Book Review: The Visitor by Terry Tyler

The Visitor
By: Terry Tyler

Genre: Mystery/Post-Apocalyptic

In 2024, a mystery virus ravages the entire world. ‘Bat Fever’ is highly contagious and a hundred per cent lethal.

A cottage tucked away in an isolated Norfolk village seems like the ideal place to sit out a catastrophic pandemic, but some residents of Hincham resent the arrival of Jack, Sarah and their friends, while others want to know too much about them.What the villagers don’t know is that beneath Sarah’s cottage is a fully-stocked, luxury survival bunker. A post-apocalyptic ‘des res’.

Hincham isolates itself from the rest of the country, but the deaths continue―and not from the virus. There’s a killer on the loose, but is it a member of the much-depleted community, or someone from outside? As the body count rises, paranoia sets in; friend suspects friend, and everyone suspects the newcomers.

Most terrifying of all is that no one knows who’s next on the list… – Goodreads

Having read two books before by Terry Tyler, The Visitor continues on being able to showcase her ability to craft engaging murder mystery thrillers. The Visitor’s plot benefits from our current pandemic situation as it sets itself in the future after another pandemic has struck the world which is 100% lethal and much more brutal but sets it in a little village where another threat has hit them simultaneously in the form of a murderer which causes the fear to grow in its inhabitants. The backdrop is one that feels almost like it could happen in our current landscape with variants popping up in our current landscape, making it hit home a little more.

There’s a lot to love about The Visitor other than its familiar backdrop. One of them is a familiar form in Terry Tyler’s books which focuses around the point of view from a few of its core characters. In this one, its from the view of the few inhabitants living in the cottage and bunker who ends up there through some connection whether it is the leftover family and companions of friends that had gotten the invitation. As they gather in the bunker and keep it secret, they observe the people around them and get to know the different members of the village. As they each struggle with their own loss and current situation, they each have their own speculations. The benefit of jumping between characters is that it leaves some blind spots and blank spaces giving the unknown to spark. At the same time, who actually knows the depths of someone’s mind although the killer’s perspective usually does draw certain clues from one chapter to the next and slowly does give an idea of who is behind it by the end.

The Visitor also crafts really good characters. The group in the bunker themselves having their own differences and backgrounds and how they get there is one that definitely sets their own character as much as what they do after the settle into the village and each having their own pursuits and responsibilities. Two of them being best friends but also old flames, one of them being a survivalist (but also could be viewed as selfish), one dealing with her massive loss but navigating through being more of a loner: add in their own sort of purpose and personality that grows throughout the story as they get more involved into the village’s affairs and the villagers themselves, human nature is a tricky thing to say the very least.

The great part is how the focus of the novel smoothly shifts from its beginning of the big threat with this mystery virus which takes the front seat and determines their own means to survive and the desperation of the whole situation due to its lethal nature. However, subtly the story shifts to the murder and slowly the routine of surviving through this “post -apocalyptical” world becomes secondary as the murders become more frequent. It almost blends the two together so well that the story and character plot shift is done incredibly well.

Overall, The Visitor is a fantastic murder mystery. Not only does it have well-developed characters but it also builds a great post-apocalyptic world that is not only relatable in the current age but also pushes it further. Perhaps at times it feels a little bit too soon to be already diving into it but it also adds to the unsettling and uneasiness. Smooth plot transition and executed well, The Visitor is a well-paced and engaging thriller to dive into.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Glasshouse (2021)

Glasshouse (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Kelsey Egan

Cast: Jessica Alexander, Kitty Harris, Anja Taljaard, Adrienne Pearce, Hilton Pelser, Brent Vermeulen

Confined to their glasshouse, a family survives The Shred, a toxin that erases memory. Until the sisters are seduced by a Stranger who shatters their peace and stirs a past best left buried. – IMDB

Glasshouse is a 2021 South African science-fiction thriller set in a dystopian future when the world has now settled into a permanent confinement due to an airborne dementia-inducing toxin. Living in a glasshouse for many years, a family led by a mother with her three daughters and a son under a set of strict rules to avoid strangers coming in to break the balance. However, when the eldest daughter Bee ends up doing that when she brings home an injured man, the man starts breaking down the family dynamics one by one.

Suffice to say that Glasshouse is the type of thrillers with lot of twists and turns. In fact, it actually does build both the dystopian world incredibly well while giving this family dynamic a whole other system to discover that presents surprise right down to the very end. Its a very clever thriller and well thought out while bringing in a more sensual and suspenseful sort of plotline keyed around survival. Using the Stranger as a threat plus the family structure gives it a very strong The Beguiled feeling right from the start and that extends to the careful choice of costume design to the soundtrack and especially the Stranger’s situation and how his character progresses but Glasshouse still creates its unique view as like mentioned before, the world building specificially the world outside the Glasshouse infected with this toxin Shred becomes an influential factor of how much these characters are willing to risk it knowing its effects.

Much like the characters in the story which also have been well-developed throughout giving them their own spot as they all differ in personality making their choices also differ. Romantic eldest daughter Bee, responsible Evie, the youngest is carefree Daisy which in tow is Shred -affected brother Gabe who all starts off living in harmony with their own rituals and harvesting or tending while singing together, really finding their own balance. As the plot unfurls, each has their own secrets. It brings up memories from before that has been hidden away and eventually pulls them apart as feelings and plans all come into play. With that said, the talented cast here does a fine job and making these characters come to life.

There’s a lot to experience in Glasshouse that is best profited with as little knowledge of the film as possible to not have anything ruined. As Kelsey Egan’s directorial feature debut, this film is really well done. A lot of it has to do with the world-building and the glasshouse. The single location of the glasshouse is one that has its own character as it holds its own secrets and each area having their own function. The schemes, the secrets and the Stranger all create a haunting thriller..

*Glasshouse had its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival 2021 on August 16th.*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Midnight (2021)

Midnight (2021)

Director (and writer): Kwon Oh-seung

Cast: Wi Ha-Jun, Jin Ki-Joo, Park Hoon, Kil Hae-yeon, Kim Hye-yoon

Midnight is a 2021 South Korean thriller about a deaf woman Kyung-Mi who becomes the target of a psychopath serial killer Do-Sik when she interferes his murderous plan for another woman So-Jung in the neighborhood. In a night of constant changes, the killer makes a sudden change in his target from Kyung-Mi’s mother to So-Jung which leads to a night of a heart-pounding fast-paced cat and mouse chase between him and Kyung-Mi as a mother and daughter tries to escape the killer while So-Jung’s brother tries to find his sister and get tangled into the whole situation.

South Korean thrillers are really quite something. This directorial feature debut for Kwon Oh-Seung which absolutely grabs from start to finish is no exception. It lives up to the standards of a great thriller. The pacing, execution, location and the sound design all comes together very well to create a thrilling experience. The pacing and execution pretty much goes hand to hand as it doesn’t give the story a lot of time to breath but also have those quieter moments to really build up the tension mostly because of how the cat and mouse elements along with the deaf elements are put into play. With that, the sound design becomes very important. As the balance between when the silence and the heart pounding score has to achieve a balance to make it feel natural as it shifts between the deaf main character and the chase sequence to build up the tension. While the deaf element is a pretty big part, in reality the biggest contribution to this film might be its setting mostly in this neighborhood full of dark alleys which it becomes this web of paths that the characters can navigate through. The whole cinematography becomes a huge focus on camera work on it follows through the chases from different perspectives to make it flow well. All these elements are done really well put together.

If there was anything to criticize for Midnight, it probably would be related to the script itself. It falls into its own trap of making these characters feel a little too naive and lacking in common sense at time when it comes to being aware of surroundings and the dangers lurking around them or having a sense of self-protection might be the better way to warn. The most obvious being its opening sequence that introduces this serial killer who preys on a woman walking alone at night and sets up a scene to lure here which seems a little too obvious that most people, especially women would probably just call the police based on their suspicions and not approach it. Of course, during the flow of the main plot, these moments to occur where it becomes a tad frustrating to watch but at times, it does add this sarcastic humor element (at least to myself) which brings up the incompetent police or the insensitivity and lack of knowledge towards the deaf community as well as a general miscommunication or perhaps even going further (and I might be overthinking this), a sense of unawareness to the general surroundings because of our technology aka our cellphone.

Putting that point, the plot itself is very straight-forward. Its a pure thriller which is adrenaline pumping and pulls of some great moments that push its tension and edge of the seat moments. Its truly and amazing feeling to experience. The great part of this one is that it pulls from the basics. It sets up the brother and sister relationship from the start and then sets up the mother and daughter relationship and then introduces the killer in a very quick format. They don’t need to be deep characters but its their relationship between them that makes them matter more than their story. It makes these people very human with a pure sense to survive and protect their loved ones. Much the killer is very simple and yet, his character shifts in tone so much like a chameleon that it makes him have an unpredictable element right down to the ending where it takes a very interesting turn in the final act. All the characters pull of their roles very well. The killer played by Wi Ha-Jun really does deserve a special mention because his role does have a lot of change and he grasps its so well.

Overall, Midnight is a fantastic thriller. Its well-executed and straightforward. Sometimes filmmakers forget that the most basic things carry forward the best and in this case, this is achieved with so much balance. While the script might be a little lacking in some parts, everything else really does make up for it with engaging characters and fast-paced well designed, smoothly flowing cinematography. Being a directorial feature debut, this film is fine job.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: The Story of Southern Islet (2020)

The Story of Southern Islet (2020)

Director (and writer): Keat Aun Chong

Cast: Jojo Goh, Season Chee, Hong Herr Wong, Wei Hern Teoh, Ling Tang, Pearlly Chua, Mei-Sim Hoon

Cheong, a Chinese man, falls sick after a row with his neighbour. His wife Yan is desperately looking for a remedy to cure her husband. Throughout the journey, Yan endures strange encounters and unearthly experiences. Finally, Yan is convinced that she should seek help from the village shaman. Mysteries, legends and shamanism surround Yan with unknowns yet to be solved. – IMDB

The Story of Southern Islet is a 2020 fantasy drama with folk elements to it based on an autobiographical childhood experience from the director Keat Aun Chong. Not to mention this film is also his directorial debut. When talking about deities, it also stems into belief and faith and with this, a man who may or may not be cursed. Malaysia history or geography is a blind spot in my knowledge however, the setting here depicts a sensitive location set in the mid 1980s near Mount Keriang where the crossover of spirituality converges not only in Hinduism, Buddhism and Islamism but also shamanistic cultures.

As much as the film is about the people, its really a stepping stone to the introduction of these deities who each have their purpose even if it feels rather odd. The whole world isn’t exactly filled with danger and yet brings to life certain “superstitions” and their consequence. Each laying the different purpose confirming the belief in gods that bless different things really do exist much like the paddy rice field deity. It is the most enchanting to watch as Yan unknowingly encounters these different ones as the different stories come forward, the most notable at the shrine in the mountain cave about Princess Keriang.

The cinematography in this sequence is especially compelling. Much like the rest of the film which almost always has this off-centered frame for its shot which sometimes highlights what’s off screen but also for some, it also creates this symmetry or has this division of what can be seen and not seen by the characters. Not to mention that all this is held together by the beautiful area that it is set in.

The small town setting is perfect for this tale as it spans over the farmlands, rice paddies, mountains and caves. There is this emptiness and isolation in its setting. That does carry to the wife who is dealing with this as she encounters different people in a religions that she doesn’t quite believe, each performing their rituals or telling her what to do next. Whether its the shamans or other religious leaders, it leads her further down into this other spiritual world as the medical doctors can’t seem help her husband who gets worse day by day.

Overall, The Story of Southern Islet is a unique film. It dives into a world that is not commonly explored in films (and if they are, not on an international level, at least to my knowledge). Not completely unexplored as coughing nails was also used as a curse in an indie video game Home Sweet Home a few years back. However, the different stories of these deities are quite interesting. The film isn’t about its living characters so much as its about the different deities that get shown on screen, perhaps making the final reveal of what is cursing her husband so much more intriguing. Its a beautiful film with both a subtle haunting feeling and a fairy tale/mythical setting but growing with in an Asian culture, there are many unbelievable beliefs that seems ridiculous to some as it can’t exactly be explained but doesn’t deny the fact that its an experience unique to them, whether you believe it or not as the reality.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: On The 3rd Day (2021)

On the 3rd Day (Al Tercer Día, 2021)

Director: Daniel De La Vega

Cast: Mariana Anghileri, Diego Cremonesi, Lautaro Delgado Tymruk, Osmar Nunez, Gerardo Romano, Osvaldo Santoro

Cecilia and her son Martín have a car accident. On the third day after the crash, she wanders by herself on a lonely route and there is no clue of her son. She can’t remember what happened during this time and she is desperately looking for her son. On her quest she finds coincidences with her case and other police files, which seem to be acts of a brutal hunting. The circles goes round and Cecilia will end up facing a religious man, who is the responsible of this slaughter. For her, he is a lunatic. For him, Cecilia is the enemy. – IMDB

On The 3rd Day is an Argentinian fantasy horror thriller that tells the story of a mother who reappears three days after an accident with no memory of what happened during that time and sets off to find her missing son. Argentinian horror is definitely on an up at the festival especially with last year’s The Funeral Home (review) recently landing on Shudder. The credit for its plot is greatly towards its creativity and execution. For many who frequent here, my greatest issue with thrillers (which I do love to watch) is with execution as the whole mystery needs to be paced really well to make the final end game or plot twist land effectively and logically. On that level, On The 3rd Day does a fantastic job.

At first glance, its easy to feel a little bit of “been there done that” in its first act whether its an accident or amnesia or even the creepy sort of hospital moments right down to the overuse of sound cues to create this sense of constant suspense and tension which tends to overstay its welcome fairly quickly. However, the film has some great visual elements that also build up the environment and atmosphere whether from the mysterious things that the main character, Cecilia starts seeing around her. At the same time, there’s an incredible use of symmetry in its cinematography which is greatly accented by the emphasis on mirrors. In certain scenes, through doorways and such, it almost feels like there’s a reflection of the room (although I’m not quite sure if that’s deliberate or not). It does create some uneasiness although in one scene (and I’m slightly nitpicking), where the cars park facing each other on the street which is a bit contradictory to the dialogue between two character from the previous scene. Little details, of course.

The story isn’t just about the mother and child but also has a parallel storyline which shows the other person that was part of the accident who seem to have a secret task where he is carrying a wooden box or casket around and does these very odd sort of rituals playing almost like there’s something that he is trying to hide. This part of the story line starts building up the mystery more as the horror elements start expanding into a possibility of the other subgenres that could be involved and what the box holds that makes this character so on edge but builds up on the unknown of what his goal is, which only starts having answers as the two plotlines converges in the final act.

It might sound like I’m being incredibly obscure with the plot here however its reasonably done. While On The 3rd Day does a lot of things right especially with cinematography and plot lines, what makes this film stand out is the well-executed ending that truly does pack a wonderful punch that wraps up all the mystery and suspense and is truly thrilling to watch unfold as the pieces fall in place. There’s a lot to love here especially as it touches on a biblical interpretation of resurrection but also uses that element in such a clever way. As a final note, remember to watch through the credits as there is an after credits scene.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: #Blue_Whale (2021)

#Blue_Whale (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Anna Zaytseva

Cast: Anna Potebnya, Yekaterina Stulova, Polina Vataga, Timofey Yeletsky

After the mysterious suicide of her sister Yulya, Dana discovers something odd in her sister’s laptop which leads to discovering the inexplicable suicides of many teens in the town. As she digs deeper, she discovers that it all links back to a lethal game called blue whale game. In a scheme to trace down who is responsible for group, she joins the game and participates in the tasks as one by one, each task is more dangerous than the previous one breaking her from society both physically and mentally. As the game becomes not only dangerous for her but also her loved ones, she needs to risk everything in order to find out the mastermind behind this cruel online game.

#Blue_Whale is a 2021 Russian Screenlife horror thriller through and through. For those unfamiliar with what Screenlife is, its basically a term that defines found footage genre but with modern technology screens like phone and computer screens. These two being the main ones used in this film. Co-produced by the pioneer of the screenlife genre Timur Bekmanbetov, this film is a directorial feature film debut for Anna Zaytseva who also co-writes the script. Screenlife is a subgenre that has been on my radar since Unfriended (originally titled Cybernatural when it world premiered in Fantasia a few years ago) which has lead to a lot of great film concepts including a high point with Searching. While Russian films aren’t exactly knowledgeable on my end other than the one or two films from before, the premise is one that sounded like it had great potential especially since it is based on actual cybercrimes in Eastern Europe. The online world is a scary place sometimes especially for these hidden communities and worlds and in the recent years, its really showing how horrible it all can be: manipulative, dangerous, and so on. The story here does portray that element incredibly well.

The execution of the film is pretty good. One of it has to do with the fact that while its a Russian film, the whole communication online is written in English and English articles and whatnot. I personally don’t have any Russian friends so I’m not sure if they communicate in English and not in Russian normally, which is something that I’d really love to know. Or if that is just for the purpose of the film being more accessible to the international audience. However, if there was something to nitpick, the idea that I’m reading in English on screen is more convenient which is a plus, the spoken language is in Russian so it took a little bit of time to get used to not only reading the screen but also not forgetting to catch the subtitles (although, that might be just my own problem), however to be fair, a lot of the dialogue can be mostly deducted from what is going on on the screen itself.

The screenlife element is almost pretty well integrated because it leaves a certain level of unknown. Anything happening off-screen becomes unexpected. For example, there’s one task where she needs to cross the highway and all you hear is the rushing cars and the reactions on screen but never really know how bad the surrounding is making it feel like anything that can happen. Most horror films let the audience see the danger element before the main character does but the thrilling point of screenlife is exactly the opposite, the unknown danger lingering around.

With that said, I can praise screenlife as much as I want but as well as the execution is, the main character is a big part of what makes this film engaging as you spend literally the entire film in their perspective or seeing their face on the multiple screens. Dana, played by Anna Potebnya is absolutely fantastic. Her character is crafted really well. The other characters are a little more shallow in comparison but her character really builds right from the start with her family, the mother-daughter relationship right down to the blue whale game bringing out the isolated elements of how she feels about the world but yet still not being brought down by the negative impacts the game is meant to bring to the teens involved.

Overall, #Blue_Whale might be one of the more straight-forward horror experiences at this year’s Fantasia (from the ones that I’ve seen). Its a horror thriller in its purest form right down to its core. It has a little bit of drama and some lessons to learn from the story itself as it does reflect the current online landscape pretty well. The pacing actually doesn’t give you a lot of time to think or to breathe as its pretty packed and always moving. There’s a really good soundtrack to complement the whole film experience as well. I mean, the ending could probably be better and is a little easy to figure out what the endgame is as it lays out those clues and suspicions pretty well and it is in the details but, it doesn’t take away from the overall experience being yet another well-structured, quick paced and well-scripted screenlife film.

*#Blue_Whale has its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 17th.*

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.*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Baby Money (2021)

Baby Money (2021)

Directors: Mikhael Bassilli & Luc Walpoth

Cast: Danay Garcia, Michael Drayer, Joey Kern, Taja V. Simpson, Jean St. James, Robert Mammana

When a home invasion turns into a bloody shoot-out, a pair of ragtag fugitives take refuge in the house of a single mother as they wait on their fiery (and very pregnant) getaway driver to hatch an escape plan in time for a major payday. – IMDB

Baby Money is a 2021 crime thriller using the angle of a very pregnant girl Minny (Danay Garcia) who gets looped into helping her boyfriend Gil (Michael Drayer) with a break-in for some money to kickstart their life with a baby. Of course, things go awry and suddenly, she is caught in a situation where she is the only one to help get the situation settled when Gil and another guy doing the break-in Dom (Joey Kern) takes refuge at a single mother (Taja V. Simpson) and her son’s (Jean St. James) home. Baby Money is a pretty simple thriller set-up. Simple does fit this thriller pretty well as it has constant elements that change the situation right down to the end. Its not exactly unfamiliar in terms of plot points but the characters are rather interesting as each have their roles and reaction when facing this desperate situation.

Perhaps the better way to put it is that the characters all are unbalanced in their own way. Each of their unknown factor that could suddenly switch the trajectory or create change whether its Minny being able to get a car and bring the phone in time for the deal to work out so that the entire night hasn’t gone to waste and the obvious situation that she is pregnant or Gil’s ability to control the situation and get out of this whole mess or even Dom’s unstable personality which creates the danger that he might just shoot everyone in panic. The same goes for their hostages who is a mother trying to protect her son with cerebral palsy who could have seizures at any minute and not be in a life-threatening situation more than they already are. Everyone has something to lose and the characters all have their own end goal.

Baby Money is executed rather well. While there isn’t some wild ending that boggles the mind, the story stays relatively grounded. The build-up in tension with the whole break-in gone wrong is a pretty engaging watch. The basic elements are all work together well enough especially as the “what’s in the box” is brought up but never really addressed, making that part also something of a mystery that passes by quickly. If there was anything to nitpick about the film would be the whole turning point in the relationship of Gil and Minny that seems a little silly en lieu of what’s going on but then its a common plot point to use to give these characters a more dramatic turn of events. That of course is more of a script point than the cast issues as the cast does a pretty good job.

Overall, Baby Money is a fun thriller. Its nothing too deep but doesn’t exactly need to be as it still manages to stay relatively engaging, focusing less on the twists but more on the characters and their behavior and reaction. It is rather refreshing to see a simple thriller. Its a good premise and angle for sure and yet, it does feel like the whole baby element and pregnancy seems to almost be put in the background which has its pros and cons in the big picture.

*Baby Money had its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 10th*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Seobok (2021)

Seobok (2021)

Director (and writer): Lee Yong-ju

Cast: Gong Yoo, Park Bo-Gum, Jo Woo-Jin, Park Byung-eun, Jang Young-nam

Ex intelligence agent Ki Heon is tasked with safely transporting Seo Bok, the first ever human clone, who holds the secret of eternal life. Several forces try to take control of Seo Bok to serve their own agendas. – IMDB

Seobok is a 2021 South Korean sci-fi action thriller which tells the story of an ex-intelligence agent Ki-hun who is asked to take on the task of safely transporting the first ever human clone Seobok who has been genetically engineered to not only have eternal life but also carries the possibility of eternal life and cures for all kinds of diseases. As Ki-hun tackles with his own illness that tortures him and isn’t expected to live long, he is offered the chance to be a part of the clinical trial in return for successfully completing the task. As the plan incurs different changes due to other parties trying to take Seobok for their own plans and goals whether out of fear or greed, Ki-hun and Seobok start to bond as they escape from one situation to the next.

Seobok is a fairly straight-forward science fiction action thriller. In terms of the science fiction and the human clone, the story itself along with its supporting characters have a fairly predictable trajectory. Immortality and eternal life is something that feels almost too good to be true and that brings on its own plans from different organizations and people involved and that is expected in a plot like this. However, Seobok stands out because it spends a lot of time building up the relationship and chemistry between the two main characters, Ki-hun and Seobok played respectively by Gong Yoo and Park Bo-gum.

Gong Yoo is probably most known for his role in Train to Busan where he takes on a rather different role. This role takes on a more rough and angry sort of character which is frustrated with a lot of things happening to him and around him and in turn, this tense character is faced with Seobok, a human clone who has never seen the outside world and is fascinated with everything that he sees. As the plot unfolds, the two grow through Seobok’s fascination but also the constant straight-forward conversations about his human clone, his abilities and immortality down to human nature giving it some fun fish out of water moments that help break through the intense action scenes. The conversations build up these two characters a lot giving them both sufficient back story to make them both truly connect to its audience. The two carry on almost like a father-son and mentor-student sort of relationship which becomes rather endearing as Ki-hun starts changing his mind about Seobok and understanding his pain. While also struggling with Seobok’s telekinesis powers which increasingly grow out of control as he starts facing more dangerous situations and making some questionable judgments.

What makes Seobok stand out other than the chemistry is absolutely the role of the concept of immortality and the character of Seobok, fittingly so as the movie is titled after him. Seobok is played incredibly well by Park Bo-Gum who carries the blank expressions and calmness as he faces all the crazy situations happening around him to the point of disregard when everyone seems to be threatening but also asking all the right questions and giving off the image of how clear-minded he is right down to the powerful ending when the revelation that he understands the entire situation and actually just wants something very human and simple but the fact that he was created to fulfill a purpose and the discussion of whether a human clone is considered a person. The human elements of Seobok grounds this film and that is the charm of South Korean films when they are executed well to be able to carry out these moments. The moral and ethics of human clones and how they should be treated is what essentially what makes this film really hit hard making the ending pack such a huge punch and makes the audience think about this whole immortality, eternal life, playing God and the right and wrong of the situation and whether the whole thing could have been resolved in another way.

Overall, Seobok is an incredibly well-executed film. The two main characters have such a powerful presence in the film. The story is a lot more profound than the basic science fiction film but actually focuses itself on the morals and ethics of the whole situation which packs a bigger punch because Seobok is portrayed so well. A big part of the film is also in how well-written and focusing on the conversation dialogues more than the action. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have its own share of action-packed sequences which all increases in intensity as Seobok’s power comes into play. Seobok is an absolute gem: well-crafted, well-executed and poses some excellent questions that will linger far after the film is finished.

*Seobok is playing on demand on Fantasia Film Festival virtual platform from August 5th to 25th. You can find more info HERE.*