Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Martyrs Lane (2021)

Martyrs Lane (2021)

Director (and writer): Ruth Platt

Cast: Kiera Thompson, Sienna Sayer, Denise Gough, Steven Cree, Hannah Rae

Leah, 10, lives in a large vicarage, full of lost souls and the needy. In the day the house is bustling with people; at night it is dark, empty, a space for Leah’s nightmares to creep into. A small, nightly visitor brings Leah comfort, but soon she will realise that her little visitor offers knowledge that might be very, very dangerous. – IMDB

Adapted from her own 2019 short of the same name, Martyr’s Lane is Ruth Platt’s third feature film. This film is a British horror drama which balances the two incredibly well. While on the surface, the motions of a horror film is very apparent, the execution is in both its setting, sound design as well as the multilayered story that gets peeled back like an onion layer after layer to its heartbreaking fairy tale-esque supernatural ghost story.

Martyr’s Lane carried a wonderful script and premise. Nothing screams horror film as effectively as using children as their center, this one takes on two. The first is Leah (Kiera Thompson), the main protagonist living on this vicarage with her parents and her sister who right away realize that her relationship with them as a distance. Whether its the sibling rivalry between her and her older sister or the most loving teaching from her father or the quiet and distanced relationship to her mother, leaving her feeling lonely. Until she takes something from her mother that causes a lot of unexplained distress and she ends up losing it right when a little girl wearing wings (Sienna Sayer) comes to her window claiming that she’s an angel in the making and gives her nightly tasks to find what she has lost. These two little girls are the heart of the film. As young as they are, they are very smooth in their roles carrying the naivety that they should have but also being able to build their characters one visit after the next as these tasks start to reveal a more dangerous motive.

Leah’s nightly tasks takes her on an adventure as she moves around the vicarage grounds and discovers hidden little pieces. Some places being more hidden than the other. As she keeps looking, she starts finding little trinkets which start to piece together who used to be. These little clues are key to the story and each one increasing in danger as the simple game of 2 truths and one lie starts making these two little girls’ friendships grow. Much like her little tasks makes the vicarage grounds and her home a prominent setting to be in. There are horrors in the background unknown to Leah but the audience sees the fleeting figure in the distance that seems to be observing from a distance. While this sounds like most horror tropes, Ruth Platt executes them really well by building up the atmosphere to be increasingly unsettling and pairing it with some great sound design.

Ghost stories at this point are a dime a dozen nowadays. Its such an overused tropey category for the most part but Martyr’s Lane is different. Similar to a lot of other films at this edition of Fantasia, it breathes new life to a familiar horror subgenre by creating a thoughtful balance between horror and drama and adds in a hint of mystery and hidden secrets to put it all together. There are so many little elements worth discussing in Martyr’s Lane and yet, the film’s gradual reveal is one that is well worth discovering so less talk to keep this completely spoiler-free. While I haven’t watched Ruth Platt’s previous two features (but will definitely catch up sooner rather than later), her storytelling abilities and directorial finesse is one to absolutely look out for in the future.

*Martyrs Lane has its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 19th. It also will be landing on Shudder on September 9th.*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: When I Consume You (2021)

When I Consume You (2021)

Director (and writer): Perry Blackshear

Cast: Libby Ewing, Evan Dumouchel, MacLeod Andrews, Margaret Ying Drake, Claire Siebers

A woman and her brother seek revenge against a mysterious stalker. – IMDB

When I Consume You is a 2021 American horror thriller which revolves around siblings trying to make it together in the world until one day Wilson finds Daphne dead in her apartment. While the police claim its drug-related, he knows it isn’t and goes to follow what he knows to discover that her sister might be caught up with something supernatural which has now turned its attention to him. While he has relied on his sister in the past, he needs to find his own courage to face it. There’s a lot to love about When I Consume You. Whether its the plot, the characters and the cinematography plus of course, the horror element.

The plot is well-written and executed well. The focus on the siblings is a good one where they have hard lives and issues which are shown right at the beginning, outlining the two siblings contrast in personality and their bond. As the film layers out the whole situation and the threat that Daphne is protecting Wilson from, the film takes a rather more violent turn. The story also adds in elements of beliefs bringing in a symbol and the heart sutra. Having learned the heart sutra before, this was something rather interesting to see appear in the film. Its a little more than a horror film in that side as Wilson’s character finds an inner strength that he didn’t have anymore. The essence is in character building and bond that the siblings have that are very convincing which makes them all the more worth cheering for in the face of evil. A lot of credit does go to Libby Ewing and Evan Dumouchel who is great in their respective roles as Daphne and Wilson.

The horror element comes from this threat: a lingering figure in the closer with glowing yellow eyes which constantly appears throughout the film and remains unknown as to what it is until the end. To be fair, the effects for this has an unsettling feeling that builds. At the beginning, the effects actually made it a bit funny as it does feel a tad unreal and not too fitting with the tone of the film. However, as this mysterious stalker character starts being built up, it starts having a much more unsettling feeling overall.

The cinematography is definitely a standout here despite this odd shift occasionally to the first person perspective bringing some found footage wobbly camera elements on screen, which was a little less enjoyable as it felt like it pulled away from the film itself. However, on the overall element the cinematography does help create the tension and unsettling elements plus some scenes are crafted incredibly catchy. It packs in both horror and mystery which makes it all the more intriguing. There’s one part where its completely dark except for some neon pink lights on the background and phone screen and the sound effects with just a hand sneaking in to touch the phone screen which was an awesome stylistic scene. There are a lot of these moments which work very well.

Overall, When I Consume You is a wonderful horror drama/thriller with a great supernatural horror element and touching on the occult as well. It was both intriguing on its thriller elements but also managed to bring some unsettling feelings build up the horror elements and blends it well with the more drama elements for the characters itself.

*When I Consume You had its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 18th.*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Don’t Say Its Name (2021)

Don’t Say Its Name (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Rueben Martell

Cast: Madison Walsh, Sera-Lys McArthur, Julian Black-Antelope, Sheena Kaine, Carla Fox, Samuel Marty

When a young passionate activist of an indigenous community is killed unexpectedly, a string of mysterious murders suddenly show up with no murderers in sight but with witnesses who don’t see anyone present. As local peace officer Mary and Park Ranger Stacey join together to investigate, they realize that it is related to the mining company WEC who has been approved to drill on their tribal lands and that something of a supernatural form could be protecting against it.

Don’t Say Its Name is a 2021 Canadian horror thriller. Set in a snowy indigenous First Nations community, the film also features a mainly female cast also mostly with indigenous backgrounds. There are not nearly enough films in any genre with First Nations voices and this one having this one is a pretty impressive one. The story itself is prime folk horror essence as the different opinions towards the change in the use the lands become a big factor to what is happening in the story. The snowscape and the community is a big factor in what makes this stand out. It highlights some of the isolated elements in the snowscape but also its lack of resources to have a more extensive investigation. The values of community is a big part of what is created here and the struggles that the community as a whole has. However, these little details are hidden in its script and dialogues but adds so much to the setting itself.

The cast is also pretty decent here. Mary, played by Madison Walsh as the local peace officer is really great in her role as she moves through each of the scenes trying to figure out what is going on. Her character is nice as she carries multiple hats while trying to do what she can with the investigation but also trying to care for her nephew and the little everyday bickering which accentuates another element. As she seeks for help, she finds Park Ranger Stacey, played by Sera-Lys McArthur who has her own set of issues including recovering from her time in the army but also her mixed race elements that shuns her a little from the community itself. The characters don’t go incredibly deep but they do build them enough to make them ones that are compelling to watch on screen.

In terms of pacing which is rather important in thrillers, the film kickstarts its investigation almost immediately and sets up the mystery right away. There are a lot of unknowns when it first starts leaving room for intrigue. The mysterious killings are also executed rather well as it uses its surroundings well enough. The special effects are also good. The film itself is a thrilling experience in the second half as the general suspicions are being investigated with the supernatural element becoming more prominent. It all comes barreling to a tense ending as everything unveils itself. While there does seem to be some elements that feel a little underexplained by the end, it does wrap up the whole situation fairly well.

Overall, Don’t Say Its Name is a rather unique horror film. Its snowy setting in a First Nations community is definitely the standout element but the whole thriller and mystery elements are also well-executed. This one is a pretty decent treat as it blends elements of folk horror with supernatural.

As a final thought, maybe I might be overthinking this a little, the plot premise also leaves room to contemplate a little more on what started the whole situation of whether protecting the land is more important than grabbing opportunities for its people (among some other points about community and this society that this film made me think about.)

*Don’t Say Its Name had its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 18th. There is an encore virtual screening on August 20th at 9am. More info HERE.*

TV Binge: Detention (返校, 2020)

Detention (返校, 2020)

Director: I-Hsuan Su, Shiang-an Chuang, Yi Liu

Cast: Lingwei Li, Ning Han, Guanzhi Huang, Jack Yao, Teng-hung Hsia, David hao, Guanxu Luo, Kunda Wu, Serena Fang, Carol Cheng, Han Chang, Jui-hsueh Tsai, Chih-chien Lin

A tormented student uncovers unsettling secrets at her remote high school as betrayal and a paranormal encounter upend her life. – IMDB

Based on the 2017 point and click horror game of the same name developed by Taiwanese game developers as their debut game, Detention has gone on to a horror movie adaptation in 2019 (review) and followed last year with the release of their Netflix series based on the game but having a different story arc moving into the 90s and using the backdrop of the original source material to create a psychological horror drama.

Running at 8 episodes, Detention is an interesting blend as it starts off in the psychological horror territory and gradually retracts into a more drama-focused direction as the characters come into place while bringing in a sort of time loop element in its finale. Perhaps the best area that this could be considered is more of a gothic drama as nothing is going to really scare you a lot save for a few moments perhaps the opening episode having the most horror-esque scene. It does have a lot of themes revolving more touchy subjects with suicide and mental illness being a big one.

This adaptation, while taking its own liberation in the 90s, still manages to weave in the key plot points of the source material. That being said, the two girls whether its the ghost girl from the 70s, Rui Xin who wants some kind of revenge and is using her pendant to occupy a girl with her own unknown agenda and luring them in by fulfilling their wishes and then pushing them a certain extent versus this latest new to town girl, Yun Xiang with her mental illness and broken family actually draws a strong parallel between the two characters that gradually form the two characters and their dependency and connection as well. The two are probably the more intriguing characters as both the past and the present runs its own course. The focus on the present makes it interesting to see a lot of taboo situations happen whether with messing with spirits or the student-teacher relationship or even the warped values of Greenwood high School.

Other than the two female leads, there are some pretty good characters here and some situations that truly do make for some ethics and morals to come into play. The more villainous type of characters definitely do an impressive job. In reality, the story even has this weird focus of making these men into pretty much horrible people overall from the selfish principal to the controlling Inspector Bai down to the new teacher, Shen Hua. Even the neglectful father of Yun Xiang is pretty much a very unlikeable sort of character. They all do such a great job at making you mostly despise their actions overall. Putting the villains aside, there is one character of note and that is Yun Xiang’s schoolmate Wen Liang who may be pegged as a bad student in school but in reality is one of the more down to earth and genuine character in the whole scenario and truly looking out for Yun Xiang while also being a link to the spirit world and a character linked to the past scenario.

Playing with themes of revenge, school troubles, mental illness, student/teacher relationship, its brings in a lot of different elements that come into play through the 8 episodes. While the pacing isn’t exactly speedy, it still feels well-paced enough to keep things moving constantly and revealing the story gradually. The last 3 episodes add in a really good element that gives the series a nice twist that manages to pull the past and present situation together that definitely adds to the whole end game. Overall, an impressive little Taiwanese series that involves the supernatural but also shows the bad side of some people.

TV Binge: The Uncanny Counter (Season 1, 2020)

The Uncanny Counter (Season 1, 2020)

Cast: Byeong-kyu cho, Jun-Sang Yu, Se-Jeong Kim, Hye-ran Yeom, Seok-hwan Ahn, Hong Nae Lee, Sook Moon, Kwang-il Choi

Noodle shop employees by day and demon hunters by night, the Counters use special abilities to chase down malevolent spirits that prey on humans. – IMDB

Watch on: Netflix

Its been a while since I’ve seen any Korean series. The last series I watched was probably some romantic drama in early 2000s, whenever the Korean series phase hit with Autumn Sonata and then I watched the Korean remake of Meteor Garden which in my opinion is the worst remake of all of them made so far so that was equally not very appealing so consider me a little hesitant about Korean series. The Uncanny Counter gets a whole new perspective though because its not a romantic drama and its an action comedy about a ragtag team of demon hunters called Counters who with their special abilities hunt down evil spirits embedded in humans to send them and the souls their trapped to Yung, which I assume is something like a gateway to afterlife whether to Heaven or Hell. As the team starts hunting down, they end up reaching one case to the next that links to their own past and want to investigate and chase down the truth behind what happened as the danger level increases as they encounter the rarely seen highest level of evil spirits.

The Uncanny Counter does a great job because of its balance between the tones. Even in its most dangerous scenes, it manages to give time for the characters to still have their personality show which adds in some humor and vice versa. The story itself has a lot of funny little moments especially with the new addition of So Mun (Byeong-kyu Cho), an eighteen year old high school student which gets pulled into this unexpectedly. The progression and pacing of the story over the 16 episode season is pretty decent as well. The story starts off with the basics and slowly draws connections to Ga Mo-Tak (Jun-sang Yu), who has amnesia from his accident to So Mun’s past. The investigation spirals into something more complex pulling in supernatural elements along with politics and crime. It gets rather intriguing as the Counters characters have more depth throughout and their characters start to connect whether its Ms. Chu’s motherly care for everyone and her touching backstory or Ha-na’s slowly warming up to So Mun as her abilities prevents her from wanting others to be in contact with her physically. These four deliver some great moments together and their chemistry and balance is their characters’ personality develops rather well also. The team actually has one more member who is the monetary sponsor for their operation who is also a Counter but mostly not on the field who is a rich man with a big corporation called Jang-mul (Seok-hwan Ahn) who is a whacky character and brings a ton of laughs whenever he appears.

Talking about the characters, the show has a good deal of them. Whether its the criminal and bad guys involved especially in the second half when its focused on investigating the past of Mo-Tak or the other people involved from So Mun’s grandparents and his best friends, they all have their own place. Especially in terms of So Mun’s best friends, Woong-min (Eun-soo Kim) and Joo-yeon Im (Ji-won Lee) who are truly supporting characters but makes everyone wish that they had friends like those. Plus, they have some hilarious dramatic moments. At the same time, the bad guys are pretty great especially in the depth of how it goes behind the dirty doings and how the evil spirit hides in one of them and that story arc really gets taken for a crazy ride. I do have to say that while the evil spirit being pulled out of the body is meant to be scary, a lot of times, its rather goofy except for a few times especially when with the higher level evil spirit that gets revealed and the body it has taken over. Some of it is a little over the top but still, there are some unpredictable paths that it takes.

Overall, The Uncanny Counter is a great South Korean series. Its a lot of fun and a ton of good action sequences. The characters are done really well and the whole story is rather unique. The series is based on a webtoon called Amazing Rumor by Jang Yi and according to MyDramaList is set for Season 2 expected to release in 2022 which should be awesome and definitely looking forward to that if that is true. The show was a blast even if it only released 2 episodes per week on Netflix. Its done now so if you haven’t seen it now, you can binge through it as quickly or slowly as you want.

Blog Tour: Up The Creek by Alissa Grosso (Review/Giveaway)

Up The Creek (Culver Creek #1)
By: Alissa Grosso

Expected Publication Date: January 12, 2021
Genre: Supernatural Thriller

SYNOPSIS

An unsolved murder. Disturbing dreams. A missing child.

Caitlin Walker hasn’t had a dream in nine years. But now nightmares torture her son Adam and awaken in Caitlin buried memories and a dark secret. Her husband Lance has a secret of his own, one that his son’s nightmares threaten to reveal.

In Culver Creek newly hired detective Sage Dorian works to unravel the small town’s notorious cold case, the grisly murder of a young girl.

How are Caitlin and Lance connected to the horrific crime? And how far will they go to make sure their secrets stay hidden? Find out in this riveting thriller.

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REVIEW

Being the first book for an upcoming series, Up the Creek sets a good foundation. Up The Creek is well-paced and executes the story back and forth between its characters. In this case, it involves 3 main characters: Caitlin Walker, her husband Lance Walker and the new detective in Culver Creek Sage Dorian, who has been hired to take a look at the cold case. As a thriller, it also is executed quite well to slowly give the reveal of what is the secret with Caitlin and Lance that links them to the disappearance of their child and the cold case. It also sets up the story so that the finale delivers a question that makes you think whether all this could have been avoided if one person’s decision had been different and whether some secrets are best exposed.

One of the best elements of Up The Creek is the character design/development. The three characters each have their own connection to the past that brings up some flashbacks and through various conversations with the new situation that comes up reveals their secrets little by little. With that said, the characters are fairly complexed and suitably so for a thriller. Caitlin’s secret is probably the easiest to piece together: the reason that she takes medication for her dreams and the quick reveal of her tendency for nightmares pieces together easily to see her deal. However, this ends up connecting to her young son Adam that eventually goes missing and no one truly knows who took him and what happened. Lance Walker is probably the character with the most secrets from what seems like every day habits to slowly see that he has a much stronger connection to the case. His character is actually rather fascinating as he unveils and everything comes into place. That leaves Sage Dorian which probably starts to feel like the balance for his part is a little smaller however he is a key part as he pulls the cold case with the new missing child case together. At a certain point at the end, it is fairly clear how it all pieces together however, there isn’t an issue for this character to draw the conclusions clearly. As a side note, while this isn’t mentioned but there seems to be one connection that probably will come into play at the end in future books as it may connect to Sage Dorian that wasn’t addressed.

As a first book of a series, Up The Creek leaves a lot to look forward to for future books set in Culver Creek. Already by the end, there still is the issue of Sage Dorian’s own family mystery that hasn’t been addressed yet and only mentioned that gives his character some foundation. Writing good thrillers are very difficult and something that I mention quite a bit. Up The Creek does a great job to make it both gripping and thrilling to watch from beginning to end with decent pacing and execution. Up The Creek is a great thriller and well worth a read.

Score: 4.5/5

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alissa Grosso is the author of several books for adults and teens. Originally from New Jersey, she now resides in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. You can find out more about her and her books at AlissaGrosso.com.

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Blog Tour: The Haunting of Gallagher Hotel by K.T. Rose (Review)

We are thrilled to share this amazing new novel by K.T. Rose! The Haunting of Gallagher Hotel just proves that ghost stories are perfect any time of the year!

Read on for an exclusive peek and an amazing giveaway to enter!

The Haunting of Gallagher Hotel
By: K.T. Rose

Publication Date: November 5th, 2020
Genre: Supernatural Horror/Paranormal

SYNOPSIS

Pride and greed infect the soul, anchoring the dead to Gallagher Hotel.

When Chris, a master thief, and Riley, a contract waitress, get mysterious invites to an exclusive party at the haunted Gallagher Hotel, they discover that there is more at play than simple celebrations.

Hidden truths are revealed, and all hell breaks loose. But the “party” has just begun.

Now, Chris and Riley face their demons as they fight to survive a hellish nightmare full of spoiled secrets, carnage, and vengeful spirits lost to the hotel dating back to the turn of the 20th century.

Will they survive the night? Or will their souls be devoured by the most haunted building in Michigan?

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EXCERPT

Chapter One

She’ll never forget the day she died.

Torches lit up the town square, illuminating scowling and shouting faces. The townspeople launched stones and spit, pegging Trudy’s arms and face as she trudged through the abhorrent mob. She cringed when a pebble struck her cheek. Pain erupted, shooting through her face like lightning striking the earth.

Deputy Hill yanked her arm, leading her through the narrow path the townspeople created. Fists balled, Trudy groaned as the rope around her wrists dug into her skin. Her bare feet picked up glass shards and debris from the cobblestone path as she shuffled along.

She glared around at the angry faces and recognized the men, women, and children of Holloway. She’d done more for them than any God before her. Many of those people owned the very businesses that lined the stone slab she marched across that night. Building and financing the rows of wooden businesses lining the town’s square accounted for half the things she’d done for Holloway. She fed the hungry, made clothes for cold children, and taught woman’s independence. The ever-growing list of the townspeople’s wants was endless. At one point, she didn’t mind the busy work. Fulfilling dreams of the once poor town kept her boisterous and distracted from her bitter reality. Trudy was Holloway’s personal shepherd, making the people her needy sheep.

Hands snagged at her lavender tea gown, adding dirty prints to the blood drops and grime from the beatings in that putrid cell. She glared at the bare-faced man towering over her. The brim of his deputy hat cast a thick shadow, hiding his dark eyes and pale face.

Deputy would miss her. She was sure of it. He got off on the assaults that bruised her face. His heavy fists pounded her bones and scraped her skin until she confessed. And even after her confession, he continued with his evening visits, slamming her body into cinder block walls and passing off open-handed blows to her nose, cheeks, and eyes.

Trudy sighed. A bath with lavender and Epsom salt sounded good for the swelling. She didn’t realize how bloated and purple her once beautiful, fairly smooth skin had become until she passed by the picture window in front of the town’s jail just before they began her walk of shame. Her dark hair matted to her forehead, washed by sweat and blood. Her plump lips were chapped and bloated with bruises.

Even then, her face pulsed with intense hurt. Pain shot through it whenever she winced.

The sea of convictions roared, growing louder as she drew closer to the opposite end of the square.

“Adulterer,” yelled a woman.

“Traitor,” screeched a boy.

“Murderer,” said a pot-bellied man.

Their accusations sent a sickening jolt through her bones. She watched the path underneath her slowing feet, fighting back the tears.

How could they turn on me like this?

REVIEW

The Haunting of Gallagher Hotel is a decent horror story packing in both elements of haunted house (well, in this case, its a hotel) and the ugly side of humans which is what gathers this “elite” group of invites for an overnight stay at Gallagher Hotel, a place not only known for being haunted but with a lot of history. The story itself follows some key characters, jumping between Riley, a woman specially requested to work there who has suffered quite a bit of loss; Chris, a young man who is part of a thief ring however wants to use this as his final job before leaving town and Trudy, the woman who haunts this hotel.

The story itself does pack a lot. There are a handful of characters which all have their own character build and past which determines why they were invited to the hotel. As each of their motives get revealed and perhaps their ugly side, its where the story is at its strongest especially since it reflects on how they essentially get ended. Those scenes are well-executed and in vivid description. However, the main characters do have these disjointed storylines jumping back and forth. It spends a lot of time with each of these characters separated from each other for most of the story however, its almost like a mystery as the group goes through their own visions that pop up to haunt them from their past. At the same time, Trudy’s storyline fills in the blanks with the history of what lead to her death and how she came to be haunting the hotel and how this world of evil works. The balance between executing the lore and the haunted house was where the pacing started to go off in the middle section.

With that said, the story itself blends bits and pieces from stories told mostly in movies and TV. The element of being invited in, a key book to the story, the hotel resembling that of The Shining, some haunted house elements that give off the vibe of that from the recent Haunting of Hill House. Its not a bad thing to pull certain elements and add their own twist. In fact, it has a certain level of creativity as all these elements and atmosphere do blend well together. Its more an observation than a criticism.

Overall, The Haunting of Gallagher Hotel is decent. Horror novels don’t normally scare me and this one wasn’t a pure horror novel. It has some horror elements from the death scenes and how that was described but it is mostly mild (of course, that differs to the reader but I do watch a lot of horror so my tolerance is fairly high). There are some pacing issues in the middle parts but if anything, this is a rather ambitious story as it does try to build its own lore and history to the hotel while adding in this group of characters and exploring their darker side.

Score: 3.5/5

Where to buy: Amazon

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

K.T. Rose is a horror, thriller, and dark fiction writer from Detroit, Michigan. She posts suspense and horror flash fiction on her blog at kyrobooks.com and is the author of a suspenseful short story series titled Trinity of Horror, an erotic thriller novel titled When We Swing, and A Dark Web Horror Series. She also writes supernatural and paranormal horror novels and short stories.

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BITS 2020: The Return (2020)

The Return (2020)

The Return

Director (and co-writer): BJ Verot

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

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

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

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

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

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

BITS 2020: Anything For Jackson (2020)

Anything For Jackson (2020)

Director: Justin G. Dyck

Cast: Sheila McCarthy, Julian Richings, Konstantina Mantelos, Josh Cruddas, Yannick Bisson

A bereaved Satanist couple kidnap a pregnant woman so they can use an ancient spellbook to put their dead grandson’s spirit into her unborn child but end up summoning more than they bargained for. – IMDB

Kicking off this year’s Blood in the Snow Festival is Anything For Jackson, a horror film that revolves around Satanism and supernatural possession and an unexpected pair of grandparents in lead roles. Anything For Jackson is a unique horror film. While Satanism is almost never my first choice in horror premise, this one is rather intriguing. Perhaps it has to do with the two awkward grandparents and it might that the expected becomes a little unexpected by the end.

Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings lead this movie as two grandparents who seek out this ancient book that can hopefully bring their grandson back. The movie starts as they execute the first step of the plan which not only giving us two unknown characters but also throwing the viewers into the story right away to gradually learn about them as they interact with the pregnant woman that they kidnapped. The two are truly incredible to watch their roles progress as things inevitably turns out to be more than they bargained. The change in tone right from the start especially on how the two elderly couple breaks out of the expected mold of what grandparents feel like being warm and friendly turns into this other side of them. Turning the known premise on its head right from the start.

Anything For Jackson is more than that. It moves between the present of what they are trying to achieve and the little hiccups along the way and giving a parallel of how they came up on this idea and how they planned the whole thing. As the final act comes into play, the set of their relationship with this kidnapped girl and how it takes a rather different supernatural turn of events as well as the Satanism ritual all pulls in different characters that all come into play. The movie subconsciously takes the viewers for a ride from the structure of one event of the next and each one making it feel more intense and dangerous than the previous time. As more people get added to the equation, the chances of being revealed becomes much more pressing. Its the clever execution that adds so much to this horror film.

Anything For Jackson is a hidden gem. It twists the story right from the start with its leading characters and is probably one of the quickest film to set up its main plot. It only features a handful of characters but the way its filmed and the structure of the story and progression all works out smoothly. Its not exactly a jumpscare sort of film but more of a tension building sort of atmosphere from the cinematography to how the whole thing gets slowly out of the control more and more. The type of movie that’s right up my alley. Let’s face it: there’s no way that its unexpected that things will go out of hand because if they didn’t, there wouldn’t be a movie but it still manages to keep it very engaging. Coming from someone not really into the Satanism angle in horror, this one was a pleasant surprise!

Double Feature: Truth or Dare (2017) & Truth or Dare: Extended Director’s Cut (2018)

Next up in the double feature is a pairing of 2017’s Truth or Dare and 2018’s Truth or Dare. The latter is an Extended Director’s Cut because that’s all Netflix has. Let’s check it out!

Truth or Dare (2017)

Truth or Dare 2017

Director: Nick Simon

Cast: Cassandra Scerbo, Brytni Sarpy, Mason Dye, Alexxis Lemire, Ricardo Hoyos, Luke Baines, Harvey Guillen, Christina Masterson, Heather Langenkamp

Eight college friends head to a “Haunted Rental” for Halloween. But when they replay the game that made the house infamous, they awaken an evil spirit intent on stealing their souls. – IMDB

2017’s Truth or Dare is direct to video supernatural horror film which plays along the concept of a supernatural being in a house that gets unleashed when friends go there that chases them down for 3 rounds of Truth or Dare before leaving them alone. With a rather ambiguous sort of ending and a cast of part frustrating and part decent characters but some rather intense dare executions, Truth or Dare is an okay offering. Sure, there’s a lot of bad dialogue and one of the characters in particular were especially annoying to watch but there is an undeniable sinister vibe and a cameo of Heather Langenkamp as a previous survivor of one of these games.

Truth or Dare did have a pretty imbalance pacing. The beginning half was a lot of setting up the situation and getting the crew into this location which they soon realize is part of this “scary rentals” site which is never a good idea but they still go along with it. things spiral out of control really fast when their first dare is to make out with another girl or a truth about a secret, which brings up a whole lot of questions that they don’t seem to ask, and things from that point jumps up in intensity really quickly. Its all kind of a ridiculous sort of set up in story progression since the only thing that the previous survivor does is state the obvious but gives them pointers on how to make it out alive, which still leads to arguments about what needs to be done.

As much as it sounds like I’m hating on Truth or Dare, I’m honestly not. The characters are a little annoying and frustrating particularly the character Jessie and the dialogue in general is a tad uninspiring but the movie is sinister and the tension is effective enough plus some of the dares and how they need to be smart about sharing the dare to stay alive has some decent execution. Overall, some good some bad so an okay watch.

Truth or Dare: Extended Director’s Cut (2018)

Truth or Dare 2018

Director (and co-writer): Jeff Wadlow

Cast: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Hayden Szeto, Sophia Ali, Nolan Gerard Funk, Landon Liboiron, Sam Lerner, Tom Choi, Aurora Perrineau

A harmless game of Truth or Dare among friends turns deadly when someone – or something – begins to punish those who tell a lie or refuse the dare.  – IMDB

Let’s put it out there right away that I haven’t seen Truth or Dare’s theatrical release but I did do a little research on the differences to the extended director’s cut which is the version currently on Netflix. Extended Director’s Cut includes a lot more of the rated scenes that was removed to fit a PG-13 rating. I’m sure that it does add to the experience since Truth or Dare is its best when its in the process of the truth or dare segments. One part of it I’m not a big fan and it’ll be talked about later.

Taking a quick moment to compare (seeing as I did watch this back to back), Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare is definitely a bigger budget with a lot more familiar faces like Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars), Tyler Posey (Teen Wolf), Landon Liboiron (Hemlock Grove), Hayden Szeto (The Edge of Seventeen) and Violett Beane (The Flash) and a story that gives this Truth or Dare a deeper lore to discover. There are more concrete rules and a set sequence for them to follow. It jumps between Mexico and US and a lot of different backstories and secrets from the characters. All of these things having their pros and cons.

The flow of the story is decent and the truth and dare segments are pretty decent as they have that cringe and tension of when its going to drop. It has a sequence of how the truth and dare rounds go and the mystery of whether the previous person went which gives the viewers more knowledge than the characters. The only issue with those segments is the possession phase where the characters all change into these creepy smiling faces with kind of distorted voices which for one, isn’t as scary as they think it is and second, gets overused so becomes more frustrating and predictable than effective by the end. At the same time, the jumping from Mexico and US is a little crazy because its like a trip to the grocery story with their frequency, not to mention at one part they have a gun and can cross the border, which seems absolutely ridiculous. The next point is some illogical scenes that just don’t really make a ton of sense. I know these movies aren’t meant to be dug into detail and watched really for their face value but some things are hard to ignore.

The only thing I do have to say that really made up for the 2017 is that the characters here are much more bearable. Maybe its the cast and it has to do with the characters while still being fairly one dimensional still have a certain level of back story even though its fairly easy to figure out who is going to die and whatnot. Plus, the ending is a kind of a fun opening for a sequel or something.

As a final note, for myself, I’m pretty done with Truth or Dare concept. It seems like after back to back years of Truth or Dare premise, it can be tucked away and really doesn’t seem like they can do anything more unique since both of these carry the same kind of execution of some possessed and cursed game where the characters pretty much have a slim chance of getting out. But who knows, right? Someone out there will find a twist for it somehow. It always seems to happen at some point.

That’s it for this Truth or Dare double feature!
Have you seen these two? Which do you prefer?