Double Feature: The Cave (2005) & Death Note (2017)

And we’re moving right along to the next double feature in the random Netflix alphabet. I’m starting to see a pattern already of movies that I feel didn’t really get great reviews but I’m willing to take a chance on regardless. I didn’t actually research how well they did but still, its how randomness works, right? 😉 The next two films is 2005 creature feature The Cave which I never heard of before but I was craving something of that subgenre so here we are and followed with the 2017 Netflix Original American adaptation of Death Note.

Let’s check it out!

The Cave (2005)

the cave

Director: Bruce Hunt

Cast: Cole Hauser, Eddie Cibrian, Morris Chestnut, Lena Headey, Piper Perabo, Rick Ravanello, Daniel Dae Kim, Kieran Darcy-Smith

Bloodthirsty creatures await a pack of divers who become trapped in an underwater cave network. – IMDB

The Cave passed right under the radar as it probably got overshadowed by the success of The Descent (Review) which was always cave exploration, creature feature and had garnered quite a good bit of positive reviews, myself included. With that said, The Cave does have quite a few good elements. While it merges together spelunking and creature features, it also adds in the not really completely confirmed idea of going to hell (much like As Above So Below (review)). It had a short mention with the religious background in the beginning and then as we dive deeper into the cave as the group heads towards the exit and fights for their survival, the cave takes on various transformations which can only feel like the different levels of hell (at least to me, maybe I’m overthinking it as I always do).

The Cave isn’t executed too well. It has some issues of pacing and some of the acting bits aren’t exactly great. It also had an issue of being quite predictable as to when would happen what which cuts out some of the tension it could have had. However, The Cave is quite unique because it adds in the water and diving exploration element. A new layer of adventure adds in its own set of challenges. Plus, the creature design here has a nice slow burn reveal throughout the film and its pretty bad-ass and impressive.

One of the final points to mention here is how Lena Headey always ends up in these movies and in this one, she pops up as a scientist. She delivers a great performance and one of the best throughout this film, not only because her character carried quite a bit of depth but also the changes for this character and her interpretation of it.

Death Note (2017)

death note

Director: Adam Wingard

Cast: Nat Wolff, LaKeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, Willem Dafoe (voice), Jason Liles, Paul Nakauchi

A high school student named Light Turner discovers a mysterious notebook that has the power to kill anyone whose name is written within its pages, and launches a secret crusade to rid the world of criminals. – IMDB

Having never seen the original TV anime series (not even one episode) and only saw the Japanese adapted film back in 2000s, Death Note is one of those animes that is rather unfamiliar to myself however, I remained skeptical but interested in watching how it would be interpreted especially in the hands of Adam Wingard. A good and bad thing here because for one, it had the same feeling in this one as in the Japanese one years ago that a series with the depth of Death Note in its content shouldn’t and can’t be made into a film. There are plot holes and unknown parts and a lot of it is expected to be brushed away and accepted as correct because the movie constantly reminds us that Death Note has a lot of rules, so if it didn’t make sense that you can say that its just a rule that we didn’t know about. That is just lazy but then adapting Death Note into a film is a mammoth task. Second though, the good thing is that Adam Wingard took helm of it because he gives it atmosphere and style and even implements a great soundtrack to make it stand out.

Death Note had its issues, no doubt. In fact, it had more issues than its massive style could help mend. It still had some thrills and it still had some events that does work in the movies favor in terms of the sequences. However, as I sit here, I’m still thinking about the cast itself. The best part of the casting was having Willem Dafoe voice Ryuk because he does such a stand-out bad guy. To be fair, I think its more a script problem than anything when talking about Nat Wolff as Light or LaKeith Stanfield as L because they had some wonky dialogue bits but their characters still were portrayed well enough in the context of this story. While I think that finding Asian-Americans in this day and age to do this adaptation would have been easily accomplished, I’m choosing to not discuss that and evaluate this in the context of being an American film as it is set in the US to make these characters relevant to the story.

Is Death Note good or bad? Its kind of half and half. On one hand, there’s a lot of things that I didn’t quite accept because of the execution and the fact that its not the fault of the movie but the fact that Death Note is more complex than a movie can embody. However, Wingard does the best he can and delivers a decent film with a great soundtrack and a load of style.

That’s it for this double feature!
A bit of a meh pairing… some pros but some cons

Have you seen The Cave and/or Death Note?

TV Binge: Who’s The Murderer 明星大侦探4 (Season 4, 2018)

Who’s The Murderer (Season 4, 2018)
明星大侦探4

Cast: He Jiong, Benny Sa, Angel Wang, Bai Jing Ting, Emma Wu, Liu Haoran, Zhang Ruo Yun, Wei Da Xun, Justin, Seven Tan

No. of Episodes: 13

**With that said, instead of the poster, I added in the full playlist of the series. Its backwards to scroll to the second last video to see episode 1 and turn on the CC for English subtitles.**

Let’s start off right away that I have never seen Who’s The Murderer Season 1 to 3. Its only been since last year in July that I started getting into the TV series/dramas & variety shows from China. With that said, after watching The Chamber of Secrets Escape (Review), Who’s a Murderer was even more up my alley. The best part is that it had these twists and turns in their stories and the investigations was cool. Plus, the set and stories they always did added intrigue but also a lot of logic and problem solving and analytical sort of thinking. It relied especially in the final episode on (what I believe) an unscripted way to twist and turn throughout the situation for the murderer to not be discovered with whatever tactics they can use. Who’s the Murderer is a lot like an elaborate version of this party game called Wink Murder or Killer (whatever you call it, I’m not too sure…) but instead of a circle, it adds in these Clue elements and sometimes, escape room elements.

One great element of this is its setting. They build these fantastic sets as a backdrop for each of their things. Sure, its mostly just rooms mildly divided in some cases to show the different characters and their rooms. The structure of the game is also quite good. The first part is establishing and discovering the “body”, then introduction of the characters and their timeline, the first collective search, the first collective analysis, the detective’s solo (secret) vote on who’s the murderer, the second round of collective search, 1 on 1 with detective, final collective analysis and final vote for everyone and then the reveal whether they successfully voted the murderer to go to “jail”. Its usually the search and the analysis that makes for a lot of fun moments. The other part of this which is great especially being a variety show (and something China does particularly well) is the focus on society and how each of these stories focus on some element of society and people whether its relationships, idols, love, families in regards to revenge, trust, loyalty, etc and how a lot of these cases sprouted from an extreme negative thought or self-preservation or whatnot and they reflect on these cases at the end.

who's the murderer

As for the cast here, there are a few regulars and then every episode has some guests that only pop in to participate. He Jiong is a super popular and talented host for Happy Camp and an array of variety shows in China, prominently on Hunan TV so since that is mostly where I watch variety shows, I’ve grown to really appreciate him and in this, he is really talented especially when he is the “killer” he can almost always avoid being caught. The other is Benny Sa who I’ve never seen in anything before but he is also quite comedic and very analytical but sometimes has this silliness to his theories and guesses. The younger semi-regulars is one of the reason that I started this and that is Bai JingTing who I first saw in a TV drama (which I haven’t written up yet) and through this I’ve known a few other semi-regulars that I honestly really like a lot too.

who's the murderer 4

There is a lot of after editing on these shows and probably a lot is cut out of the whole episode but there is a great post-editing effect for it to make it very mysterious and suspicious. A lot of the mysteries have a lot of twists and the character have their own depth. It also brings up a lot of questions on right and wrong and morals and ethics. For a variety game show style, it definitely has more depth than most. Plus a lot of times, it also gives the audience watching an outlet to analyze the case with what they have found and always reveal at the end whether they found the evidence that solidifies who the “murderer” is. The first two episodes and the final episodes are the most awesome ones. Its nice to see how they incorporate some spinoff on popular movie backdrops as well as different genres such as time travel elements and whatnot. Its a very colorful show to say the least and while there are a few little stumbles and some episodes are slightly more predictable (which is a rare occasion), its one that, I would assume, has gone through  a lot of polish and it shows because its highly entertaining and really fun to get involved to make your own guesses while watching it. I like that element of it the most as it becomes very immersive.

The Two Sisters of Borneo (Ava Lee #6) by Ian Hamilton

If you missed the reviews on the previous novels in this series, you can check out these links:

The Water Rat of Wanchai
The Disciple of Las Vegas
The Wild Beasts of Wuhan
The Red Pole of Macau
The Scottish Banker of Surabaya

The Two Sisters of Borneo
(Ava Lee #6)

By: Ian Hamilton

two sisters of borneo

Ava has been in Hong Kong looking after Uncle. She has also set up an investment company with May Ling Wong and her sister-in-law, Amanda Yee. One of their first investments — a furniture company owned by two sisters in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo — runs into immediate problems with a Dutch customer. Ava goes to the Netherlands to investigate, but her life is threatened when she is confronted by a gang of local thugs in Borneo. Out of the shadows comes a mysterious man from Shanghai – IMDB

One of my favorite series ever and one of the most random discoveries that was a pleasant surprise is diving into the Ava Lee series. I picked up the first book of the series, The Water Rat of Wanchai because of its Hong Kong location title. Six books in now and almost 4 years since I read the 5th book, I have a lot of catching up to do but the most important thing is that, the world is still so amazing to jump into. The best thing about this book series is the whole commitment of being fairly self-contained. The investigation in question may have characters from previous books but they always have sufficient information to make sure they are outlined enough even without knowing about the previous books.

Over the course of the books (and I urge you to start this series from the beginning), Ava Lee has developed a lot and still has a lot of room for it. Its really nice especially in The Two Sisters of Borneo because it hits close to home both with her personal issues but also with the investigation she dives into showing us that Ava Lee is very much a tough woman but also vulnerable in her own way as well making her very human and keeps adding new elements and twists to her forensic accounting skills. While I love the self-contained aspects of these books, the other characters have also grown and as we get to know Ava’s family and friends more, they become these staple characters and have built at this point to something that can be described as the first phase over with in the Ava Lee series at the end of this one. To me, that is a pretty smart move because it will give it a whole new dynamic but I won’t say how to avoid any spoilers.

I am getting ahead of myself to lets reel it back in. The Two Sisters of Borneo brings us to yet another exotic Asian location paired with a European location as well. Ava meets some interesting people to say the least. It is no doubt there is always a great plan at play. The best part of these mysteries is that while we can see the game at play, there is always a fairly surprising twist. In this case, it was a bit more obvious (for me) however, the whole process was still a page-turner. Its always the big reveal that has an eye-opening experience and how Ava chooses to approach the mastermind to retrieve the compensation or return of wealth that makes it even more intriguing. There’s a whole array of different people that seem like they will get another chance to come back as Ava Lee steps further into what I’d say is a phase two to the series. While a lot of foundation as already been done, there is a real sense of a second build in foundation here to get ready for more great mysteries to come.

BITS 2018: Fugue (2018)

Fugue (2018)

Fugue

Director (and writer): Tomas Street

Cast: Jack Foley, Laura Tremblay, Mike Donis, Kristen Da Silva, Michael Lipka, Evan Siemann

Amnesiac Malcolm struggles to put the pieces of his life back together and begins questioning those closest to him in this puzzle of memory and identity. – IMDB

Fugue might be one of the hardest ones to write about because of how easy it is to jump into spoiler territory. It also kight be the hardest to search up because to my surprise, there are a lot of movies released as Fugue this year. Not sure how the other ones are but this Fugue is one of the highlights of BITS 2018. There is a great level of craftmanship and execution and pacing that plays so well together along with a small enough cast for us to care and feel involved with. There are so many questions right from the start. At the same time, the timeline is a little scrambled but never confusing to follow and is all in the attentiveness of the details. It is those clues here and the questions there that build up this mystery and have all kinds of thrills.

Malcolm (Jack Foley) is an intriguing character and it has to do with a contrast that is presented to us in the first and second acts which is where the questions come up. Then the character remains a mystery because of all the questions surrounding him. Jack Foley was a supporting character in Lifechanger (review) at Fantasia Festival and delivered a great role but there is no denying that he has a lot more to offer especially after seeing Fugue. Malcolm is a role with a very big contrast in just the first two acts and he is able to handle it convincingly. The cast here is small but they all grasp their role really well. Its hard to dive into each character without spoiling the movie.

Fugue benefits from a lot other than its characters and its puzzling mystery plot. It uses an isolated one location setting. Its smart because it gives it a much more narrow scope. It never needs to share unnecessary information of its characters, keeping them simple but never feeling like they lack depth either. Its a true challenge that not a lot of films are able to achieve and this one does a great job at executing it. I highly recommend this one.

Halloween 2018: The Visit (2015)

It sure feels like I’m working backwards one year after next as I work through the films. Trust me, it isn’t deliberate. Next up is 2015’s The Visit, somewhat considered a comeback directorial film from M. Night Shyamalan. I have only seen The Sixth Sense from him so I have no idea about his career.

The Visit (2015)

Director (and writer): M. Night Shyamalan

Cast: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Kathryn Hahn

Two siblings become increasingly frightened by their grandparents’ disturbing behavior while visiting them on vacation. – IMDB

I am probably about the only person who doesn’t know much about The Visit. I honestly chose this one off a whim, remembering it had mixed opinions. With that said, all I knew was that grandkids visit their grandparents and stuff happens like most horror movies would go. Not a whole lot to go on so expectations are non-existent. With that said, The Visit turned out to be quite good. Usually, I figure out twists pretty well but I didn’t finish convincing myself of it before it took the route that it did. Maybe it had to do with the similarity to an elementary school camping creepy tale that made this one feel more effective for me.

I enjoy films that use a documentary format to play up the events because when it is done well, it helps to keep some things under wraps and there are things left to imagination in the mysterious zone. The Visit works relatively well in that department especially since the events are highlighted a lot with noises here and there. The bumps at night are generally overused in horror films but because we never quite know what to expect whenever the kids see what is causing the noise. On top of that, its a question of what is causing the odd behavior in their grandparents. Creepy grandparents somehow have its effectiveness and these ones have the unexpected factor.

Its interesting to see how Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould was both in Better Watch out (review) after this film. They are very good young actors and they definitely excel in their roles here. The same goes for the grandparents here played by Deanna Dunagan and McRobbie. They are sufficiently creepy. There are some bits especially with the grandma that has hints of fairy tale stories and also, she has one scene under the house that is crazy creepy notched up to level eleven. That is just a quick example.

Overall, the story here feels fairly simple. The reason this works to a decent horror extent is in the mystery of how it is filmed and executed. If it was in traditional filming, it might not have been as effective. The creepy moments were in the unknown and a lot of the off frame and creepy ambient sounds used here. The twist was also relatively clever. Thinking back, it wasn’t completely hard to figure out but I was sold on the twist.

Have you seen The Visit?
Are you a fan of M. Night Shyamalan films?

Short Film: Paradox – A Rusty Lake Film (2018)

For those who don’t know, I backed the Cube Escape Paradox project on Kickstarter a few months ago which was paired up with the both a free game (available on mobile and Steam), a sequel after 12 puzzle escape games sort of thing. Rusty Lake has created quite the world. The distinct part of the project was not that there was a game with one free access and the second chapter which is premium, meaning you need to pay for it, but also that it also included a short film set in the universe. Rusty Lake’s world is so fantastic that I had no doubt that it would work as a short film as well. Of course, making a game and making a movie are very different things (even if some games are very narrative and would translate really well or looks like an interactive movie aka Until Dawn).

I don’t think that you really need to know the game to appreciate the short film so here it is:

However, if you want to check it out. All the Cube Escape games are free on mobile so its very accessible and they are really good. I’m still working on the last few for Game Warp.

Anyways, I always like to see the projects I backed with final products to distribute. So I decided to do a quick review of this short film.

Review

Director: Sean van Leijenhorst

Cast: David Bowles, Elena Kejvalova, Bob Rafferty (voice)

A detective must solve increasingly challenging puzzles as part of a bizarre game orchestrated by an old foe in order to escape the room he’s in. – IMDB

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Cube Escape, its essentially a somewhat twisted puzzle/room escape sort of deal. The premise of the game itself and the story that it tells about the detective throughout its different game might never be the heavy focus but its present enough for it to matter. Because of that, it does feel like the vagueness makes this like an official start to the story and creates a solid foundation. At the same time, the game elements of moving by flipping through screens in somewhat of a point and click style translates well enough to make it feel like its keeping to the theme of the game adaptation. It replicates by the camera through the eyes of the character looking from one room to the next. Its a nice touch to add that in. The source story itself has its own mystery which is always a good element to add into this one. As a film, there is a tighter knit of things so it works that the detective figures out the puzzles at a good pace but at the same time, it also highlights the main elements of the mystery.

There’s a lot to think about for Paradox. The main thing is whether the non-playing audience has a good entry point here or will it feel like you are dropping into someone else’s story and get confused. In my opinion, I think it does a fine job in that respect. The story in the game was vague but present. It answered some questions but there was never a big picture (take note that I am 3 games behind from this one). However, the main characters are here, the atmosphere and style are comparable and the short film style works well enough to be a stepping stone into this Rusty Lake world and man, is this world intriguing and mysterious? They did a good job here. I would be down to see them do more of them and see where its headed for the story. Its a great idea to pair it with the game.

Murder on the Mind (Jeff Resnick Mystery #1) by L.L. Bartlett

Murder on the Mind
(Jess Resnick Mystery #1)
by: L.L. Bartlett

murder on the mind

Jeff Resnick hardly knew his well-heeled half-brother. But after suffering a fractured skull in a vicious mugging, he reluctantly accepts the fact that he has a long and brutal recovery to face—and his closest of kin can provide him with the time and place to do it.

Now, Jeff is haunted by unexplained visions of a heinous crime—a banker, stalked, killed, and eviscerated like a ten-point buck. When Matt Sumner’s murder is discovered, a still-recovering Jeff realizes this was what he had seen. Jeff must not only convince himself of his new-found psychic ability, but also his skeptical brother Richard Alpert. Since Sumner was Richard’s banker, both brothers have a stake in finding out what happened. With Richard’s reluctant help, Jeff’s investigation leads him to Sumner’s belligerent family and hard-nosed business associates, none of whom want him snooping around. – Goodreads

I’m pretty sure that I picked up Murder on the Mind, the first book in what is a seven book mystery series, for free on Amazon. It might be in the free books or something or another a few years back. As I clear out the backlog, I finally got around to it. Mystery and suspense novels are my thing. I truly do enjoy ones that get me at the edge of my seat and keep me guessing and wondering the whole time through. Its quite the mixed bag when it comes to Murder on the Mind. On one hand, there is a nice twist to learning about this Jeff Resnick and how he believes he’s gotten these special powers that help him have this sense of when there’s something suspicious about a location or a person or whatnot. Its nice to let the readers learn as he learns so it really starts from zero.

At the same time, Jeff Resnick is somewhat of an odd and extreme character. Perhaps a tad reckless but then he also earns a bit of sympathy for all the unlucky things that has lead him to this point in time. At least in the beginning. We soon realize as we head to the end that the slower paced mystery here works not so much as a page turner for the mystery but rather it was a look at his life and it doubles as a way that this has tied up some loose ends in his life that has been dangling for too long, like mending the relationship with his brother or being okay with asking for help. Its gives someone the chance to reevaluate the change that he could take with the mugging that got him this point in time to have some other opportunity open up using the skills he had in his previous job as an insurance investigator. The past insurance investigator angle is good and the learning about these new paranormal/instinctive abilities are also an intriguing twist.

My main issue with Murder on the Mind is that this like most first book in series feels a lot like a book to set up. There’s a lot of filler things and its fairly slow. There is some investigation and if it did follow the path of keeping a lot more mystery apparent in its pacing, it would have been more effective. Except the set up here gives you (like what I mentioned before), development of Jeff Resnick. his weaknesses and his unpredictable and abstract feelings when something is wrong. We see that he can be calm and collected and has great deductive skills. The one thing Jeff Resnick has for himself is that he feels real because he gets pain (quite frequently) but he also is clever and daring so it makes it technically an entertaining read. But for one reason or another, it took a while to get really absorbed into the book. Maybe its just some parts felt unnecessary and the pacing was what made it not so engaging.

Don’t get me wrong. Murder on the Mind is not a bad book, in fact its pretty average and has some cool ideas and some entertaining suspenseful moments. Even the mystery itself seems rather twisty and the end game is nice to see it unveiled. Its the process of getting there that causes most of the lackluster moments but at least the stage is set now and it looks like this could be a fun one to keep checking out. I’m not sure if I will personally, maybe eventually but not right away.

Fantasia Festival 2018: Searching (2018)

Searching (2018)

Searching

Director (co-writer): Aneesh Chaganty

Cast: John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee, Michelle La, Sara Sohn

After his 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a desperate father breaks into her laptop to look for clues to find her. – IMDB

Whatever your digital footprint is, almost all of us has one. That is central focus on this new subgenre of online found footage films produced (and at times directed) by Timur Bebmambetov now called “screen life”. No one knew this was the grand vision when Unfriended (Reviewhit theatres with mixed reviews but there is no doubt this is a project of Bebmambetov as this year’s Fantasia Festival saw the next three films telling different stories using screen life as its basis: Unfriended: Dark Web, Profile and Searching.

Searching

Searching is a family drama mixed into a thriller. The film starts with the endearing (and of course dated) screen of Windows XP as a new user profile is added for his wife. Through this we see the Kim family grow through the years with key moments of the couple and their hardships and milestones. The main two being the daughter Margot’s (Michelle La) first days of school and mom Pam’s (Sara Sohn) diagnosis and fight with cancer. Eventually, its gets the present with messaging and facetime as dad David (John Cho) messages Margot about her not doing chores. Things take a plunge for the worse when Margot never comes home from her study group but called him three times in the dead of night. Realizing something has gone wrong, he files a missing persons report and Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) is assigned to his case but his assignment is to try to figure out his daughter’s friends and other contacts to pinpoint where she was last seen. With that, he takes the dive into her laptop and learns that her daughter’s has been hiding a few things from him.

Screen life here is used incredibly well here. The idea of our digital footprint being the source to tracking down anyone and getting hints of their life is an idea that feels real. Searching uses it incredibly well. Right from the blocks of protected emails and trying to set up recovery passwords to the first time discovery of what extends for the clueless parent  navigating outside of Facebook and Instagram, like Tumblr and more. Using these real life applications is the key to making it even more realistic, instead of the fictional ones that we usually see in movies. David is a parent who is stuck in his worst nightmare. After the loss of his wife, he realizes that he has no idea what Margot has been up to. The truths he ends up learning leads him to some clues and some dead ends. It is the way that Searching sets it up that makes it both logical and engaging. It takes no time to be invested in recovering this missing teenage girl and wondering whether she had ran away or something worse had happened.

 

Searching

John Cho takes on this dad role impressively. Searching gives him moments of comedy as his cluelessness for the modern social media makes him do silly things relatable for most of the younger generation to probably what parents would respond. At the same time, while Margot’s story highlights the lack of communication in their relationship and makes us think how much fault each of them have in this matter. Michelle La also takes on the role of Margot in a convincing way especially as she is a good kid going through a hard time.  Debra Messing plays the decorated detective, Rosemary Vick who is assigned to this case and seems set on the fact that Margot has run away but also very human from the standpoint of a mother.

Searching might seem like a straightforward idea but the application of screen life is one of the most outstanding used to date. Different from Unfriended, it takes us for a personal journey through the life of the Kim family and a father and daughter relationship while putting us into the worst nightmare of any parent. What is worse in the end: his lack of knowledge of his daughter or whether she will come home. Both equally important and yet helpless thoughts making the development of David a journey in itself as he tackles the assumptions from the world as the case grows public with each discovery. Being a thriller, it takes an incredible approach to put you at the edge of your seat (and I literally was) and adds in the perfect moments to give some clues one step at a time. Searching is full of twists and turns and drops them in a well-paced manner. Its one that comes highly recommended and the wait for this film isn’t long for wide release. It lands in theatres on August 3rd.

Fantasia Festival 2018: Cam (World Premiere 2018)

Cam (2018)

Cam

Director (and co-writer): Daniel Goldhaber

Cast: Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Michael Dempsey, Melora Walters, Devin Druid, Imani Hakim, Flora Diaz, Jessica Parker Kennedy

“I don’t do public shows, I don’t tell my guys I love them and I don’t fake my orgasms.” These are boundaries that Alice (Madeline Brewer) strictly maintains in the daily hours that she becomes her webcamming alter ego Lola. She keeps her performance work tightly sandboxed from her personal life, as it must be. One day, Alice finds herself unable to log into her account. Someone is already on, using her profile. She hits the site as a guest and discovers that somehow, against all reason, she’s been replaced on her page with an exact duplicate of herself, inexplicably camming from her very home. A duplicate that knows personal things only she could know. And is extremely less guarded about any issues of privacy. – Fantasia Festival

Quick-paced and thrilling, Cam takes its audience for a whirl in Lola’s life, a cam girl who has three rules that keeps her job separate from her personal life but is hoping to climb the ranks to be the top girl. This ambition pushes her to straddle those boundaries and the next day, she realizes that someone has stolen her identity. This person looks exactly like her and mysteriously is filming on her set and the add-on bonus is that there are no boundaries. Who is this person and how is this happening? We might not get all the answers at the end of the day but the point doesn’t seem to be about the resolution but more on the cautionary tale about the dangers of sex work and on a even bigger scale, the dangers of our online presence and personality. It asks the questions of how much boundaries is enough and on a deeper level, what do we do when we lose ourselves?

Cam is stylistic in its shots. In a lot of the cam sessions, the screen is flooded in neon colors like pink, red, purple, blue, blended in a ombre shadowy background. It all works to keep the cam girl environment seem light and fluffy and that is until we get glimpses of what Lola’s shows are all about, the extremities of being pushed to her limits and she stages suicides like slitting her throat which makes it seem real and intense. As we watch the sessions, along with private chats, it becomes apparent that this world

Not everyone is a cam girl but almost everyone has some sort of online footprint in this current day and age and this is where the true horror is. The main reason why it works so well other than its visual stylings is that the main girl, Lola, her real name Alice, played by Madeline Brewer steals the show literally. She plays both the real Alice and the doppelganger online persona Lola and the fact that we can see how genuine Alice is, she becomes a person that the audience can intensely watch as she falls down the rabbit hole and loses control of herself as her personal and professional life blend together and spirals out of control also. In many ways, the desperation and the despair along with frustration and fear is portrayed so well in this one character as Alice is a real person and not just some object online. And in some ways, its her struggle to find and reclaim herself and its one crazy intense journey to say the least.

Cam is has some fantastic moments and as the story and mystery builds, just like Alice’s life, it goes out of control. Its well-paced and a perfectly sufficient thriller that emphasizes on some truly horrific ideas of the boundaries to keep online. It might feel like the story takes a fairly abrupt ending to everything but the lingering feeling of danger is so poignant that it can keep you thinking about it even after the film as ended.

This review is also contributed to That Moment In.

Shorts Triple Feature: The Substitute/I Want You Inside Me/The Stylist

We hopped back into Shudder and since there was quite a few movies still backlogged for review, I decided to check out some of the short films instead.

The Subsitute (2015)

the substitute

Director: Nathan Hughes-Berry

Cast: Madeleine Sims-Fewer, David Bamber, Ben Kerfoot, Haruka Abe, Alfie Stewart, Anna Hogarth

A young teacher takes a job at an unusual private school where the boys have a sinister power over the girls. – IMDB

The Substitute is a sinister and psychological short. It takes a dark and suspenseful tone of this private school with peculiar rules that most teachers are able to adapt to hence why they have hired a substitute. Not only are the classes structured weird but also the behavior of everyone is also. Particularly when there is a mysterious locked door at the end of the room that no one talks about but when there is bad behavior, it is where the student exit the class. The movie gives the viewers lots of questions and hits them with a few answers. Being a short film, it does a great job of keeping the mystery of the locked door. Its impossible to not think throughout the film of what is actually going on here and especially is what behind the locked door.

Its been a long time since I’ve felt this amount of suspense and thrills that has honestly been on my mind for a few days lingering on the movie stirring up some deep emotions about the connotations of this short and honestly, hoping that this was a full length film because it would give more answers. Of course, that is only a hope and looking at IMDB, it doesn’t seem like its in the works but I still highly recommend this short film.

I Want You Inside Me (2016)

i want you inside me

Director: Alice Shindelar

Cast: Abigail Wahl, Kiley Juckel, Nate Bucsko, Ezekiel Ashamu, Malik Johnson

A tale of all-consuming desire. – IMDB

A young girl losing her virginity is already quite the scary thing but think about not even remembering what happened and also finding that the boyfriend as disappeared as well when she wakes up, that is nothing short of confusing and heartbreaking. I Want You Inside Me is a intriguing one. While the tone of the film lies in the mystery of what happen and the reveal feels odd, it also does have this weird vibe throughout the film that works and doesn’t at the same time. Perhaps its because a short film doesn’t give the viewer enough time to bond with the main character here and she doesn’t exactly hang around with a crowd that makes it easier to like her more. Whatever it is, they do drop one hint of sorts in the film and if the viewer catches that, the ending might seem a little more apparent. It is a little out there but not something completely unique and unexpected. Actually, it is slightly goofy and disturbing all at the same time.

The Stylist (2016)

the stylist

Director (and writer): Jill Gevargizian

Cast: Najarra Townsend, Jennifer Plas, Angela Dupuie

Claire is a lonely hairstylist with an unnerving desire to escape her disappointing reality. When her final client of the evening arrives with the request to look perfect, Claire has plans of her own. – IMDB

I’m not up to date with a lot of short films. However, The Stylist has been on my radar since it had hit the festival circuit. I remember some other blogger writing about it and seemed incredibly intriguing. The Stylist is a solo journey for this young woman who stays late at her job to take care of her last customer at the salon. As the movie proceeds, we learn more through her actions and emotions about who she is. There might not be a ton of dialogue but her expressions will get you a trip into her world. Somehow it strikes a chord easily on the idea of wanting to be someone else. However, the short did remind me of a few films as it was going on that it lacked the originality it needed to really make it very suspenseful. It definitely still had the psychological aspect because The Stylist herself, played by Najarra Townsend does  a great job in interpreting the main character Claire and showing all the right emotions .

The Stylist had all the right tones and an outstanding performance with a mysterious character however, the layout of the story lacked a bit of intrigue. It is still done very well and for just looking at the snippet of Claire’s world is as deep as 15 minutes can get you.

This wrap up the triple feature for these short films!
A very suspenseful and psychological thriller collection of three shorts! 🙂