Snowflake (Schneeflöckchen)

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Two criminals come across a strange screenplay. As they read it, the pair realize the screenplay says exactly what they have said and done, and what they will say and do. They try to track down the writer of the screenplay in order to change their fate, all the while dodging attempts on their life by hitmen hired by a mysterious woman.

Of all the films you will or have watched in 2018, none will be quite as meta as Snowflake. The film was written by Arend Remmers (Unsere Zeit ist jetzt) and directed by Adolfo J. Klomerer (A Time of Vultures) with William James as guest director, this being James’s directorial debut. The film takes place in Berlin in a not-so-distant future where criminals run rampant. Between the lawlessness, the filming style, and some of the music choices, the film almost has the feel of an old Western. The plot is broken up into chapters, allowing the audience to focus on specific characters in each chapter and learn new pieces of the puzzle leading up to the final act when the various characters come together. Some of this information is given in non-sequential order. This particular method seems to help get you more in the mindset of the two criminals as we learn new information right along with them.

The meta aspect comes in the form of a screenplay within the screenplay. The two criminals find the writer of the screenplay (who is also named Arend Remmers). The man is a dentist trying his hand at his first screenplay, yet for some reason everything he writers appears to be happening in real life. It creates many layers that can be confusing at times, but by the end everything comes together rather nicely. There is the screenplay of the film audiences are watching, which is also the screenplay written by the dentist, which is happening to the characters in their real lives.

Snowflake has compelling characters from many different backgrounds. Each one is very well developed, making the audiences feel invested in their fates. The characters audiences will be especially invested in are the two criminals, the vengeful woman who wants to kill them, her friend/bodyguard, a singer who may be a guardian angel, and a cannibal hitman. The one thing virtually every character has in common is revenge. The thirst for revenge is a what drives most of the lead characters in Snowflake, and therefore it drives much of the plot. The only character who feels out of place with the film is a vigilante who wears a full-on superhero costume and uses electricity to fight criminals. This character does not fit in with the overall tone of the film, and his storyline could honestly be entirely cut from the plot. Aside from him, the rest of the characters are fascinating and dynamic.

This is a film that has a very talented cast. The most enjoyable to watch are Reza Brojerdi (Homeland) as Javid and Erkan Acar (The Key) as Tan. These two men are the criminals at the heart of Snowflake. Despite some of the more violent antics these men get up to, there is something completely endearing about them. Both Brojerdi and Acar are so enjoyable to watch, and they are able to bring humor into some of the darkest situations. Another notable performance is Xenia Assenza as (Unsere Zeit ist jetzt) as the tragic Eliana. While all the characters in this film have dual natures, showing that no one is purely good or evil, it is the most apparent with Eliana. She is a victim, but Assenza’s portrayal shows how the thirst for revenge can bring out the evil in even the best people. Honorable mention goes to other memorable performances from the likes of David Masterson (American Renegades), Alexander Schubert (Triple Ex), and Adrian Topol (Franz + Polina).

There is a certain gritty aesthetic in this film. The gorgeous cinematography and coloration create that grittiness. It allows the filmmakers to emphasize the lawless, Western feel of Snowflake. The effects are also quite important in a film where violence is such a crucial aspect of the plot. This film does a very good job of making the various wounds, injuries, and prosthetics look raw and realistic. All these artistic elements combine to immerse the audience in this crime-filled world.

Snowflake is a veritable nesting doll of revenge tales layered upon each other in a fun and meta way. The different story lines seem unrelated, but as more is revealed leading to the bloody climax, everything ties together. The only aspect of the plot that doesn’t work as well with the others is the random superhero. The structure and artistic elements of the genre-bending German film transports the audience to a unique world and leads down many paths of revenge. With multiple strong performances of fascinating characters, this is a film cinephiles will want to seek out.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

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Suspiria (2018)

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Susie Bannion has left her home and family in rural Ohio to pursue her dream of joining a dance academy in Berlin. She has no formal training, yet her dancing captivates Madame Blanc, the headmistress, and she is allowed to join the academy. As the dancers train for a very special performance, strange and violent things begin to happen. Dancers have gone missing, and it seems more and more likely the women running the academy are the ones behind it all.

Screenwriter David Kajganich (The Terror) and director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) have taken the basic premise and characters created by Dario Argento (Suspiria 1977) and Daria Nicolodi (Suspiria 1977) and constructed something absolutely breathtaking. At it’s core, the film is about a dance school run by witches. This is really all the two films have in common. The story created by Kajganich and Guadagnino’s filming style diverge greatly from the original, so I will do my best not to constantly compare the two films.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Suspiria (2018) is how the filmmakers built upon the with mythology. The rules, the dynamics, the magic, and the history is meticulously created in a way that is familiar, yet there is a complexity that adds a sense of mystery to the film. Often times, the intrigue comes from the division among the witches. These witches have a long history that sprang from three witches known as the “mothers.” There is the group who believes Madame Blanc should be in charge, and there is a group who believes the unseen Helena Markos should continue her rule. The witches are using the dancers to work towards a specific goal, and they need Susie to reach that goal. Between some of the dancers putting the pieces together and the division between the witches, there is immediate suspense and tension that carries throughout the film.

The way dance is incorporated into the film is stunning. Suspiria (2018) focuses on contemporary/interpretive dance rather than ballet. It is a wise decision because it allows the filmmakers to bring new meaning into the dance being performed. It isn’t simply a performance the dancers are training for, it is a bigger end-game for the witches. All of the dancers move beautifully through the rehearsals and the final routine.

While the cast holds a couple actresses I have not been a fan of in the past, every single person shines in their own way. Probably the most surprising performance in the film is Dakota Johnson (50 Shades of Grey) as Susie Bannion. While her acting is fine, it’s her dancing that truly blew me away. The filmmakers took a risk hiring an actress over a dancer in such a dance-heavy role, but luckily it payed off. Johnson portrays Susie with a sort of naive grace that develops into something much more powerful, and it is amazing to watch. The standout performance comes from Tilda Swinton (Doctor Strange) playing not one, not two, but three characters! While Swinton is amazing in each role, making them each distinctly unique characters even as she acts through layers of makeup and prosthetics, she is truly amazing as Madame Blanc. Similar to the portrayal of Susie, Madame Blanc has a graceful way about her, yet Blanc’s grace has much more power and authority to it. Swinton proves once again that she can play virtually any role and she is able to entirely transform into any character. The on-screen chemistry between Swinton and Johnson is electric, and their dynamics with the rest of the supporting cast is hypnotizing.

It is difficult to live up to Argento’s visuals, so Guadagnino made the wise decision to go in a different direction. Suspiria (2018) has a very stark palette lacking vibrant colors, which fits in well with the 1977 Berlin setting. The bright colors are instead replaced with bold patterns. The patterns can be found everywhere from the floors to the walls to the clothing. It creates striking and iconic imagery where the meticulous patterns feel reminiscent of the ritualistic choreography of the dances.

The bleak look of the film also goes well with the practical effects. These effects are used in a number of ways. The most prominent use is to turn Swinton into different characters, one of them an elderly man. Old age makeup alone is incredibly difficult to do well. Not only is the old age makeup in this film near-perfect, but it also transforms Swinton into a man. The effects are also used to produce some realistic and disturbing wounds, injuries, and gore. I was quite surprised by the brutality in certain scenes, and the practical effects in those scenes are sublime.

The film is only elevated by the astounding score by Thom Yorke of Radiohead. The score is soft, mysterious, and often times includes sounds from the film itself. One piece, titled “Hooks,” is most notable for incorporating sounds from the film such as sighs, breathing, and the whoosh of hooks through the air (which will make sense if/when you see the film). Yorke also includes a couple songs in which he sings. These songs are especially haunting, and are used at integral scenes where the songs are the perfect accompaniment to the events taking place. I would imagine, after this success, that we will be hearing more of Yorke’s work as a composer of film scores.

Suspiria (2018) is a haunting and ethereal tale of witchcraft, mutilation, and death. Guadagnino and Kajganich were inspired by Suspiria (1977), but they were able to create something new and thrilling with this film. The expanded mythology lends itself to an intriguing plot that will keep audiences guessing. The entire cast of performers deliver stunning acting and dancing skills that mesmerize. Add to that the brilliant visual artistry, including the practical effects, and Yorke’s gorgeous score and the result is a disturbing and beautiful film. This is one you won’t want to miss.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

Cam

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A camgirl, Alice, wanting to improve her ranking decides to try some experimental shows. One day she goes on her computer to find she is locked out of her account, and an imposter has taken her place. This perfect replica is threatening her livelihood and her identity. As Alice’s online persona threatens to destroy her real life, she tries to find out who the imposter is and take control of her life again.

Cam is the gorgeous brainchild of director Daniel Goldhaber and writer Isa Mazzei. Although, those titles are interchangeable as the pair collaborated on all aspects of their first feature film. The plot is absolutely fantastic for a number of reasons. The idea of not only having your identity and your income taken away, but to have it stolen from you by someone who is a perfect replica of yourself creates a very tense film. The helplessness Alice goes through as she attempts to get her account back, and how her camgirl life slowly seeps into her real life, is incredibly suspenseful to watch. There is a constant sense of panic from the moment viewers see the doppelganger, right up until the climactic end of the film. The end is also goes perfectly with the tone of the film and the filmmakers were wise in avoiding any kind of over-explanation of the events.

Probably the single most important reason this film is so compelling is that it was created by a former camgirl. Mazzei herself used to perform cam shows, and you can tell while watching the film. There is an authenticity to the portrayal of life as a camgirl and what it’s like doing this particular kind of sex work. It adds a heightened level of reality to a plot filled with unreality. It is fascinating to watch how camgirls have to navigate between their online persona, how they are with their fans, and how they interact with friends and family that don’t know about their work. Other films have used the camgirl concept in horror as a gimmick or as a way to add sex appeal, but none have done it with the care and realism of Cam.

In terms of the acting, I’m only going to talk about Madeline Brewer (The Handmaid’s Tale, Orange is the New Black) as Alice because she is everything. It is wonderful to watch as Brewer portrays all the different sides of Alice. There is “Lola” the camgirl, there is how she interacts with her fans one-on-one, there is the real Alice, and there is the imposter. There is a clear distinction between each persona Brewer takes on. She is truly magical to watch, and she carries the weight of the film on her shoulder perfectly. It is impossible to not be mesmerized by Alice and Brewers portrayal of her, making viewers even more invested in Alice’s fate.

There are many artistic elements that heighten the film. For one, Cam is visually breathtaking. The color schemes between the camgirl world and the real world are very different. The scenes centered around camgirls and their shows are technicolor neon dreams. This hyper-stylized look emphasizes the fantasy of sex work and the mask put on by the camgirls. The scenes set in Alice’s life away from sex work contain more realistic colors and a gritty, less glamorous feel. The stark contrast emphasizes the duality of living the life of a camgirl. On top of being gorgeous to look at, the score for Cam is also perfect. Gavin Brivik composed an electronic soundscape that fits in exceptionally well with the technology-driven film. At times the score is dark and haunting, other times it is upbeat and entertaining. All of these elements combine to heighten the film to an unexpected level.

Cam is a technological thriller with a stunning and authentic portrayal of the life of a camgirl. The filmmakers truly excel at showing viewers the reality behind sex work, while also delivering an intensely thrilling horror film. The visual aspects and the score only enhance how spectacular the film is. Then of course there is Brewer’s outstanding portrayal of the many sides of Alice. Cam is a profound film as well as an entertaining one and it is a film I highly recommend everyone watch, whether you enjoy horror or not. At the very least, it may give you a different view of what it means to be a sex worker in the modern age.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

Pro tip – Don’t watch the trailer (if you haven’t already). It has some spoilery elements. It’s better to go in blind.

Overlord

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D-Day approaches. It is up to a band of American soldiers to infiltrate a remote French village. In this village, the Nazis have set up a communications satellite that must be destroyed before the American planes reach France. As the remaining soldiers make their way into the village, they soon realize the Nazis are up to something more sinister than they could ever have imagined.

Overlord, directed by Julius Avery (Son of a Gun) and written by Billy Ray (The Hunger Games) and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant), certainly packs a punch. The opening sequence is arguably the strongest part of the film, immediately immersing the audience in WWII as the American soldiers fly into France, preparing to parachute to their objective. This scene quickly establishes characters in a claustrophobic setting, then immediately tosses these characters into chaos. Once the surviving soldiers make it to the small French town, the film takes a more quiet, reserved approach as the men try to keep their presence hidden from the Nazis. The filmmakers do an amazing job of slowly revealing what the Nazi’s are doing, bit by bit, leading up to the action-packed climax.

The Nazi regime is known for performing experiments that border the line of being supernatural. What is happening in Overlord gives the audience a glimpse into what those experiments might have been. The gruesome results of what the Nazis do in the film add frightening and gory thrills to the film. The plot hints at why the Nazi’s chose this location, as well as how they were able to achieve creating these monsters, but not fully. I appreciate the filmmakers not going into the realm of over-explanation, but I am still curious to know just a little bit more about how the Nazis created the monsters.

The entire cast delivers absolutely fantastic performances throughout the film. Jovan Adepo (Fences, mother!) shines as Boyce, the reluctant soldier with a heart of gold. Adepo conveys Boyce’s internal struggle of doing what he has to as a soldier vs. what he believes is the right thing to do in a very compelling way. Wyatt Russell (22 Jump Street, Table 19) gives audiences a surprising performance as Ford, the man in charge of the mission. Most people are used to Russell in more comedic roles, but his performance in this film proves he can handle the grittier roles as well. The dynamic between these two characters is also wonderful to watch. There is tension, as they have different goals, but there is also a mutual sense of respect that can’t be ignored. I could write an entire review just about the acting, but to save time I will give honorable mention to the rest of the stunning cast including Mathilde Ollivier (The Misfortunes of François Jane), Pilou Asbæk (Game of Thrones), John Magaro (My Soul to Take), Iain De Caestecker (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and Jacob Anderson (Game of Thrones).

For an action packed war horror film, Overlord is surprisingly beautiful to watch. The first act has particularly beautiful cinematography. From the time the film begins all the way until the end credits, audiences get a feast for the eyes. On top of the amazing cinematography, the film also boasts some stunning special effects. With a film like this where the Nazis’ creations are a focal point, the effects have to be well done. The effects team seamlessly blends practical and CGI effects to the point where it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. The results are some grotesque and spectacular monsters that bring terror to the silver screen.

Overlord packs monstrous frights into a claustrophobic WWII setting to deliver a thrill ride audiences won’t soon forget. This is the kind of film that easily could have been a dramatic war film, and the creature element only added to the excitement and the stunning visuals throughout the film. The amazing performances from the entire cast, especially from Adepo and Russell, drive the emotional core to balance out the horrific events. I only wish the filmmakers had given a bit more information into how the creatures are created by the Nazis in the film, but it’s not enough to take away from the rest of the compelling plot. Between these performances, the special effects, and the cinematography, it’s impossible not to enjoy this film. It’s a film I highly recommend horror fans take the time to see on the big screen.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

 

Halloween (2018)

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It’s been 40 years since Michael Myers escaped and wreaked havoc on the quiet town of Haddonfield, IL. In that time the lone survivor of the attack, Laurie Strode, has done everything she can to prepare herself and her daughter for the inevitable day when Michael would escape. The night before Halloween, her greatest wish and biggest nightmare comes true. Michael escapes, and his rampage will take him back to the town where it all began. It’s up to Laurie to finally put an end to it all.

At this point, horror fans should have an idea of where this film stands in the Halloween franchise timeline. If you’re unfamiliar, here is a quick refresher: Halloween (2018) is a direct sequel to the 1978 Halloween. Basically, forget every other story line after that first film, because they are irrelevant to this sequel. The screenplay for this new imagining of Halloween was written by David Gordon Green (Joe), Danny McBride (Your Highness), and Jeff Fradley (Vice Principals) and it was directed by Green. The trio brings an interesting mix of background from more serious films, to comedies, to this being Fradley’s first feature film. As a result, there are some aspects of the film that shine and others that don’t quite live up to the franchise.

One of the single most successful aspects of this film is that the filmmakers managed to make Michael Myers even more sinister and murderous than he was in the first film. He is an unstoppable force and his kills are far more gruesome this time around. The development of Laurie’s character is also fascinating. She becomes obsessed with Michael to the point where it completely takes over her life, and it feels like an authentic direction for her character after the trauma she endured the first time Michael escaped.

The filmmakers decided to include many scenes and Easter eggs throughout the film that act as nods to the original Halloween as well as the sequels, even the Myers-less Halloween III. It makes it fun for the audience to watch closely to see how many hidden gems they can spot. At some point the film begins to feel like there are too many different things going on. There are simply too many characters the film follows, too many subplots, and even the Easter eggs get to be a bit excessive. Some of the issues I have with the film could be attributed to there being three screenwriters with varying backgrounds. They likely all wanted to put their mark on the franchise while also honoring the film they know and love, but the plot ends up being muddled in parts because the focus moves from place to place instead of focusing on one or two characters. The third act is where the filmmakers clearly hit their stride. Not only is it the most exciting part of the film, it also finally delivers what fans have been waiting for these past 40 years. The focus tightens on Laurie and her family as they face off with Michael, and the madness that ensues is sure to delight fans.

Even though it seems like there are too many characters to focus on at times, the entire cast does a phenomenal job. The obvious shining star of the film is Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween, True Lies) as the one and only Laurie Strode. Only Curtis could bring to life such an iconic character, and it is great to see her reprise her role. Curtis excels as she portrays Laurie simultaneously traumatized by the events 40 years ago, while also dedicating her life to preparing to kill Michael. Judy Greer (Cursed, 13 Going on 30) also solidifies her own scream queen status as Laurie’s daughter, Karen. The dynamics between the estranged mother-daughter duo allow Greer to deliver a strong performance, especially as she is forced back to her roots in the third act. A smaller role in the film that resulted in some scene-stealing moments shows Jibrail Nantambu (Preacher) as young Julian, who is being babysat on Halloween night. This kid is downright hilarious, even when his night takes a dark turn, resulting in some of the most memorable lines of the film. Honorable mention also goes out to Andi Matichak (Evol), Haluk Bilginer (The International), and Toby Huss (Rescue Dawn).

The artistry in Halloween (2018) is by far one of the highlights of the film. Right away it is impossible to ignore the drool-worthy cinematography, enhancing the tension and beauty of the film. The original film went for more minimal practical effects, primarily relying on blood to emphasize any wounds. This film cranks out the gore, giving fans some fantastic practical effects for grizzly, unique kills by Michael. The effects team really put in the effort to give the audience something that is both horrifying and believable, and they succeeded. On top of that, it’s impossible to talk about Halloween without talking about the score. John Carpenter returned for the music in this film along with his son, Cody Carpenter, and Carpenter’s tour guitarist/godson, Daniel Davies. The three composers did an absolutely fantastic job of bringing the classic theme that fans adore while also breathing some new life into the rest of the score. The score truly brings the film to life in a way that only Carpenter and co. could pull off.

Halloween (2018) is a love letter to John Carpenter’s original that only true fans could pull off. There are moments when the film diverges into to many different directions, but there are many things to love about the film. The film has many fantastic nods to the original franchise, as well as thrilling new material including an even deadlier Michael (complete with more graphic kill scenes) and a badder, stronger Laurie. Even Carpenter, Carpenter, and Davies’ score gives a fresh twist to the familiar. The third act is when fans will truly see the film shine as Michael and Laurie become the focus. While the film may not quite live up to the hype, and perhaps a rewatch after the hype has died down will shed new light, the film still has something for every fan to enjoy.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

***Spoiler/Tip: There is an end credit “scene.” Don’t bother staying around for it. It’s literally just a black screen and you can hear Michael breathing, that’s it. You’re welcome.

Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel

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Eight years after the Hell House LLC tragedy, and the subsequent disappearance of a documentary film crew, the mystery of the Abaddon Hotel remains unsolved. An anonymous tip sent to a journalist claims all the evidence of what happened is hidden inside the hotel. The journalist and her crew, along with the only surviving member of the original documentary crew, decide to go back to the hotel to find the truth. They will have to sneak past police and break in, but the real battle will be getting out.

The highly anticipated sequel to Hell House LLC hit Shudder just in time for the Halloween season. Stephen Cognetti returns as writer and director of this found footage haunted house flick. The sequel is filmed similarly to the first film. There are documentary filmmaker shots, videos from phones and handheld devices, news reports, and interviews. This allows the filmmakers to include multiple different perspectives outside the main cast of characters. The scares are also done in a very similar way. They are subtle, and generally lack jump scares. This makes the film itself terrifying, but the fright factor has a lasting effect even after the film is over. Fans will recognize a couple of the more iconic frightening faces, including the absolutely creepy clown mannequin and the haunting ghost woman.

Unfortunately, there are certain aspects of the plot that make Hell House LLC II less successful than its predecessor. One of my only critical notes in the first one was a few unanswered questions. In a haunting film it is fine to have those, but there were some parts left a little too ambiguous. This film goes in the polar opposite direction. Not only does the plot try to tie up every loose end in this film, but it even goes on to answer the questions I had from the first film. The filmmakers end up putting everything into a neat package that is almost too clean. The film goes into so much explanation that it slows the climax to a crawl, taking any suspense out of the moment. The suspense leading up to that moment makes up for the sudden halt, but the climax still comes across as lackluster.

The performances are a bit of a mixed bag. Vasile Flutur (Far From Here) gives the strongest performance as Mitchell. He is intense, skeptical, but he also strives to find the truth behind the disappearance of his friends. A less enjoyable performance came from Jillian Geurts (The Algebra of Need) as the journalist, Jessica. This is partly due to writing and partly the performance itself. In terms of the writing, Jessica is just a generally unlikeable character because of her unwavering need to get the scoop on the history of the hotel. Geurts’ performance comes across as a bit over-rehearsed and her delivery is sometimes a bit exaggerated. It almost feels like a performance for the stage, which doesn’t fit well with the tone of this film. Kyle Ingleman (Attack of the Slime People) delivers a similar performance to Geurts, but it works better for his role as the psychic, Brock Davies.

One common theme amongst all the characters, perhaps with the exception of Brock Davies, is that the motives behind their actions don’t quite come across. In a found footage film it is so important to convey why these people would put themselves in these situations and film the entire time. The first film did this successfully, but it doesn’t hold up as well in the sequel. Davies can be written off because he is a TV psychic, so communicating with the spirits in the Abaddon Hotel and getting it on film would be huge for his career. As for the others, some of their motivations for going to the hotel make sense, but their reasons for staying and continuing to film are a bit hazy at best.

With the use of simplistic scares the filmmakers wisely went with simple effects as well. As I mentioned before, the eerie clown mannequin makes an appearance in this film. Not only is this the most frightening and simple look, but it is also the source of some of the most spine-chilling scares. There are other makeup looks done for some of the ghosts seen in the hotel that are the same as in the previous film, but they are more visible in Hell House LLC II. This may not have been a wise decision, as I am a firm believer in less is more when showing ghosts/creatures in horror films. The brighter lighting makes it more obvious that these characters look as if they are from a Halloween haunt, but that also lends itself well to idea the of this location being the ultimate haunted house.

Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel has many hits and misses. What works well is the subtle scares, which start earlier in the film than fans saw in its predecessor. It is also great to get some of the answers I was looking for in the first film. What doesn’t work as well is the film’s overall lack of direction. It doesn’t flow quite as well, likely because a lot of effort was put in making everything clear and obvious to the audience. It results in a subdued climax that should have packed more of a punch. Fans who enjoyed the first film will likely be disappointed, but this sequel is still likely to give you chills and make you avoid any abandoned hotels for a while.

OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10

 

The Toybox

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An aging father buys an old RV to take his estranged family on a road trip. Along the way the family picks up a pair of siblings stranded on the side of the road. The road trip has barely begun before things take a turn for the worst. The group ends up broken down in the middle of nowhere, but they are not alone. There is something haunting the rusty old RV, and it’s out for blood.

The Toybox is an interesting blend of horror subgenres. The film is directed by Brian Nagel (ClownTown) and written by Jeff Denton, both also starring in the film. This is Denton’s debut as a screenwriter, and it is a strong start to his writing career. There are a couple scenes where the dialogue doesn’t quite feel true to life, but otherwise the dialogue and plot flow very well. Together Nagel and Denton create a film that is emotionally driven by the family members coming together during the terrifying events, while also giving audiences a frightening film.

For the most part the film is a spooky ghost film. There is an entity haunting the RV, and all it wants to do is maim and kill anyone who enters it. What makes the film a blend of horror subgenres is who is haunting the RV. The film does a great job of leaving little clues throughout the plot as to who the ghost could be, or at least the type of person they were when they were alive. As a film about ghosts, there are some very scary moments in the film as well. There is at least one decent jump scare that got me, but what the film does even better are some of the more subtly tense moments. The filmmakers set up many frightening moments where you can easily see what is going to happen, but they make you wait and wait and wait, building the suspense so you are at the edge of your seat before the trap is sprung. It is a very effective method, and it makes for some of the more memorable moments in the film.

The cast of The Toybox is a talented mix of actors, some of which horror fans will easily recognize. Likely the most widely recognizable actor in the film is Denise Richards (Wild Things, Starship Troopers) as wife and mother, Jennifer. Richards portrays Jennifer as the peacekeeper in the family, whether it be between her husband and his brother, the brother and his father, or keeping her daughter calm. The film also boasts Mischa Barton (The Sixth Sense, The O.C.) as Samantha. In the past few years Barton has been a prominent figure in indie horror films, and she does a great job in this role. She portrays Samantha as a strong, independent character who is also intuitive. Samantha is the first character to notice something isn’t quite right with the decrepit RV. The remaining cast also delivers strong performances including writer Jeff Denton (Inoperable) as Steve, director Brian Nagel (Ouija House) as Jay, Greg Violand (ClownTown) as Charles, Matt Mercer (Beyond the Gates) as Mark, and young Malika Michelle in her first film role as Olivia.

While overall the plot and performances are high points of the film, there are certain aspects that are not quite as strong. One of the lingering questions I was left with after watching this film is who did Charles buy the RV from. There are ways that it could have been done supernaturally or through the internet. Unfortunately, it is mentioned that a man sold the RV to Charles in person, but that person is never referenced again (so it is left unknown if he was somehow in cahoots with the ghostly entity). The other aspect that doesn’t quite fit with the continuity of the film is the appearance of a ghost girl. Based on the nature of the haunting, without giving away too many details, the ghostly young woman simply doesn’t make sense. She is also featured in a scene that is one of the more frightening moments. The issue with this scene is that the haunting is supposed to be limited to inside the RV, yet the ghost girl is scene in the desert landscape.

The Toybox is a tense indie horror film that combines ghostly thrills with a claustrophobic setting. There are a couple aspects of the plot that may leave the audience with lingering questions, but it is still a strong first feature film from screenwriter Denton. He and Nagel clearly make a great filmmaking team. The highlight of the film is how the filmmakers build anticipation and terror. Add compelling performances, especially from the two strong female leads, and it is hard to deny the strengths of the film. This indie horror film is one road trip horror fans won’t want to miss.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10