory to keep itself engaging. It doesn’t help that while the plot takes some predictable twists that a bigger threat is brewing on the ship with a big secret that will gradually be revealed, how all this goes down feels a little unclear.

The question Project Wolf Hunting brings up for these sort of films is a key one: How do you balance plot, blood and violence? Is it enough to just cover a generic plot with blood and violence and use the shock factor? For myself, the answer is probably no as the film loses its appeal as the violence and blood loses its shock element from simply its overabundance, pounding away the purpose one kill at a time. To be fair, the film started on the right foot in the first half. The action sequences and the kills do have some creativity that works with the setting and some extremely brutal ones as well. Looking past all the violence, the prisoners grouping together to create a riot to escape is pretty clever and even if the leading prisoner character is a tad generic in its psycho-killer ways, he still had a certain extreme brutality that made him rather convincingly creepy. Even the timing for the entrance of the new enemy along with their design was sufficiently spine-chilling but what transpires from that point to the end right up to the finale and that ending that almost feels like it could work up for a possible sequel really does feel so lackluster.

For viewers who are there for simply the hyperviolence and bloodshed, Project Wolf Watching is everything it promises. There are every way possible to kill and some pretty creative deaths as well with various items and weapons. There is an over the top use of blood that would probably put Quentin Tarantino’s to shame (but then The Sadness was even more extreme in its bloodbath extremity). The sole amount of blood a head slowly being crushed can pour out from its orifices is apparently an astoundingly ridiculous amount and that’s just one very quick example. The director never forgets that the heart of the film is this element.

*Project Wolf Hunting will hit digital, Blu-ray & DVD on February 14th and available for pre-book on January 10th. Find more info HERE*

**Screener provided by Well Go USA

BITS 2022: The Devil Comes At Night (2022)

The Devil Comes At Night (2022 World Premiere)

Director (and co-writer): Scott Leaver

Cast: Ryan Allen, Adrienne Kress, Jason Martorino, Elias Zarou, Shawn Ahmed, Todd Campbell, Dana Fradkin

A washed up boxer searching for his inheritance must fight for his life when he is trapped in his deceased father’s farmhouse by a local cannibal cult.-IMDB

The Devil Comes At Night is a single location setting film which uses the home invasion framework except its a bunch of odd neighbors trying to lure the main character out into the dark. The festival showed a rough cut version which had a few placeholders in place however to be fair, it didn’t affect the whole premise or structure of the film.

The film has a mixed horror genre premise and while some of the cast didn’t quite feel too natural and there’s a very generic take in terms of portrayal for the threat/enemy, the concept of having weird people did give them that space to feel a little more over the top when trying to be uncomfortable through the dialogue. Due its reasonable runtime, the story is well-paced with well-timed reveals since the film slightly has a mystery element to it as the two main characters in the house try to figure out what is happening. While the story itself has some unknown spaces that makes it slightly incomplete, a lot of the main parts do piece together a good picture for what will happen next. Perhaps its my own lack of horror films but the premise did feel fresh as a reverse home invasion of sorts.

If there was a main issue to discuss would mostly be the cast itself as a lot of the acting felt like it wasn’t too natural. There was a generic bad guy feeling of the crazy over the top evil which seems to be how most people would approach this character and lacked the extra depth to make it feel creepier. While the other people involved in the evil infestation did feel over the top, they did feel more justified to just have that overall bizarre feeling. Where the acting does come together is the main character Ben, played by Ryan Allen who delivers a great performance. While not quite the same level, the woman hiding in the house with him Amy, played by Adrienne Kress also delivered a decent role.

With that said, The Devil Comes At Night actually plays out its best a little after the silly beginning where the main character doesn’t follow the instructions in the house and it feels too late and pretty much his doing that all this is happening but still manages some stalking horror, playing whats hiding in the background and what horrors it holds and when the neighbors might actually break in, creating a really effective creepy atmosphere. Outside, it slowly becomes the mystery of what is hiding in the dark that everyone wants to lure them out. Using darkness yet again as an effective way of creating a ominous atmosphere.

Overall, The Devil Comes At Night is well directed and executed. It uses its setting effectively to create a good horror atmosphere. The acting is great for certain roles but a little lacking in some. The overall story is pretty well scripted with decent reveals and twists to make it intriguing. A s a side thought, since this is a rough cut and there are a few placeholders, I do hope the title is also a placeholder since it reveals more than it needs to which loses the allure of the film by taking away at least the first layer of reveal and mystery.

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: Pre-Feature Shorts

The Right One

Director: A.J. Demers

The Right One plays outs a scene as a woman who is trying to summon her lost sister through dark folk magic. Instead, she ends up summoning someone impersonating her who is trying to lure her with the pretense of helping her find her sister.

Running at almost 5 minutes, The Right One is a very straightforward tale. It doesn’t take any deep dives about magic and it mainly focuses on that one task and hand and the conversation between a desperate sister and a manipulative spirit that has shifted into her sister’s appearance. There aren’t a ton of scares however the atmosphere is done pretty well as it uses a dark background to create an ominous feeling which is a suitable setting for the tale it is telling.

My Soul To Take

Director (and writer): Laura Vandervoort

Cast: Jenny Raven, Colm Feore, Rainbow Sun Francks

Hopeless and lonely, Quinn accepts a software update on her phone. An update, which summons her into a dream world of antiquities, powerlessness and night terror. – IMDB

My Soul To Take is probably one of the best shorts that I’ve seen this year. It is the directorial debut for actress Laura Vandervoort (Rabid). She tells a tale about the current mindless reliance on technology which becomes the main avenue for Quinn, who relies on her sleep app to go to sleep and gets lured into a dream world that starts out to enchant her but soon turns into one that traps her by sleep paralysis. The film also has a decent cast with Jenny Raven as Quinn and Colm Feore as Fred, the man who seems to manage the dream world she enters.

Playing on modern technology in horror films isn’t unseen, especially with short films and most of them focus around technology like command programs like Alexa, however My Soul to Take goes right to the source to a dead cellphone update. Its one of those subconscious things that everyone does to keep their gadget up to date and functioning and one of those things that no one really thinks twice about and that is what makes this tale all the more scarier in a very psychological way.

Second Life

Director: Darrin Rose

Cast: Ava Julien, Suresh John, Darrin Rose, Nigel Downer, Arwen Humphreys, Natalie Dale, James Mancini, Chris Violette, Daniel Woodrow

Second Life is set in a future where everyone is given a chance to finding a second life for their loved ones with replacement robots. The truth as revealed when  robot replacement wife tried to find a way to break free after her human husband leaves her. This leads to the discovery and truth of what is actually going wrong.

Overall, Second Life has a creative setting for the future. It feels like the premise also could use an expansion with a full feature so it can explore the nitty gritty of the situation completely. The acting and cast is decent. Theres some action and mystery. It does come together pretty good. What does make this short work how it builds from the first reveal to building its story from that point on.

Viewfinder

Director: Tiffany Wice

Cast: Becca Clapperton, Jakub Zieba, Patrick Ritcey

Running at a swift 4 minutes, Viewfinder is a short about a nighttime shoot that goes wrong when the photography notices a mysterious entity in its viewfinder.

Despite its short length, this short is honestly a ton of fun. There’s a good bit of sinister that builds up and the entity in the viewfinder is well-executed to create enough spooks but never truly knowing exactly what it is. There’s something so vulnerable about having to look for something in a small camera viewfinder. It creates the tension build-up of expecting it to show up anything from any angle and the person would never see it. Considering those moments are in first person perspective, the audience feels that same fear and tension.

One of Those Good Lives

Director (and writer): Joseph Carney

Cast: Sean Depner, Donald Sales

One of the Good Lives is about a young man Steve who is hit by a car and ends up appearing in a worn out opera house. There he meets the Ticket Taker who flips through his book and tells him that he is set for a good life and he is destined to go bring a muffin to the homeless man everyday.

One Of These Good Lives have two great performances by its actors. The script also is one that works really well and the conversation between Steve and the Ticket Master grabs attention right away especially since the audience somewhat jas an idea where Steve is but he seems to have no idea or a confused attitude towards it. What works the best is the build up of the conversation to the ending which is a fun turn of events and gives that final comedy and dark humor a nice wrapup. Its also takes hints (or maybe in its way a homage) from Inception and Donald Sales dialogue and expressions almost feels like an inpersonation of Samuel L. Jackson. One of Those Good Lives is a short full of dark humor that has an incredibly strong script.

Fishbowl

Director (and co-writer): Ryan M. Andrews

Cast: Michael Joseph Delaney, Watson Rose, Katisha Shaw

Fed up with the limelight, a rock legend hides out at the apartment of an overzealous fan. But he will soon learn that he can’t hide from his struggles with addiction and his enabling wife forever. – IMDB

Fishbowl starts off its short a tad odd. It does set up the situation pretty well and gives the overzealous fan character a rather mysterious vibe throughout the whole short. When the wife character appears, it turns into a rather annoying phase and then takes a very comedic turn of event, which isn’t but because it turns the tone around so quickly, it actually has this bizarre but comedic moment to it. Its a decent execution since that gives the final reveal a lot more footing and a lot more shock value.

The Fall

Director: Desirae Witte

Cast: Brian David Gilbert

Leafie is a plucky little maple leaf who loves to groove. But when their latest performance takes an unexpected turn, the harsh realities of the season come crashing down. – IMDB

Running at 2 minutes or so, The Fall is absolutely the most creative animated film. It manages to flip an event that everyone loves of watching fall colors until they fall to a comedy about the leaf itself as it enjoys its beautiful colors dancing around to the absolute fright of falling down. Its done in a comedic way and ends on a really clever dark humor moment.

Mindful Meditation

Director: Louis La Vella

Cast: Monica La Vella

Mindful Meditation is a 2.5 minutes short about a woman who sits down to listen to a meditation session when it connects her with an entity.

There’s not a whole lot here to talk about. Mindful Meditation is very straightforward in its narrative. Its basically one scene that happens through a guided meditation. The only thing happening is the voice doing the guided meditation and the girl emoting to what she is hearing. At the same time, things are happening in the background at certain cues. While its a fairly short short film, this one does do some pretty cool things. One of them is how it treats this entity and second is using the surrounding to create tension effectively.

Mother Tongue

Director (and writer): Shelly J. Hong

Cast: April Park, Shelly J. Hong, Eilish Shin-Culhane, Mara Pupp, Phil Kim

Mother Tongue tells the story of Grace, a woman who returns to her childhood home seeking answers from her mother that had abandoned her when her daughter starts to show some unusual behavior.

Mother Tongue is an intriguing short. There’s something really intricate about the affair at hand between this belated conversation between a daughter and her mother as she tries to find the answers to help her own daughter. Its a bit vague on the spirit front but there’s enough here to be pulled into the story and the relationship between the mother-daughter as she faces the reason for her abandonment. These also a short that truly could be turned into a full-length feature to dive deeper into the religious/spiritual elements of the whole narrative.

Not Another Serial Killer

Director: Angela Hanna Goulene & Alessandro Russotti

Cast: Angela Goulene, Thierry Gauvin, Jean-Philippe Thériault, Xavier Truong, Max Laferriere

Tessa Fey is a young millennial with many assets; only one problem, though, all the men she attracts are serial killers. – IMDB

Not Another Serial Killer is an incredibly fun short. Tessa breaks the 4th wall as she talks to the camera throughout the whole experience. Its a pretty fun dialogue overall. The only issue here is that Angela Goulene seems to get a little caught up and doesn’t quite enunciate as well so some of the dialogue feels a little rushed and jumbled. Other than that, there isn’t much to criticize here as her point of attracting serial killers is one that becomes increasing real as the cop shows up and the audience soon realizes that its not just male interests that the equation works. Its a pretty fun and comedic short and despite some enunciation problems, the short is an outstanding job overall.

Consumer

Director (and co-writer): Stephanie Izsak

Cast: Eden Summer Gilmore, Jill Morrison, Jude Wilson, Princess Davis, Henry J. Mah

Tortured by toxic beauty standards, thirteen-year-old Rein discovers an unconventional and disturbing way to lose weight. She thinks she’s found a fast track to perfection…but ends up biting off more than she can chew. – IMDB

Consumer is a wild viewing experience. Its cuts to the chase about the toxicity of beauty standards especially for teens and the inner self who constantly body shames mentally. The eating disorder demon that lives in the mind and how we our usually our worst enemy comes into play here as Rein, a girl who has no reason to feel ashamed about her body feels that her lack of popularity is because of it and ends up going to desperate measures to acquire a very intense medicine which we learn early in school that this specific thing is pretty bad and without actually knowing the details perhaps, rashly tries it and ends up with some very horrific consequences as things go out of control. Its a well-executed short since its the inner voice that dominates more than actual conversation.

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 2022: Emerging Screams

Emerging Screams is a shorts program of Blood in the Snow Film Festival which features new or first-time Canadian genre directors.

Gnaw (2022)

Director: Rosalee Yagihara

Cast: Bethany Brown, Luvia Petersen

As romantic tensions consume Cote and her girlfriend, a pesky hangnail triggers a downward spiral into obsession. – IMDB

The most spinechilling premises are the ones surrounding the subtle things in life. In this short, its about biting your nails and hangnails to almost an unstoppable state where the more her girlfriend says not to do it, the worse it is for her temptation. Gnaw eventually decides into body horror to a certain extent and it is both cringey and disturbing all at the same time.

Folk (2022)

Director: Gabriel Miron

Cast: Sara Sue Vallee

Folk is a much more extensive short which takes place on Halloween night when two kids in creepy masks ring at her doorbell for candy and won’t go away. Except they end up finding a way in and making her join some kind of ritual.

Creepy kids is almost always a winning element in horror films and this one is no exception. Add in the nicely crafted creepy atmosphere and this short has a good horror film to it with decent elements of home invasion and use of both sounds and silence as well as lighting. While the narrative and what the ritual actually did feels a little unclear, its hard to waive the fear of this whole situation.

Smiley Face (2022)

Director: Francois Ricard-Sheard

Cast: Alice Clément, Sara Sue Vallee, Anais Damphousse Joly, Devin Swift, Jérémie Garipépy Ferland

Three young women fight for their lives as they fall prey to a flesh-eating humanoid creature. – IMDB

Something of a creature feature, Smiley Face takes on both creature design and a narrative that starts at the end and circles back at how it gets to that point. The narrative and execution style is one that is pretty good (but then I have a bias towards anything that does a clever little play which creates the feeling of going full circle). The creature itself isn’t really scary even if its running stance looks like a little like a human imitating a chicken or an ostrich running but the film does have a lot of gore as it does eat humans.

While there’s a certain creepiness to this and some odd humanoid creature eating these girls and then at some point they get dragged away by someone, who we learn in the credits is a dwarf, there’s a lot of unexplained elements here. Granted the short is only 9 minutes long so its understand. It would have been nice to have a little bit more context.

444 (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Alexandre Nachi

Cast: Felix-Antoine Cantin, Alexandre Nachi, Jules Ronfard, Sandrine Bisson, Evelyne de la Cheneliere, Isabelle Vincent, Sylvain Cantin, Felix Beaulieu-Duchesneau, Laurent Allaire

444 tells the story of man who wakes up with no memories in an unknown house and unfamiliar family that seems to be constantly changing and is asked to “Trust the protocol”.

444 refers to the 4:44 on the clock which is shown a few times in the film perhaps the time things reset in real life or his memory. Its a pretty odd and trippy narrative but the acting is pretty decent and theres some clever moments and good cinematography playing well with the lighting and color palette to bring out the mood and atmosphere.

L’Abattu des Vents (The Wind Down, 2021)

Director (and writer): Félix-Antoine Garneau-Chouinard

Alone on a secluded island, a lightkeeper is prisoner of his own madness. – IMDB

L’abattu du Vents is a rather unique one as it has no dialogue and is an animated film using clay figures or at least the main character is like that. This short is fairly straightforward in its portrayal and rhe execution is decent as well.

Stitched Up (2022)

Director: Keisha James

Stitched Up is about a friend who buys a sewing machine for his sewing friend to find out that the sewing machine is alive and they must find a way to retaliate.

Stitched Up is something of a horror comedy and feels very campy however with the premise its going for, it all fits well together. Its fairly silly as a whole and everything seems deliberately done to embrace the campiness completely. While the story is simple and the acting is a tad over the top, its fits well with the overall feeling and tone of this scene.

Cruise (2022)

Previously seen at Toronto After Dark HERE

The Cradle (2022)

Previously seen at Toronto After Dark HERE.

Darkside (2022)

Director (and writer): Spencer Zimmerman

Cast: Blakely David, Siobhan Connors

Darkside tells the story of an astronaut who struggles to complete his mission to find a lost crew after a devastating tragedy.

Darkside is probably the best of the program as a whole. Its about a space expedition that goes wrong. The story backtracks to his memories and conversation that leads him there to eventually reveal what he had lost in the tragedy. From the visuals amd cinematography to the acting and depth of the script, Darkside has it all and keeps the balance and pacing in this 10 minute short.

***This Blood in the Snow Film Festival short film program is available on Super Channel on November 22nd at 12am EST.***

BITS 2022: Mournful Mediums

Mournful Mediums is a short films program in the Blood in the Snow Festival which is a selection of the best in Canadian medium-length shorts.

Vicinal (2022)

Director: Andrew David Osborne

Cast: Katherine Ross, Nathan Bigec, Daniel Coo, Ryan Heffernan

Vicinal is a 20 minute short about Thom and Romina who moves into an apartment in the city when a former tenant Walter shows up to pick up a package and asks for a tour to see what they’ve done with his old place when things get weird after he claims he forgot something in the little cubby hole in the upstairs bathroom leading to the attic.

There’s quite a bit to like about this one particularly the atmosphere as it plays really well on the mysterious and dark attic and what it could hide. It starts building right from the beginning and is reinforced when Walter arrives and strange things happen. It plays well on hiding what is really hiding in the shadows. While some of the creepy moments are fairly expected, it still manages to send chills down the spine as they all struggle to go into the attic and whenever they disappear inside, most of the time its all behind the ceiling until the very clever reveal.

While the acting could be better and more natural for Thom and Romina, Walter is just the right amount of eccentricity and odd to make this uneasy feeling with his presence and making his warning about the attic all the more valid and creating this lingering uneasiness. Its a well thought out story.

Spark (2022)

Director: Camille Hollett-French

Cast: Christina McInulty, Eugene Lipinski, Nneka Croal, Pam Kearns, Kyra Weston

When a disillusioned woman is implicated in the disappearance of a lonely aging scientist, she must convince the police that hope has the power to bridge dimensions. – IMDB

Written by its female lead Christina McInulty, Spark is a fairly slow-paced and wordy tale as a woman recounts the events of the disappearance of a lonely scientist. The concept behind it is pretty good and the execution also works pretty well. The tale is one about hope and belief specifically about bridging dimensions so it all dials down to whether the woman’s story will convince the police. As she recounts the events, what happens plays out in the short which is pretty good.

There are some nice cinematography in this and the script is pretty decent. The only deal with this is that it doesn’t seem to pack enough of a surprise. In the end, its about what consequences she would have is the police didn’t believe her because it felt like it was set up for the audience to already believe that she witnessed this unbelievable event so it made the story feel like the premise was really promising and fun but the payoff was a little lackluster.

AlieNation (2022)

Director (and co-writer): Ray Raghavan

Cast: Maria Frazer, Margarita Iturriaga, Reece Presley, Christian Lagasse, Kyal Scott, Claire Johnstone

A family of immigrants is chased through the woods by border patrol. But they’re not alone. – IMDB

The first thoughts when reading the synopsis is that we will be watching some sort of Predator inspired short. In some ways, it did feel that way and nothing makes me happier than living up to my expectations and actually AlieNation kind of surprised it as well. There’s a pretty decent flow of events here. With the mother and daughter separated and the mysterious monster lurking in the forest relatively unknown and unseen until the big finale. Its a good use of keeping things mysterious. At the same time, they are being hunted by border patrol. The tension and adventure is who will get to them first.

While the acting for the border patrol cast seemed a little rigid, the mother and daughter did do a pretty good job. As they run all over the forest and sneak here and there to avoid the border patrol, they slowly figure out that there is something else there. The whole story is overall well put together.

The Fore-Men

Director: Adrian Bobb

Previously reviewed for Toronto After Dark HERE.

Angakusajaujuq – The Shaman’s Apprentice (2021)

Director: Zacharias Kunuk

Cast: Madeline Ivalu, Lucy Tulugarjuk, Jacky Qrunnut

A young shaman must face her first test-a trip underground to visit Kannaaluk, The One Below, who holds the answers to why a community member has become ill. – IMDB

The Shaman’s Apprentice is one of the unique shorts of this batch. One because its an animated short and two because it features an Inuit tribe and uses their language as well. Its makes it rarely seen and very unique. What also makes it stand out is the stop motion animation which is done really well especially with the facial expressions of the Shaman and the apprentice.

The premise of going to the underground brings in a fantastical element and plays on the dangers and death. There’s this really wonderful moment as they climb down where they leave the shadows of the skeleton behind and it goes away when they go back up after the task which is very stylish.

I’m not particularly familiar with Inuit tradition or folklore but it definitely feels like some of that is injected here especially when the front of the entrance to the underground is guarded by a giant dog who can sense fear and the story revolves around a taboo while also could be interpreted as their beliefs.

I don’t know how much of this is fantastical and how much is actual Inuit tradition but this was a fascinating short film. It is really stylish and some part of the story feels like it doesn’t elaborate enough but the main message of the message is easy to catch.

***This BITS Film Festival program Mournful Mediums are going to be available on November 21st on Super Channel at 12am EST***

Double Feature: The Night House (2020) & Prey (2022)

The Night House (2020)

Director: David Bruckner

Cast: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Evan Jonigkeit, Stacy Martin

A widow begins to uncover her recently deceased husband’s disturbing secrets. – IMDB

*Originally posted for Friday Film Club*

After the unexpected suicide of her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit), Beth (Rebecca Hall) tries to cope with the loss in the best way she can until odd supernatural events start happening in the lakeside house that he built for her. As she digs deeper, she realizes that her husband has some dark secrets and they are now coming back to haunt her. The Night House is a psychological horror that dives into the themes of grief and afterlife.

The Night House is a film that plays with its setting quite a bit. It is pretty much a one setting film which uses the house and the surrounding areas of the lakeside house. The house itself feels like it has a life of its own especially before the reveal. It becomes a central piece to where the secrets lie in its nooks and crannies literally and figurativel. In fact, some of its most effective scares comes from the uneasiness from the environment and the space that it resides. While the film feels rather generic at the start, the film quickly shows off its more creative side with how it executes the horror element. Much like the cinematography which is quite impressive to bring out the unsettling experience.

The small cast of characters also make The Night House very intriguing as it revolves around a wife discovering these dark secrets of her husband. Rebecca Hall plays the role of Beth who becomes a grieving widow who tries to keep it together. There is a wonderful subtlety to character as the emotions brew in her but she doesn’t always show it on the exterior. She delivers a grounded performance that slowly starts going more put of the control as she starts experiencing what feels like her husband reaching out to her. While her husband Owen played by Evan Jonigkeit appears only in her memory as she starts piecing together before his suicide, Owen also has his own layers that slowly gets revealed.

The Night House is an indie horror gem. The film delivers a creepy and unsettling story and revolves it around the more basic horror design ever but playing it to its max with its surroundings. It creates this well-earned jumpscare moment and earns the later anticipation of what could be lurking in the house itself while playing with what is reality and not.

Prey (2022)

Direcctor (and co-writer): Dan Trachtenberg

Cast: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Dane DiLiegro, Stormee Kipp, Michelle Thrush, Julian Black Antelope, Stefany Mathias, Bennett Taylor, Mike Paterson

Naru, a skilled warrior of the Comanche Nation, fights to protect her tribe against one of the first highly-evolved Predators to land on Earth. – IMDB

The latest addition to the Predator series, Prey goes back in time to the 1800s to Native Americans tribe when they end up crossing paths with a Predator on the hunt. Being back many years from the first movie, this film is very focused on the hunting elements and the concept between prey and predator. The film features a young female lead who is doubted by her tribe that she is capable however on her initiation, she ends up tracking the Predator. With her dog in tow and her nifty crafting skills along with great tracking skills, she’s a female lead that isn’t a damsel in distress. She does get shocked by this unknown alien creature that she encounters but still uses her wit to try to overcome both the fear and protect her tribe.

Looking at the execution of the film as a whole, the breakdown runs best in a three part breakdown. The first part is a setup where it gives an idea of the strong female lead Naru and the tribe that she resides in (along with how she is viewed in the tribe) while also giving a look on the other side of the spectrum with the Predator as he lands on Earth for his hunt. As the land changes from many skinned and disemboweled ones as well, its quite disgusting to watch overall and does feel at times like it is a bit much and repetitive to get the point across.

However, the film does pick up in the second act as things start to change as the threat of the Predator becomes more apparent. The hunting group meets their own danger and barely escapes when Naru steps up and goes for her initiation of sorts to try to capture whatever beast is endangering the land with her tracking skills. It shows both her competency but also her inexperience as she does show moments of fear. She isn’t a perfect warrior but on in the making. The final act is the best of the film as it builds to the final showdown with a little twist and all decides whether she can come back with her prey.

While Predator series in general is more of an action horror film, Prey takes a rather unique coming of age angle mixed in the plot for a girl who in those days were doubted for her abilities in the tribe and fights for her acceptance as a hunter so she can do more. Overall, the film has a slow setup but once it gets going, the film does take a nice turn of events. Not to mention the cast does a great especially for Amber Midthunder as Naru. Prey might not exactly be the Predator film that a lot of people were hoping for since it does go back in time and it has some pacing flaws, however they did create a really good kick-ass female lead that held up the film.

TADFF 2022: MexZombies (2022)

MexZombies (2022)

Director: Chava Cartas

Cast: Inaki Godoy, Marcelo Barcelo, Roberta Damian, Luciana Vale, Vincent Michael Webb, Barbara de Regil

A group of teenagers must face a zombie apocalypse, and help reestablish order. – IMDB

MexZombies is a Mexican horror comedy and a love letter to mostly zombie films. It features a group of teens who group up together to keep the zombies in their gated community and stop them before they have an all out apocalypse in Mexico during Halloween night. The film blends horror zombie style to Stranger Things, The Goonies à la Zombieland vibes. Packed with mentions of horror films in dialogue, the homage flows pretty well in the script while still having its own style.

MexZombies is set in a gated community and with that brings its upper class families which also happens to be next to a lower class area in the vicinities which is where a social class issue is brought up and creates some of the comedy here when the main character Tavo sneaks into the community to spy on Ana, a girl that he has a crush on and has been caught before by the security. Both adults and teenagers alike all have their own issues with it as they either use it as a sense to exclude him or see him in a different light. Its a nice use of the topic itself. The gated community “one setting” has a big scope so the whole neighborhood comes into play with its Halloween festivities and such.

While that comes up, MexZombies is a fun zombie film with a charming young cast filled with four Mexican kids and one American kid. The film is set on Halloween night which also makes it all the more fun when the doubts are cast further when its hard to differentiate between a real zombie versus a fake one for a prank or whatnot. The challenges around every corner turns itself into its own fun twist of events for the most part. Even in lieu of certain plot points where its meant to be drama, its moves through it really quickly and refocuses back on the subject at hand: killing zombies to defend the nation.

Being someone who isn’t particularly well-versed in Mexican films or the actors/actresses in it, the young cast of character of quite a nice bunch. They each have their distinctive characteristics and it also calls back to the Halloween outfit that they are wearing. Much like they are kids and might know where to find the weapons, they don’t quite know how to use it. Of course, in this case, firearms expert among them is the American kid Johnny, played by Vincent Michael Webb who has a pretty fun character especially since he plays on the same line over and over again and it kind of works well especially when the others start reciprocating the dialogue in English to his surprise. Much like his host family’s daughter Rex (Luciana Vale) who ends up wielding a katana as her weapon of choice and rocking a fantastic outfit but has the moment where she realizes the sword is too long for her to pull out of its casing.

All that said, the two main characters of this entire films are best friends Tavo (Inaki Godoy) and Cronos (Marcelo Barcelo). Cronos is a nickname and while I’m not sure if I missed the reference but does make me wonder whether its a reference to Del Torro’s Cronos. These two characters are the highlight as they nail their roles completely with Tavo supposedly being on the wrong side of the tracks and expected to know all this tough business when he isn’t and Cronos is a cinephile for all things horror and faints at a sight of an insect. Suffice to say almost all the film reference is by Cronos.

Overall, MexZombies is a real gem. In terms of the storytelling, its one clever little plot. There’s a link to how this whole thing starts and who gets pulled right back into the equation while still creating some fun twists to play on various societal issues in a relaxing comedic way. The young cast while not all shining in the same way, they all deliver some solid acting for their characters plus some nice character development as well. Horror comedy zombies aren’t exactly anything to be scared of but between the comedy and the zombie action, there is a nice balance achieved. As a side note, it was hilarious to watch a little supporting role by Xin Wang as Maton Asiatico, which is super random without even an actual name for his character since he just talks in Chinese the whole time and feels out of place to be there as a thug because he’s cheap labor (and I have seen him before in TV drama Love Scenery (review)). I do love some random humor and this film is filled with it in such a witty smart way.