Fantasia Festival 2020: The Undertaker’s Home (La Funeraria, 2020)

The Undertaker’s Home (La Funeraria, 2020)

The Undertaker's Home

Director (and writer): Mauro Ivan Ojeda

Cast: Luis Machin, Celeste Gerez, Camila Vaccarini, Susana Varela, Huga Arana

Set in a funeral home where the undertaker Bernardo (Luis Machin), his wife Estrella (Celeste Gerez) and stepdaughter Irina (Camila Vaccarini) live, The Undertaker’s Home sets up in a world where they reside with the presence of the spirits that have been gone. They live with rules set to not cross certain lines and not go to their haunted bathroom and spirits communicating in whatever means with them. What starts out as just rules to follow that create inconvenience eventually becomes much more serious as they realize they aren’t just living with spirits but there is a demon invading their home that is making the situation more dire.

The Undertaker’s Home has a few good points. For one, it keeps a simple equation of using the one setting. Luckily, the setting has fairly extended grounds with their main living quarters and the room, the funeral hall in the next building and the outside grounds which is where they have a port-a-potty. Right off the bat, the movie’s opening scene sets the tone right from the get-go with the music being a big part of the eerie element to build the atmosphere and the camera navigating throughout the setting to place where everyone is and the little hints of things to be unveiled as the story develops.

Second, the premise is rather unique. Having spirits among the living is something that most horror movies have as a background but to have people living consciously with spirits making the first half of the film fairly strong as its unique to see them encounter these and then also see how they have learned to ignore and cope with it. We never see the spirits or demon fully revealed, which is something that leaves a lot to the imagination and it helps that the cinematography focuses on the characters reactions whether than show their point of view which leaves some space for the viewer’s imagination to stew.

Third, the characters are rather good as well. There is sufficient amount of conflict and through their arguments and conversations, you can find the family dynamic. It drops a few hints as to a lot of their family issues and drama. Each of these characters, especially that of Bernardo is rather odd. They have their own little secrets. Bernardo’s character is one odd character and becomes more and more unsettling to watch as the story unravels.

The deal with The Undertaker’s Home is that, a lot of its merit comes from the beginning part and the whole setup of the film in the first part. There are some tense moments in the final act but the story seems to lose a little bit of its direction. As it brings in the demon plot, things start taking a more normal horror film path. At the same time, something to note about the film overall is that the first act sets out straight away that most of the fear and unsettled atmosphere is created by its looming, crescendo and strong music direction that blends in some sound effects to make it especially eerie and easy to get under the audience’s skin. However, once the music starts becoming a familiar element of the movie, the second half becomes less effective as the music blends more and the uneasiness is no longer there but replaced by the actual intensity created by the scene as the demon shifts into the plot. Question is, without the background music, it feels like the tropes are more obvious and the movie is not quite as scary and its intended to be. In that sense, it loses a little bit of the unique elements that was created in the first half and loses some steam.

The Undertaker’s Home has a lot of elements done right. In fact, the way it creates the soundtrack and the sound effects to create the building uneasy and unsettling atmosphere is really well done. Except, when I step back to think about it, the story itself lacks a little bit of spark. Perhaps it has to do with the final act being heavily focused on the stepdaughter and while she makes a great scream queen, her role at the end is more “scream-queen”-esque and not so much depth. There is one transition twist that I do think is a little disjointed even if the meaning of it is vaguely apparent as a little detail mentioned from the beginning part. In a nutshell, it feels like there are a lot of unique ideas here but some of them didn’t get the time to be more fleshed out.

Fantasia Festival 2019: The Wretched (World Premiere, 2019)

The Wretched (2019)

The Wretched

Directors (and writers): Brett Pierce & Drew T. Pierce

Cast: John-Paul Howard, Piper Curda, Jamison Jones, Azie Tesfai, Zarah Mahler, Kevin Bigley, Blane Crockarell

The Wretched is a 2019 horror film about a teenage boy, recently moved with his father following the divorce, to discover that the neighbor’s wife is possessed by a thousand year old witch.

Witch-oriented horror movies are far and few. In fact, whenever they come, it definitely takes a very familiar take. The Wretched aims to breath new life in the genre. How it does it is by putting together two witch tales together. Choosing to use practical effects instead of CGI, it also delivers a lot of realistic and genuinely unsettling moments. It packs in a few jump scares here and there but mostly, it relies heavily on building tension. The scenes are driven by the anticipation of horror and the creepy movements of the witch and learning about how this one works and attacks.

The story is split into two parts. On one hand, it has a teenage boy Ben (John-Paul Howard) defiant and working hard to accept his parents’ divorce and adapting to living in the small town. He meets a girl, Mallory (Piper Curda) who works at the marina with him and there is a little love arc there. Most of this feels mostly unneeded and fairly by the numbers but it helps ground the story and fills in the gap. What helps is that both John-Paul Howard and Piper Curda deliver well on their roles. They aren’t annoying to watch or have any dumb dialogue. In fact, they both have quite a bit of charm thanks to a well-written script. Mallory is a character with a lot of sass and that offsets the clueless attitude of Ben. When in these dramatic bits, it weakens the story in general.

On the other side, The Wretched is its strongest when in its horror elements, which it luckily spends a lot of time. It has a lot to do with Zarah Mahler delivering a solid performance that is every bit as creepy as it is suspenseful as the witch’s possession reveals the clues to how this witch works and her goals. To keep it spoiler-free, let’s just say its a truly unique take on the genre. Her eyes and expressions divulge a lot of uneasiness and every movement also sends chills. From the little details of the witch’s symbol and finding bits and pieces as Ben digs further and observes from afar, especially as the film enters into the final act and the big twist justifies that the scenes that seem oddly fitted into the film suddenly all make sense.

The Wretched has some small flaws and the background defiant teenage story feels a bit “been there done that”. Luckily, the directors have a great backdrop and create an outstandingly unique new witch tale that makes up for those moments. The Pierce Brothers have found a new twist to this not frequently explored subgenre while also showing off that they are all about the details and have the creativity to bring some fresh ideas to the horror genre. It’ll be nice to see what else they come up with next. Of course, The Wretched world premiered at Fantasia Festival so its one to look out for in the upcoming festival circuits and comes highly recommended.

Fantasia 2019: 1BR (World Premiere, 2019)

1BR (2019)

1BR

Director (and writer): David Marmor

Cast: Nicole Brydon Bloom, Alan Blumenfeld, Susan Davis, Naomi Grossman, Giles Matthey, Clayton Hoff, Taylor Nicholas, Earnestine Phillips, Celeste Sully

1BR is a 2019 American horror thriller about a girl who rents an apartment in a complex and unexpected things happen.

1BR is those kinds of horror films where its all about knowing as little as possible before starting the film up so that the film can show its cards one by one and retain its surprise factor. There’s a lot to like about 1BR and most of it dials down to the premise that builds from a girl who has a dream that she wants to pursue, works as a temp to support her living and has conflicts with her father.

Everything starts off when she surprisingly gets chosen out of many people during open house for an apartment complex to fill their vacancy. She soon learn that her conversation with the building manager and one of the guests ended up giving them the right impression. While her apartment seems great, there is a list of strict rules for the residents, the unit seems to have some serious plumbing issues and the other people living there range from friendly to downright stalker creepy and there is a very solid concept of encouraging to read The Power of Community. There’s more to this apartment complex and its one twist down crazy lane that just takes its audience on a ride through a bumpy and disturbing road.

Without revealing too much from 1BR, David Marmor’s directorial debut is a well-executed thrilling 90 minutes. While there are some horror tropes and some obvious little bits in the beginning, the psychological elements of this thriller is one that takes many unexpected twists and turns, some more than others. However, it has a lot to thank for not only the themes it talks about, and a well-paced script that keeps the audience guessing on whats going to happen next. His script doesn’t hold your hand but lets the story unfold little by little while choosing of L.A. as the location, where a lot of people go to pursue their dreams sometimes get lost and forgotten and where do you find the strength to fight for your life.

With creepy background music and sound effects and a great performance from a lot of the cast, especially the main actress Nicole Brydon Bloom as Sarah who delivers a great performance. Paired up by the charming neighbor performance of Brian played by Giles Matthey and building manager Jerry, played by Taylor Nichols, pushing the story forward. It breaks down some of the walls of the predictable turn of events and makes this movie unsettling and psychologically thrilling and probably think a little more about the next place you rent and the power of community.

You can catch the encore presentation of it at Fantasia Intermational Film Festival on July 22 at 11:45am at the Salle J.A. De Seve.

Fantasia 2018: Nightmare Cinema (World Premiere 2018)

Nightmare Cinema is a 2018 horror anthology featuring nightmare stories told by five renowned directors. It was an opening film at the Fantasia Festival and the screening was preceded by the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award to Joe Dante, one of the five directors of this film.

Nightmare Cinema (2018)

Nightmare Cinema

Director: Mick Garris, Alejandro Brugués, Joe Dante, Ryuhei Kitamura, David Slade

Cast: Mickey Rourke, Eric Nelsen, Sara Elizabeth Withers, Zarah Mahler, Mark Grossman, Richard Chamberlain, Maurice Benard, Elizabeth Reaser, Adam Godley, Orson Chaplin, Faly Rakotohavana

Are you ready to enter the world of The Projectionist in the old Rialto Theatre? This Nightmare Cinema brings 5 complete strangers where their darkest fears are the focal point of the story on screen. This anthology features five decent lengths short stories pieces that each have their homage to a nice variety of horror genres but adds in their own twist to make it more modernized or more entertaining or even more intense.

Nightmare Cinema

The opening segment takes no time to introduce us we follow a young girl into the theatre where she sees a movie with her name as the main feature called “The Thing in the Woods”. Directed by Alejandro Brugués, an Argentinian director known for his work in Juan of the Dead and The ABCs of Death 2 segment, this segment pays tribute to the 80s slashers that many still love. As with many slashers, there is a campiness to it as well as a dark humor that surrounds it with both great effects and well-timed moments. Probably the least serious and frightening of the five tales but also a great way to start off this anthology especially with this genre being one of the most popular in the horror subgenres. There is an artistry to the way it is filmed and even the way the story is written with a fantastic twist which honestly is what makes it stand out.

The second segment follows with “Mirari”, directed by the ever so renowned Joe Dante as he takes the audience to the horrors of plastic surgery and boy, do things go horrifyingly bad. While the story does keep you guessing for most of the film, it is the one that feels more mysterious and suspenseful because of the premise. It plays on the obvious expectations that the audience will have, knowing that there is no way that this plastic surgery won’t go wrong. What keeps the audience under the wraps is when it becomes apparent that the people around our victim all become rather sinister.

Nightmare Cinema

The third segment “Mashit”, directed by Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura, known for The Midnight Meat Train among many films, enters the world of a Catholic school and possession. Its bloody and eerie. Some scenes brings up memories of The Exorcist if it was done in this day and age with some outstanding effects that will send a chill down your spine. There are a lot of elements that work here including creepy children and scary makeup. The best part here is the use of light with the hallways covered in sinister colors and then adding in this gloomy backdrop that highlights the bloody parts. However, some parts do get a little overboard and ticks those over the top boxes a little too much.

The penultimate segment is directed by David Slade, the man behind the disturbing indie film, Hard Candy as he presents “This Way To Egress”. Not surprising to see that this story follows a mother of two who visits a psychiatrist office who believes she is going crazy. Her world falls into this ugly reality. This is helped by the stylish black and white feature especially making it more psychologically disturbing as you wonder whether the world are full of monsters or her mind is turning everything into monsters. It straddles the line of truth and fiction while tackling some serious subjects as her story unfolds. While it never quite hits the disturbing levels of Hard Candy, This Way to Egress does pack an effective punch and amps up on the tension as we near the end of this anthology. Nightmare Cinema

The final segment “Dead” along with the intermission segments with The Projectionist is directed by Mick Garris. A great finale to wrap up the anthology as it takes a look at some The Sixth Sense area where a young boy wakes up from being dead for essentially 17 minutes to realize that he can see the lost souls. There is much more to the story than that but the dead are all creepy. There is a great amount of tension arising from the circumstance that he is put in. Dead ends the anthology packing quite the punch. However, the films merit is in creating this character, The Projectionist, portrayed by Mickey Rourke who is a mysterious fellow as we see him more and more in the intermissions between segments as he hints towards what this Nightmare Cinema is all about and well, the final scene shows that there is potential for these stories to just keep on going.

As with any horror anthology, it is about the sum of its parts as much as it is about the big picture. Each of the five stories here pack in some homage to a certain genre and boast the talent of the director and their artistry. Both the cinematography and the atmosphere is top of the line. The soundtrack also builds the mood and tension for each of these scenarios. Even when the story feels like it takes it a little too far or gets a little silly, these elements pulls it back into place. The structure of the horror anthology though is where it stands out because it goes from something more comedic like The Thing in the Woods and builds up both the seriousness and the intensity so that when you reach the final segment Dead, it is pretty much an intense segment from start to finish. With the vast amount of horror subgenres here, there is bound to be something for every horror fan.

Review also posted to That Moment In

Fantasia Festival: Bed of the Dead (World Premiere 2016)

Ever since Antisocial’s showing a few years back at Fantasia Festival, Black Fawn Films has always world premiered their movies here. Antisocial, The Drownsman, Bite, Antisocial 2: three of the four I caught at this exact festival. None of these films are perfect to me but they are all passion projects where you can see the love for the horror genre seep through every corner. There are some really great ideas. It might not blow your mind but it has its merit that deserves to be seen. With that said, Bed of the Dead was inevitable in my schedule, as ridiculous as the premise seemed (since everyone laughed when I mentioned it). There was no way I could catch the first one at midnight but this second one was slightly more doable so here we are!

Bed of the Dead was hosted by director and co-writer Jeff Maher and music Stephanie Copeland.

Bed of the Dead (2016)

Bed of the Dead

Director and co-writer: Jeff Maher

Cast: Colin Price, Alysa King, Gwenlyn Cumyn, Dennis Andres, George Krissa, Joseph Cannata

When two young couples book a room at a seedy sex club for a birthday orgy, they bribe their way into a forbidden room that contains a massive, wooden bed, which happens to be carved from a cursed tree. They soon find themselves stranded when something pulls one of them beneath it.- Fantasia Festival

Bed of the Dead is a strange movie to discuss. For one, just like many of Black Fawn Films other productions, it reminisces on an 80s throwback. In this one, inevitably it had huge nuances of the scene in Nightmare of Elm Street. Bed of the Dead throws in a lot of ideas and in many ways, they are clever curveballs. In the Q&A session following, Jeff Maher makes a point that this isn’t a movie that you analyse because it is a mess and its meant to be an entertaining affair. That is exactly how to describe it, although not exactly a mess. There are tons of idea from time travel to cursed objects to hallucinations and desires. There are cheesy lines and awkward character moments. It has some laughs and some jumpscares and a ton of blood. Except with a title of Bed of the Dead and the cursed object being an emperor sized bed, did you expect something else is that question I’d like to ask? Whoever sat in the screening, knew exactly what they were in for and if anything, I was pleasantly surprised when I left.

Bed of the Dead

It is hard to pinpoint what gives Bed of the Dead charm. I believe that the future phase of the movie placed on the morning after the events of the night have passed with these two young couples is the strength as we follow an emotionally broken and drunk investigator that tries to figure out this case. This investigator is Virgil played by Colin Price. As he moves through the scene and each body is shown to him, we flash back to the events that only happened hours ago. Except his story is also much more than the surface and there is a particular care to putting his character together. This is where the mechanics of time travel happens. Virgil is also the strongest performance in this movie.

Bed of the Dead

Except it is hard to give merit to the other characters here. Although it feels deliberate to make the twenty something characters trapped on the bed full of dumb dialogue, particularly the guys and the reactions, it is hard to shake off whether it was meant to be a comic relief and eventually turn into an eye rolling bit with certain small roles as well. The gesture of humor like mentioned before, reminds us of the campy 80s horror. Is that saying that the characters are memorable? Not exactly. The acting still leaves a bit to be desired.

Bed of the Dead

Before we jump into the best part of Bed of the Dead (aside for Virgil), take a moment to think about what makes 80s horror iconic. It is the villain (Freddy, Jason and Michael comes to mind) and the scream queen (the character of Laurie in Halloween for example). This is what makes Bed of the Dead great. Black Fawn Films is iconic for this as well: creating the perfect prop with whatever budget they have and making it the best version possible and finding the girl that fits right in the role. The main players of Bed of the Dead is Alysa King as Sandy and quite unforgettably the bed (which wasn’t originally conceptualized in this way), however this one still proves to be incredibly menacing. The bed itself is the character. There are sound cues and because we are thrown into the situation before really knowing each of the characters, we never know what to expect until someone or themselves recount their story and we wonder how they will be taken out. Talking about sound cues before, the music of Bed of the Dead is also quite fitting. Stephanie Copeland puts together a mesmerizing soundtrack to match with the story.

Bed of the Dead may not be the best movie on the list but it definitely is the one with a lot of heart and passion put in it, and  definitely a pleasant surprise. It has a beautifully carved cursed item with a lot of character and even a back story and a protagonist for us to cheer for. It is predictable in some parts and also suffers from some not so memorable roles, but there are still some decent twists as the use a mix of mechanics especially in the time manipulation bits. However, we do need to remember the intention of the movie is to entertain. Bed of the Dead does a lot of that layered with a great soundtrack and a well-executed storyline even between some silly moments.

Fantasia Fest 2015: Observance (2015)

Fantasia Festival is in full swing.  Right after we saw We Are Still Here, I stayed back to listen to a little Q&A and then headed over right away to the theatre across to watch the World Premiere of an Australian psychological horror called Observance. It was hosted by the cast and the director. Here’s a little snapshot from the Q&A at the end of the movie.

Fantasia Festival 2015

I love psychological horror and if anything, its been scarce (or just rarely my choices) at Fantasia Festival so believe me, I was pretty excited about this. But then, I’m usually excited about world premieres.

Observance (2015)

World Premiere

Observance

Director: Joseph Sims-Dennett

Cast: Lindsay Farris, Stephanie King, Brendan Cowell, John Jarratt

After his son’s death and the resulting hospital bills causing him to have immense financial burden, Parker takes on a well compensated job as (something like) a private investigator to spy on a woman across the street from a designated apartment.  He can’t leave his apartment, ask questions or contact anyone.  All he can do is observe and report what he sees. However, as uneventful as it seems at the beginning, he starts experiencing strange dreams and questionable events happen in the isolated apartment that start to bother him. Enough to make him wonder whether this job was a good choice in the first place especially when his unknown employer seems to be working with a hidden agenda.

Observance 2015

As I was thinking about how to write the review for Observance, I started thinking about whether I really liked this or not.  Fact is, these thoughts carried on for a few days and then I started thinking: what makes a psychological horror good? Its that it makes you think. It builds and lurks in your mind days after.  It can mess you up a little while giving you that creeping feeling that’s there.  Its just all in your mind though and those thoughts will make you subconsciously suddenly look around the corner and wonder if I’ll have strange things happen just like what happened to Parker.  What also took so long was that Observance is a game of beliefs.  Is Parker paranoid? Is there spirits lurking in that isolated rundown apartment? Was there a deeper meaning in the various scenarios that played in his head? We get answers but we also leave knowing that there is a lot of ambiguity here.  Are you okay with ambiguity? When I first left the theatre, I felt that the ambiguity was too much.  It was so ambiguous that it became hard to follow, except now that I’ve had a few days to think about it, I think Observance deserves a second viewing and its one of those psychological horrors that require one because you can now see more, notice details maybe.

observance

Fact is, after days of thinking about it, Observance does a good job at being a psychological horror. The apartment, the focus on when to focus on isolated sounds and when to merge in some sombre music, even how to flow certain events and when to drop hints on where this whole plot is going.  I’d be lying if it didn’t creep me out a lot during the movie.  I cringed and shifted in my seat.  Its the unknown that sits high and proud in this one that overshadows and churns up all those feelings of dread.  That creeping feeling latched onto me and to be honest, I had to close my eyes a few times and for one scene, just totally turn away from the screen and one scene that you might not want to take your eyes off of. So yes, as a psychological horror, it definitely does its job right.

Observance

Aside from building the atmosphere really well, what totally takes the win in this one over everything is the cast.  80% of the movie is central around our main character Parker, played by Lindsay Farris.  This man can definitely act. He pretty much did a one man show of a man, in a way, deteriorating inside, getting paranoid and being confused and all that stuff that comes with a psychological horror.  However, being directed only from afar, Stephanie King, who is the girl being watched, also does a great job.  We get a cameo from the crazy guy in Wolf Creek as well.

Overall, Observance is a psychological horror which will make you wonder a little what you watched at the end (at least I did).  It drops hints throughout the movie but what makes it a worthy psychological horror is that it builds a great atmosphere and introduces very effective scares, knowing when to make it show up, and utilizes sounds very well to help add to it.  With a small but solid cast, especially for the main character, the premise of Observance is really good.  While I did complain about it being a little too ambiguous, I really think its a very thought provoking psychological horror that might just lurk in your thoughts for a while and make you peek around the corner even if we don’t have some questionable black liquid sitting in a jar in the corner or newspapers covering the entire wall. There’s something more (and different) with Observance that is worth a chance if you like psychological horrors. I might sound vague but I really want you to experience all the surprises yourself, in the end, that’s what makes it scarier, right?

Do you like psychological horror? What do you think about Observance?