Double Feature: Deep Blue Sea 3 (2020) & Rogue (2007)

Deep Blue Sea 3 (2020)

Director: John Pogue

Cast: Tania Raymonde, Nathaniel Buzolic, Emerson Brooks, Bren Foster, Reina Aoi, Alex Bhat, Siya Mayola, Avumile Qongqo

Studying the effects of climate change off the coast of Mozambique, a marine biologist and her team confront three genetically enhanced bull sharks. Now, a new bloodbath is waiting to happen in the name of science. Will humans never learn? – IMDB

While Deep Blue Sea (review) is undoubtedly one of my favorite shark films ever, Deep Blue Sea 2 (review) was absolutely one of the most unsatisfying ones that I have watched. Its hard to fathom what this final film in this series is going to bring especially as it plays out as a direct sequel to the second film. Deep Blue Sea 3 might not really be any incredible shark film but it does deliver some decent entertainment. Of course, this depends what you look for in shark films. For myself, itself some creative shark kills (ridiculous as some of it might seem) and some fun characters and dialogue that might even add in a few laughs. As serious as Deep Blue Sea is, whether its the age or the bad effects, it had a decent balance of tension and fun to make it stand out. Deep Blue Sea 3 might not be in the same league as tension isn’t exactly high on the charts as the plot is a little too silly but there are some things that are done well enough to have a good time.

As mentioned before, Deep Blue Sea 3 picks up after the events of the second film as they try to track down the genetically enhanced bull sharks before they mate. Conveniently, they end up at an abandoned village on the water which has 2 inhabitants remaining and a small shark preservation crew has taken over with a underwater nursery to help monitor and preserve great white sharks. The crew itself consists of marine biologist Emma (Tania Raymonde) and Shaw (Emerson Brooks) who is something of a mentor and the muscle here, much like the tech-savvy Spin (Alex Bhat) and marine analyst Miya (Reina Aoi) are behind the scenes monitoring the situation when the boat carrying Emma’s college fling Richard (Nathaniel Buzolic) and his crew who are commissioned to find the bull sharks enter into the picture but decides to hide the grittier facts of the whole situation until they slowly get revealed and things get way out of control.

Let’s be honest here: Deep Blue Sea 3 is not exactly a great shark film, its not probably not even considered a good one. Looking at the plot and the dialogue, it walks on some thin ground. There’s some unnecessary romance side plot that doesn’t get anywhere; the usual untimely confession of feelings right before things go bad; some of the attacks are extremely predictable; dialogue feels a little ridiculous and cheesy at times. We’re not even looking at the big picture of the plot especially with the “bad guys” being not only the genetically modified bull sharks who not only swim backwards (which was a trait from the first film) but also recognizes bombs and reacts to mommy shark’s frequency, the bad guys are the crew from the big corporation who suddenly decides that they need to get down to business to get rid of the sharks and then decides to do stupid decisions like getting their minions to finish up a fight or just drop their weapons and go into hand to hand combat. Its actually quite funny to watch in all its ridiculousness. However, as much as there are things to criticize about the film, Deep Blue Sea 3 doesn’t really take itself that seriously and that really does help with the whole thing since it makes the second half when the whole island village goes down all the more fun with the sudden and unexpected shark kills to the big showdown finale.

There’s really not a whole lot to say about Deep Blue Sea 3 because its a rather middling experience. Its a fun time for sure if you enjoy shark films the way that I do in all its stupidity and ridiculousness but delivering some shark kills that take you by surprise. I mean, the effects here for the sharks at times reminds us that Deep Blue Sea from the start until now doesn’t seem like its changed much and that is a good or bad thing. Deal is, there are a ton of issues with Deep Blue Sea 3 that you can hate on it a lot. Honestly, I feel like they should have just left Deep Blue Sea in 1999 and never done any sequels but since the sequels are here, at least this one isn’t quite the wreck that the second film was. Maybe it simply had to do with the fact that its not another underground facility but much more minimalistic and embraces the “open waters”/open space a little bit more and keeps things above ground a little more as well.

Rogue (2007)

Director (and writer): Greg McLean

Cast: Michael Vartan, Radha Mitchell, Sam Worthington, Caroline Brazier, Stephen Curry, Celia Ireland, John Jarratt, Heather Mitchell, Geoff Morrell, Damien Richardson, Robert Taylor, Mia Wasikowska, Barry Otto

An American journalist on assignment in the Australian outback encounters a man-eating crocodile while trapped on a rapidly flooding mud island. – IMDB

Allow me a moment to celebrate as Rogue finally gets added to the Netflix catalogue (Netflix Canada at least). Not the Megan Fox action thriller but the Australian crocodile creature feature. With the fun experiences of several crocodile/alligator creature features like Crawl (review), Alligator and Lake Placid (review), Rogue has been a film on my radar for a pretty long time and it lived up to my expectations. Directed by Wolf Creek director Greg McLean, Rogue steers away from the torture porn horror style and dives into the creature feature genre as a group of tourists get stuck on a tiny mud island as the tide comes in with a crocodile lurking nearby ready to attack.

Australia is such a prime location with all it deadly animals lurking about for creature feature content and yet, there’s not quite enough films to use that setting. Rogue actually takes the creature feature for a very different ride. The film captures the beauty where this tourist excursions are taking place, focusing on the nature around them and the lay of the land from up above and takes the time at the start to give this boatful of tourists as well as their tour guide a chance to show some of their characteristics and personalities before thrusting them into danger. It gives some context to who this group will be dealing with.

At the same time, the crocodile doesn’t really get as much camera time and is slowly revealed bit by bit. It gives it the mysterious element of how big this crocodile actually is while still using a crocodile’s hunting both to educate the viewers but creating some foreshadow of what to expect. There’s the unexpected window between kills which looms over the tourists and just how quickly they can be picked off while how much risk is too much risk to try to get off the island with both the night and the tide coming in all becoming pressuring factors. The way that the film uses these elements is what makes Rogue a tense creature feature.

Looking at the cast, there are some familiar faces here with Radha Mitchell, Michael Vartan and Sam Worthington are the obvious recognizable ones. They also are the leading and bigger roles here with a little more focus on their characters throughout the film. Michael Vartan plays a travel journalist who finds himself becoming quite the hero in the process as the group starts falling apart and everyone’s true colors start showing. For Wolf Creek fans, John Jarratt appears here in a much more toned down type of role, much like there’s a young Mia Wasikowska playing the young daughter of a couple on the tour. With bigger groups of this, there are always a few characters which are outlined a little frustratingly and this was no exception.

Overall, Rogue is a pretty effective creature feature. It delivers a pretty tense crocodile creature feature. The beginning set up is a great contrast to the actual crocodile hunt portion. As much as its almost one location, the final act takes it into another area which gives it a nice change and adds to the danger element to push it a little further. Definitely an enjoyable one and one that I’d highly recommend to check out.

Double Feature: Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021) & Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021)

Director (and writer): Johannes Roberts

Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Robbie Amell, Hannah John-Kamen, Tom Hopper, Avan Jogia, Donal Logue, Neal McDonough, Lily Gao, Chad Rook, Marina Mazepa, Nathan Dales

Set in 1998, this origin story explores the secrets of the mysterious Spencer Mansion and the ill-fated Raccoon City. – IMDB

*Originally reviewed for Friday Film Club*

Adapted from the first and second game of the Capcom video game series of the same name, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City sets itself on a parallel storyline which sets itself in 1998 when the zombie outbreak starts in the small town of Raccoon City and the group of survivors try to make it out where the events take place both in the Raccoon City Police Department but also at the Spencer mansion where the outbreak was suspected to have started.

Being undeniably avid fans of Resident Evil here at Movies and Tea as we covered all the Resident Evil movies by Paul W.S. Anderson being one of our biggest episodes to work on, and an upcoming episode in the works for its animated films, Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City is a film that was announced with rather mixed sentiments, some didn’t like the casting feeling like it didn’t do the actual character design justice to its original game design however the film also did finally bring in all the favorite characters and created a story adapted from the actual games. However, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a pretty decent alignment for a video game adaptation. Taking away the lesser role for their favorite character Leon Kennedy and dropping him to his rookie status who genuinely grows throughout the film as he encounters more, the fan faves are also all here with Claire and Chris Redfield holding down the fort on each of the locations as they move closer to each other. At the same time, the film also manages to bring in some other key characters like the well-known Albert Wesker and Jill Valentine, giving them an origin of where they come from.

This new reboot of Resident Evil, under the direction of Johannes Roberts does give it a lot more link to the story that the games are telling and the world building also deserves a lot of credit. Some scenes are almost identical to its game counterpart making it quite the treat for lovers of this gaming franchise, especially with its recent game remakes. At the same time, it still adds in a lot of eerie scenes whether being the zombie design to the mutations caused by the virus and looks into the connection of Claire and Chris Redfield’s story both when they were kids and their encounters to the present day, centering the story around them. Sure, in terms of story direction, Leon Kennedy being one of the bigger characters of the games does fall into the backseat a little and becomes more of a goofy rookie who is trying to catch up with the situation with better and more experienced cops but perhaps its a nice change to see the focus remain on one part of the story and if it does have sequel, it gives it more space to expand on the other characters’ storylines.

Overall, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a pretty decent reboot. Its one that stays much more true to its source material and still manages to recreate these eerie atmospheres using its two key locations as their focal points. It has a little something for both fans of the games and new viewers trying to follow the story. Its pretty well-balanced film in terms of action and horror.

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Director: Cathy Yan

Cast: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett, Ewan McGregor, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina, Ali Wong

After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroines Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord. – IMDB

Superhero and comic book films have really been a bit overwhelming and not exactly on my radar regardless of Marvel or DC at this point. However, as Birds of Prey is leaving Netflix Canada and I do really like Margot Robbie, it felt like a decent film to catch up on. Surprisingly, the film was a pretty fun ride and also brought another femme fatale role for Mary Elizabeth Winstead as The Huntress which was also nice little surprise. The film overall is about these different female characters who team up against a vicious crime lord for their own personal reasons despite focusing on a post break-up with Joker Harley Quinn who ends up making some ridiculous decisions like blowing up the chemical plant and buying a hyena as her pet.

While superhero films all seem to entail the same thing and it all feels rather cookie cutter in terms of plot, making the whole situation fairly predictable, Birds of Prey is pretty fun. Perhaps its the over the top element which makes everyone from Harley Quinn to its villain feel rather cartoony and comic-like or its the fact that this film is about superheroines who find themselves teaming together for their own purpose and having their own style when it came to the big final showdown, these things all add color to the film and makes it entertaining. All the odd elements come together especially all these different ladies to make it a fun team-up.

With that said, the casting is pretty good, not only for its main ladies from Margot Robbie as the titular lady but also Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez as the cop Renee Montoya who is fed up with not being fully recognized in her efforts and Jurnee Smollett as a talented singer with a killer voice as Black Canary plus a little pickpocket girl Cassandra Cain played by Ella Jay Basco, but it also includes a rather over the top villain playing Black Mask with Ewan McGregor who was pretty decent and almost channelling the rich boy begging for recognition type of character so lashes out in extreme ways to get what he wants but also a supporting roles by Ali Wong.

Birds of Prey is a pretty fun movie overall. There’s not a whole lot to say about it but the stylistic approach and the wonderful kick-ass femme fatale casting does make for some entertaining moments. Its refreshing to see a group of superheroines band together against the villain and this film delivered the whole package pretty well.

The Sadness (哭悲, 2021)

The Sadness (2021)

Director (and writer): Rob Jabbaz

Cast: Berant Zhu, Regina Lei, Ying-Ru Chen, Tzu-Chiang Wang, Emerson Tsai, Wei-Hua Lan, Ralf Chiu

A young couple trying to reunite amid a city ravaged by a plague that turns its victims into deranged, bloodthirsty sadists. – IMDB

The feature film directorial debut for Canadian filmmaker Rob Jabbaz is a Taiwanese horror gorefest. Heavily inspired by the Cross comic book series, The Sadness sets in a viral pandemic called Alvin Virus that infects its victims making them fulfill their homicidal desires from extreme violence to rape. Basically just think about the most maniacal, bloodthirsty and wrongest things that could happen that The Sadness manages to get it in, probably even some of it being unthinkably horrible. While horror isn’t normally a go-to for Taiwanese films, Rob Jabbaz makes this one completely out of control. The gore element delivers to a disturbing level and this film is definitely not for the weak stomached and is full of all kinds of trigger warnings. For those who love this sort of film, this one goes for both a visual gore fest but also keeps some more disturbing elements off camera for your own imagination to fill in the blanks.

The Sadness builds its story around two perspectives which are from the two characters who are a couple called Cat (Regina Lei) and Jim (Berant Zhu) trying to reunite amidst the craziness that is surrounding them. Cat and Jim has a pretty thin back story from the start but does craft them through the little disagreement at the beginning in their fairly mundane life of two youths trying to make a career with Kat heading off to work while Jim takes her to work but is between jobs. When the viral outbreak starts, the two set off on different paths which gives way for an array of different scenarios to occur from the mountainous secluded areas to the tight spaced subway car and station tunnels to its big finale at the hospital. This viral outbreak crafts different groups of infected and the film touches on all of it even if its not as extensive as the homicidal elements especially focused on one older man (Tzu-Chiang Wang) who can be considered as the main villain of the film. And oh boy, does the script take his character far into the depths of the worst impulses triggered by this virus.

As I consider whether this film is just about presenting something very on the surface with its extremity and using a viral outbreak to craft a scenario suitable for it, the story does reflect a bit on society and its doubts and ignorance but also the virus itself does have a little moment at the beginning and the final acts when its basically outwardly discussed. However, as much as its not really talked about, there are little signs here and there that help paint a picture of what it is and makes you think a little more about what it does and why the film itself is titled The Sadness. There’s still a small part in my mind that thinks the actual nature of the virus should have more explanation but there is a power in not explaining too much since it brings in a different element of unknown as to when the trigger point of the virus attacks the infected.

Overall, The Sadness is a crazy ride: gory, blood-soaked, gut-wrenching, disgusting, sitting on a ton of trigger warning. Its definitely not for everyone. For myself, its really does get a little extreme at certain points and one scene in particular really did bother me quite a bit. However, there’s a lot to appreciate about The Sadness and its mostly the ability to push the content and go all the way. There are some low budget practical effects and then some contrasts in music selection to what’s happening on scene and a myriad of ways that people are killing each other and yet somehow, it all does work together, even if the main characters Cat and Jim are not exactly well-constructed but they do feel relatively realistic and human.

* The Sadness will premiere theatrically across Canada on April 29th and 30th in selected theatres. Starting May 12th, it will then be available as VOD on iTunes (preorder on April 26), Cineplex on Demand, Shaw VOD, Vimeo on Demand as well as landing on Shudder Canada. The Sadness will also be available on May 12th on Shudder USA, UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.*

*Screener received by GatPR*

Double Feature: The Invisible Man (2020) & The Crazies (2010)

The Invisible Man (2020)

Director (and screeenplay): Leigh Whannell

Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman

When Cecilia’s abusive ex takes his own life and leaves her his fortune, she suspects his death was a hoax. As a series of coincidences turn lethal, Cecilia works to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see. – IMDB

*Originally published on Friday Film Club*

Inspired by H.G. Wells’ novel of the same name, directed and written by Leigh Whannell, mostly known for the co-creator of the Saw franchise as the writer, he modernizes a story using the invisible man science fiction concept and puts it into a domestic abuse story between a scientist and his ex-girlfriend. The Invisible Man tells the story of Cecilia who decides to escape her rich optics scientist boyfriend’s home because of his controlling nature to find out that shortly after, she can stop living in fear when he is reported to be dead. However, she starts experiencing some odd events that makes her believe that he is stalking her with some invisibility technology, trying to isolate her from the world she knows however no one believes her and thinks she is mentally unstable.

The Invisible Man is a pretty competent horror thriller. It takes the source material its inspired by and puts together a tense and thrilling environment from start to finish. It doesn’t actually give you the feeling that all is well, mostly because not being able to see the threat means that it can be constantly anticipated and gives the sense of insecurity to its audience. Leigh Whannell doesn’t only put together a well-crafted story but also uses the cinematography with both the light and the camera work to build up the tense atmosphere, playing with what could happen and what might be in the empty space as it follows an increasingly suspecting female lead played by Elisabeth Moss. The great part about a story is like this is that there is no hiding the threat’s existence and the reveal that there is someone lurking in the emptiness is very quickly revealed and Cecilia’s sense of security doesn’t last too long. However, what is the goal and who is behind the whole thing is still the big question as the threat doesn’t talk and just acts abruptly.

While there are other character’s in the whole story, a lot of the acting credit does go to Elisabeth Moss who mostly feels like she’s in this film by herself and interacting with thin air. For the most part, its very believable as the invisible man does make her life fall apart. While there are some mechanics of this threat that feel a little off as it plays with the invisible, the saving grace is that the film is always building on the tension in different scenarios but also keeps the threat mostly invisible for the most part, letting the audience’s imagination fill in the blanks which in this case proves to be very effective.

While Leigh Whannell is mostly credited for writing, The Invisible Man proves that he has quite the eye for directing as well especially when crafting a tense environment for a horror film. Whether its the theme, the writing, the execution and pacing or the horror thriller element, The Invisible Man is one well worth a watch.

The Crazies (2010)

Director: Breck Eisner

Cast: Radha Mitchell, Timothy Olyphant, Danielle Panabaker, Joe Anderson, Christie Lynn Smith, Brett Rickaby, Preston Bailey, John Aylward, Joe Reegan

After a strange and insecure plane crash, an unusual toxic virus enters a quaint farming town. A young couple are quarantined, but they fight for survival along with help from a couple of people. – IMDB

Being a remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 film of the same name, The Crazies sets itself in a viral outbreak that overtakes a small farm town as it follows four people who are luckily not infected and join together to find a way to escape town before either the turn called The Crazies get them or the military who is trying to contain this outbreak.

Lets put it out there right now that I haven’t seen the original. For myself, this is a fresh story and movie. Its interesting that infected humans are mostly regarded as zombies and yet, the root of this is very similar to Resident Evil where the whole issue is rooted from an accidental viral outbreak with a group of military trying to contain it by all means. While there is that parallel, the viral outbreak concept is still pretty well structured as The Crazies do have a rather solid cast and the story starts off on a creepy note which ends up turning into a mystery as the Sheriff and Deputy hunt down why this is happening and much like other horror films, the mayor doesn’t take their suggestion and yet, despite their rebellious efforts, its just a little too late.

The horror of the film is much more toned down than other viral outbreaks which do focus more on the bloody and gory element. This one has more violent moments and the infected appearance makes for creepier moments as the group encounters infected previously introduced before their infection, reinforcing the core issue with this bioweapon that is trying to be contained. As each side of the spectrum reveals itself, the situation clarifies quickly. Its a film about the survival as the government’s extreme stance makes them out to be villainous which is as dangerous as the infected around these four survivors.

The cast is pretty decent as well. The Sheriff is played by Timothy Olyphant. Along with him as the core group of survivors is his wife, a doctor in the small town played by Radha Mitchell (most probably know her for Silent Hill films). There is also the Deputy played by Joe Anderson who is the MVP of the whole survival operation. His character has the rarely seen accuracy as the sharpshooter as he saves everyone in a tight situation more than once but also wavers the most in personality. Also part of the group is a young Danielle Panabaker which isn’t really contributing much but worth a mention.

Overall, The Crazies is a pretty good viral outbreak romp. While it lacks in the gore department, it does do well in building up the story and laying out how the whole situation went down and how the bioweapon virus works and has some decent reveals. Its well worth a watch.

TV Binge: Archive 81 (Season 1, 2022)

Archive 81 (Season 1, 2022)

Creator: Rebecca Sonnenshine

Cast: Mamoudou Athie, Dina Shihabi, Evan Jonigkeit, Julia Chan, Ariana Neal, Matt McGorry, Martin Donovan, Kate Eastman, Charlie Hudson III, Kristin Griffith, Eden Marryshow, Georgina Haig

An archivist hired to restore a collection of tapes finds himself reconstructing the work of a filmmaker and her investigation into a dangerous cult. – IMDB

Based on the podcast of the same name, Archive 81 follows an archivist Dan (Mamoudou Athie) hired to a secluded building to restore a collection of tapes left behind by a college filmmaker Melody Pendras (Dina Shihabi) who moves into the Visser building hoping to capture the lives of the residents but also look for her biological mother but ends up realizing that that the building’s history is a lot more sinister and starts to investigate leading her to discover a cult.

Due to the nature of the show which dives from the present day with Dan and the past via the tape restoration and his process of watching it, the film story unfolds on a parallel. The writing is what truly shines in this series as it crafts both sides very effectively both in terms of the primary mystery element but also having the ability to craft a tense and sinister vibe throughout as it captures the isolation of Dan as he discovers his own side of the mystery as odd occurrences take place and the help of his friend (Matt McGorry) as an outside resource. Much like Melody Pendras who starts to gradually feel more and more of the cult that surrounds her through the strange residents that live there. The sense of danger and insecurity within the building is constructed incredibly well. The use of the VHS grainy element reminding that it is still an image that is being watched does a good job of pulling in and out of this parallel worlds of the past and present especially when it feels like its just watching two sides of a story and forgetting the time element.

While there aren’t any big name actors in the cast, probably the most familiar being Matt McGorry for his role in Orange is the New Black way back in Season 1 (I think) and he has gone on to do some other roles over the years, the main cast revolves around Mamoudou Athie and Dina Shihabi playing as Dan and Melody respectively. They both do a pretty decent job for what their role needs to deliver. Perhaps the supporting characters and their odd personalities delivers more although some of it does go a little overboard at times. Luckily, the show does only focus on a few main characters of the Visser building while Dan’s side focuses mostly around a few characters as well. The events craft a lot more of the atmosphere than the characters involved since the sounds and eerie and bizarre situations and the fear of being caught is what brings out most of the effective tense atmosphere. The characters’ interactions and encounters do bring up a lot of mystery and questions that slowly get revealed in the final episodes.

Overall, Archive 81 is pretty good. Its gripping and tense and the mystery is done really well. The angle and the twist also works pretty effectively. The tone and sound design and setting all add to the mystery much like the characters themselves. Unfortunately, the show does end on something of a cliffhanger and wasn’t renewed for a second season. A pity really since it would be interesting to see where it would have headed if it had the opportunity.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)

Director: David Blue Garcia

Cast: Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher, Mark Burnham, Jacob Latimore, Moe Dunford, Olwen Fouéré, Jessica Allain, Nell Hudson, Alice Krige, William Hope

After nearly 50 years of hiding, Leatherface returns to terrorize a group of idealistic young friends who accidentally disrupt his carefully shielded world in a remote Texas town. – IMDB

Before we get into the review, I figured I should put it out there that my knowledge of Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise is far and few. I haven’t seen the original in the 70s which gets a mentioned in this film and I’ve seen very little of the 2003 mostly because it was one of the first horror films that I saw and I didn’t have quite the stomach or courage to watch it. The only films I’ve seen in the franchise is Texas Chainsaw 3D (review) and Leatherface (review). I keep thinking that I’ve seen the 2006 film as well but I can’t seem to find any evidence of it anywhere and the trailer doesn’t seem to remind me of anything so either I’ve seen and its wiped clean out of my mind or I just haven’t. Looking back at my whole Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise experience to date, it does feel like I’ve watched some rather lackluster films and it probably has to do with the ones I’ve watched in entirety being some pretty subpar films. I can only imagine that it starts off much stronger to have the following it has today.

And yet, with that experience and the convenience of it being a Netflix film, here we are again with 2022’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre which picks up 50 years after the first film when a bunch of young adults head out to revitalize the ghost town of Harlow and making an inconsiderate decision that ends up causing their demise and waking up the chainsaw-wielding slasher that we all know, Leatherface. Suffice to say that I got into this film with fairly low expectations and probably because of that, the film turned out to be slightly better than my expectations. Of course, that’s not saying a whole lot since they do have some rather predictable characters and situations and the whole story with the survivor from the 70s story Sally coming back for her revenge was so very weak especially in terms of the dialogue. However, there are some decent jumpscare moments and slasher moments.

Other than some thin characters and some odd dialogue here and there, the story itself isn’t all that bad and the execution is pretty decent as well since it takes into account the modern day trends with the whole social media and cancel culture and giving the whole story a decent amount of body counts to make it all bloody. Not exactly very gory but still an expected amount of blood is spilled. While the idea of reviving a ghost town with a younger vibe despite its past seems like a rather stupid idea considering the history, they do go ahead with it in a quick manner. This applies to the film in general as the execution is incredibly fast: story moves fast, bodies drop fast and the whole situation shifts quickly.

The use of the link to the ’74 film’s character Sally Hardesty (Alice Krige) is one that lacks some finesse especially since she only shows up as more of a subplot and seems to want to try to bank on what Halloween has done with their last 2 films, giving the film the same type of plot line. However, it never quite works considering that the dialogue is quite laughable but does end up giving the main characters a guide and courage to face Leatherface in the final showdown. Talking about the two sisters as the main character, which is a pretty decent base, it follows older sister Melody (Sarah Yarkin) who is one half of the brains behind the revival of the town and takes her younger sister Lila (Elsie Fisher) who has experienced a near death experience in a school shooting prior to this experience, making her back story most interesting. However, their stories never quite get the depth (as expected with a lot of these slasher type films) and it doesn’t help that some of these events feel a tad disjointed. However, the sisterly connection does come into play here and it does make these two more worthy of wanting them to survive these whole situation.

Looking at Leatherface (and you can all judge my inexperience with this part as its more based on my own limited knowledge of the character), the slasher element is probably the stronger part here. Leatherface is revived in this character when he loses his adoptive mother which sends him on this vengeful path. The issue here really starts in this character feeling like he is going back to his origins regardless of his age. It also dials down to whether you think the face reveal of Leatherface is good as well (although I might be wrong but I feel like in one of the origin stories, can’t remember which film it was, it had the younger version of him unmasked). The mask gives his character fear as well as the iconic chainsaw as his weapon of choice so seeing him as the older man that he is loses a bit of the impact at the start, even if it never does have a complete face reveal but an eye here and a glimpse there. It all depends on how you feel about this angle. It does fade away as the film goes along as Leatherface does go into attack mode very quickly with some quick and shocking slasher moments.

Overall, Texas Chainsaw Massacre was alright. In the slasher department, it does what you’d expect however in the narrative and writing, it feels a weaker at times . The concept overall is decent since it does try to link to the original film and give it both a modern day feeling and bring it back to the nostalgia even if both of these motives seem a little silly. The younger cast has its good and bad moments and while the pacing is very quick and bodies all dropping incredibly quickly, boosting up the slasher blood and gore element, it also might be the reason why no one seems to matter too much since they never have enough time on screen to just be a little pawn meant to be an obstacle before they get taken out. On a personal level, this one is better than expected but then, I seem to have skipped out on all the better films of the franchise from the beginning so expectations are fairly low to start with.

TV Binge: I Know What You Did Last Summer (Season 1, 2021)

I Know What You Did Last Summer (Season 1, 2021)

Cast: Madison Iseman, Brianne Tju, Ezekiel Goodman, Bill Heck, Ashley Moore, Fiona Rene, Cassie Beck, Brooke Bloom, Sonya Balmores, Danielle Delaunay, Sebastian Amoruso

In a town full of secrets, a group of teenagers are stalked by a mysterious killer a year after a fatal accident on their graduation night. – IMDB

I Know What You Did Last Summer is a 2021 modernized TV series adaptation of the novel of the same name and the 1997 film with only retains the general premise. I have always felt that slashers do have a market in creating longer forms for these stories whether its the previous attempt with Scream TV series (review) or this one since it gives so much more room to flesh out the story and characters and create a bigger mystery to cast suspicions. However, as both Scream and this series has proven, somehow they aren’t quite the crowd pleaser. Perhaps its the comparison to its predecessors or that a bunch of fresh faced teens as the main teens aren’t quite as appealing to watch with their new lingo and modern technology making the target audience not exactly aimed correctly. Whatever it is, it seems like a fate they haven’t been able to escape albeit myself finding both the previously mentioned or this one are still decently enjoyable despite there being obvious plot holes.

Looking at the story of I Know What You Did Last Summer, the essence of the premise is there. Grad night and an accident happen that gets hidden, a year later, they start getting hunted down along with other members of their community. The elements are all there and this remake brings things to today’s world: the social media, the lingo, etc. The story does pace fairly well throughout the season. It sets up the plot and uses the pieces of grad night to craft these characters one by one to not only complete the past and in turn, building up their present intentions or actions. The execution on that level is well done. The killings for the main group of teens is also spaced out fairly well with some creative death scenes to say the least while also directing suspicions from one character to the next reasonably. The best element of this TV series is that its self- contained. One season, a resolution and most answers addressed: its rare thing to have these days.

Looking at the young cast, I Know What You Did Last Summer is still pretty decent. Leading the show is the central characters, twins Lennon and Alison as they appear in flashback and present day, played by Madison Iseman, a young actress that I discovered with an indie film that I love, Riot Girls (review). She does a fantastic job as her character spirals throughout the film and creates some mind-boggling character development moments. Playing alongside her is Brianna Tju as Margot, a girl that has a little thing for Lennon but keeps getting rejected and has her own set of issues whenever she seems to lose control of her life as well as Dylan played by Ezekiel Goodman, who is the center of a lot of grad night’s feud between the twins and has the most resistance towards the whole accident being covered up. Much like them, there’s another girl who is best friends with Dylan and also deals drugs as her side business to earn some money, Riley (Ashley Moore). Complimenting the younger cast are the parent characters, the two prominent ones being Lennon and Alison’s dad (Bill Heck) who seems very knowledgable about covering their tracks about their little secret while his not-so-secret special fling with the police sheriff (Fiona Rene) who no doubt is a focus considering she is investigating all these deaths hitting their small town.

Overall, I Know What You Did Last Summer is a remake. It literally only uses the skeleton of the premise and builds from there. The film is set in sunny Hawaii which makes for some nice scenery. The cast itself is fairly decent for this type of teen series fare. While the plot itself has its fair share of head-scratching developments aka plot holes, it still fairly enjoyable to watch. I’m not sure anyone heading into these teen series are expecting some revelation or revolutionary profound watch so there’s no point in trying to make it what it isn’t. However, the show does have its fair share of tackling different personal issues that a lot of these shows normally would have and does it in a decent way. Slasher genre in general aren’t really supposed to taken that seriously since its just a fun time. Putting aside the comparisons, the show itself is pretty fun with decent moments of mystery and suspicion, building tension and a nice little wrap-up for the season-long mystery.

As a final thought in general, these teen slasher TV genre really seems to be struggling. It definitely makes me wonder why that’s the case. Teen series aim for a younger crowd so the original shows should bank on this better, perhaps Scream Queens being a nice example since it did make it to 2 seasons where other adapted or remade series might have its bigger issues as older audience than teens might want to venture into it since those would be compared to their source materials or film adaptation predecessors. Not sure there’s any conclusion to this thought but its been something that I’ve thought about whenever thinking about these series.

BITS 2021: The Family (2021)

The Family (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Dan Slater

Cast: Nigel Bennett, Toni Ellwand, Benjamin Charles Watson, Keana Lyn, Jenna Warren, Yasmin MacKay, Onyx Spark

A young family, living in isolation and forced into hard labor out of fear of dishonoring their Father and Mother, fight to free themselves from their religious cult. – IMDB

The Family dives into the rural 1800s setting in an isolated farmland who is run by a family who has strong religious faith and the parents makes sure that their children follow their strict rules. Right from the opening scene, the consequences of defying those rules are harsh. The opening scene sets up the tone of the plot as much as the whole scenario that this family lives with a strict father (Nigel Bennet) standing watch while the children work on their various chores and their mother (Toni Ellwand) keeping watching in her chair holding a shotgun in her hands. Its immediately apparent that this family is very different. Throughout the first act, their followings and their rules are laid out one by one. However, when a new member joins them and ends up having altered plans, it makes them question whether their father’s teachings are as true as they’ve believed before. The Family feels like a combination of The Witch (review) and another indie film earlier this year, Glasshouse (review).

The Family is a very decent watch. Its a psychological thriller at its core with both the haunting parent figures who craft their beliefs into their children’s mind, the unknown surroundings outside of their set threshold and a group of children who obviously are not their own offspring. The million questions start firing right from the beginning. What is this religion? Where do the children come from? Is there really an exterior threat? The main focus of the story is through the eyes of their children especially Caleb (Benjamin Charles Watson) as he is now entering adulthood and waiting for his companion to show up. At the same time, he is growing more curious about what his parents are up to and what may lie outside the threshold especially when his chore leads him to follow this odd noise. His curiosity slowly trickles to the others as they start to act on their suspicion especially Abigail (Jenna Warren) who quietly observes each of his brothers’ punishments one by one and hurts on her own. When a new girl enters the picture, Caleb’s infatuation and their father’s change in attitude all comes together to create their suspicion and wavering in faith.

With quiet films like these, its very much in the atmosphere and tone and The Family does this incredibly well. What also helps is that the cast of characters are also very well portrayed. The reactions and expressions exceed any dialogue whether its fear or worry. There’s this lingering unsettling feeling of not knowing when the whole situation will turn around and how they will retaliate when they inevitably will no longer believe in their religious ways and their parents’ teachings as well as try to break free from the rules. The Father and Mother are done incredibly well especially with the Mother who is this more subtle character who doesn’t speak a lot but feels like she has this dominating and manipulative appearance even more than the Father who seems to be running the whole thing. Caleb, portrayed by Benjamin Charles Watson, does a fantastic job as well. His character having the most development and change as he is the focal character right from the start as he experiences quite a few events throughout the film. However, in a more subtle role, Jenna Warren as Abigail also does a great job despite the lesser dialogue especially in the final act.

There’s a lot to love about The Family. It grabs the psychological thriller elements really well. There are a few interesting twists here. While its nothing that becomes very surprising but the tension and atmosphere is done very well as it uses the isolated natural setting efficiently and creating their whole life in this space. The questions are all answered by the end especially the ending itself giving a really nice touch. A really well done thriller through and through.

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. 

BITS 2021: Flee The Light (2021)

Flee the Light (2021)

Director: Alexandra Senza

Cast: Annie Tuma, Ariana Marquis, Jamar Adams Thompson, Jane Siberry, Caroline Raynaud

A psychology student attempts to cure her sister’s crippling psychosis only to expose them both to its origin: an ancient creature intent on claiming their souls. – IMDB

Flee the Light is an intriguing premise. It meshes a storyline, something like a lore from its past to its present day that goes through generations of something awaken from the past which haunts these sisters which dabbles into sorcery and the concept of light and dark. The premise itself as a whole works well especially when this unknown entity seems to be preying on them and ready to possess them at the right opportunity. As one of the sisters try to help the other more unhinged one, it first becomes a whole acceptance than this whole situation surpasses that of science and dives into the occult practices to get to the bottom of the situation. With some cryptic and odd encounters as well as their own journey facing this together, the story is a little bizarre in places.

While the premise of the film itself is pretty decent, there are some little issues in execution. This is a minor issue which relates mostly to a flashback that builds up the whole plot and twist. The repetition of it loses its effectiveness with its frequency perhaps. The purpose of it is rather good but rather having a little less repetition perhaps would benefit it in my opinion (but of course, I’m not a screenwriter). The setting especially when the reach the cabin setting as the past merges with the present bringing the beginning moments of the film together in plot does work really well while the setting also creates a nice atmosphere and tone to the film which brings in a little bit of answers but also some mystery. This whole entity (not sure what else to call it) is also rather well constructed as it remains mostly mysterious throughout but still has that threatening/danger element that’s moving closer as the story progresses.

Much like the supporting characters that are introduced which feels very useless overall. The story’s focus is mostly on the sisters and these extra encounters are all a means to an end giving them rather empty shells, some more than others. However, the sisters are well-crafted characters and yet the acting also seems to lose a little bit of the desired effect mostly for the character of Andra (Annie Tuma) who has a more complex role and experiences some really weird stuff particularly one scene when she seems to be woken up from this whole situation. It sometimes makes the character feel awkward like the script or whatnot doesn’t seem to jive exactly with the whole situation. Its hard to exactly say what it is. The character does come together in the final act.

Overall, Flee the Light is a decent directorial debut for Alexandra Senza. The film itself is done well and there are little things probably more related to script that affected the whole execution. The premise is also pretty intriguing which introduced a mysterious entity from the past, almost like a old lore. It didn’t get a whole lot of depth but still had a decent threat element.