Heartless (Short)

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Shelby, a young business associate, is unappreciated by her superiors. When her boss doesn’t show up to work Shelby is forced to do a big presentation. As she attempts to complete the presentation her mind becomes unhinged. A dark secret is knocking away at her sanity like the beating of a heart.

Heartless is a short film inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Writer/director Kevin Sluder took Poe’s concept and updated it for the modern age. It focuses on a young woman trying to make it in the business world, only to have opposition from both her female boss and the other “boys club” type businessmen. This refreshing update makes Poe’s story more accessible for viewers. Most people can relate to trying to make it in the business world. Even more poignant is watching a woman in the workplace facing discrimination and cruel jokes from her male superiors. Sluder does an excellent job of making viewers empathize with Shelby, even as we learn more about her rather disturbing secret.

The storytelling of the short is very well done. The film begins with Shelby as she is about to enter the conference room where she must do her presentation for the male executives. As the short progresses, little things take Shelby back to the night before. The audiences gets more and more bits of information about the events leading up to the presentation. Then, of course, there is the beating of a heart. That beating leads to the unravelling of Shelby’s mind while also making her finally stand up for herself. This format only adds to the empathy audiences will feel for Shelby as the story unfolds. Yet she isn’t completely innocent.

The performances in this short film are entertaining to watch. Stacy Snyder (Pretty Dudes) is an excellent leading lady as Shelby. What I enjoy most about her performance is how easily she transitions from being a relatable, stressed out businesswoman to being completely unhinged. Snyder at times reminds me of the character Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. The supporting cast is also quite enjoyable to watch. Shelby’s boss, Clare, is played in a delightfully evil way by Joanna Sotomura (Contracted: Phase II). Matt Mercer (Contracted: Phase II), Blaine Vedors (Mainline), and Ron Morehouse (Hill Yes) make up the business executives. Their performances are great because they are the kind of men you can’t help but hate. Together the cast helps to create a darkly humorous short film.

Kevin Sluder’s Heartless is a dark and funny horror short highlighting what it is like for a woman in a male-dominated business world. Sluder’s inspiration from “The Tell-Tale Heart” is apparent, and the update to a modern work setting gives the short an American Psycho vibe as well. The entire cast does a great job of blurring the lines of what makes a person good or bad, especially Stacy Snyder as Shelby. The story is relatable, as most people have either been overlooked in their career or experienced sexism in the workplace. Heartless is a relevant short film with classic inspiration that many viewers will enjoy.

OVERALL RATING: 4/5 (short film scale)

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The Cloverfield Paradox

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There is an energy crisis on Earth. In an effort to come up with an alternative energy source, a group of scientists travel to a space station orbiting earth. With the use of a particle accelerator the group attempts to create infinite energy. After two years of testing the crew nears the end of their experiment, as they are almost out of fuel. On one of the final attempts something happens that rattles the entire space station. The crew survives only to discover that the Earth has vanished, and they may be dealing with what conspiracy theorists call The Cloverfield Paradox.

This is the third installment of the Cloverfield franchise, produced by J.J. Abrams. While the first two were said to be part of the same cinematic universe, they are really standalone films. The Cloverfield Paradox is meant to be the thread that ties all three films together. The filmmakers came up with a relatively simple way to explain what monsters and aliens were doing on Earth in the previous films, while also leaving room for the rumored fourth installment. It comes down to one thing; the particle accelerator that was meant to create infinite energy instead ripped open the space-time continuum. This leads to time travel, people and things from one reality being thrown into another, and all sorts of mayhem.

The plot of this film has many highs and lows. One of the high points is that the characters are interesting and entertaining to watch. While we only get in-depth character development for Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the filmmakers still give the audience a good sense of who each character is once they are all together in the space station. The internal and external conflicts of the characters are very well done. Each character deals with their own issues when they learn about the movement between worlds. It makes each character complicated and shows the duality of human nature; someone may do something perceived as evil, but they may believe they are doing the right thing. Another high point is how the film explains the rip in space-time and the negative effects that follow. It allows the filmmakers to create some excellent twists, turns, and shocking imagery. Unfortunately, this also contributes to one of the low points of the film. The rip in the space-time continuum gives the filmmakers the freedom to do a lot of amazing sci-fi effects and incorporate monsters, aliens, and anything else they can think of to create the Cloverfield universe. But these things still have to make sense. Virtually everything that happens surrounding the character Mundy (Chris O’Dowd) after the rip occurs simply does not make sense. It creates some intense and visually interesting cinematic moments, but there is no logic surrounding them. While watching the film audiences may enjoy these scenes, but then afterwards they will be scratching their heads at the nonsensical events.

The entire cast does an excellent job. Everyone from Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) providing comedic relief as Mundy to Daniel Bruhl (Inglorious Basterds) giving us someone to generally dislike as Schmidt. The shining star of this film is Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle, Black Mirror) as Hamilton. Hamilton is such a compelling character that goes through the struggles surrounding everything that happens on the space station. At the same time she is battling her own personal issues that are exacerbated by the rip in the space-time continuum. Mbatha-Raw portrays both sides of Hamilton in a way that makes audiences instantly empathize with her. Elizabeth Debicki (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Everest) also shines as the mysterious Jensen. In many ways the struggles that Debicki’s character goes through are similar to Mbatha-Raw’s character. Debicki brings a lot of intensity to her performance, making it quite memorable.

The Cloverfield films are known for being intense, exciting, and filled with sci-fi action. The special effects of this film are stunning. The third installment likely has the largest amount of CGI (considering it primarily takes place in space), but it doesn’t feel like you are watching CGI. This is always a sign that the effects are very well done. Another thing these films are known for is having unique marketing campaigns. Cloverfield had months of marketing, but much of the plot was kept secret. 10 Cloverfield Lane was only announced one month before the release date, again being shrouded in secrecy. The Cloverfield Paradox, as most of America learned, had its first trailer released during the 2018 Superbowl. What made this so shocking is that viewers learned the film would be released to stream on Netflix immediately following the game. This unique marketing campaign definitely made the film stand out, and I’m sure thousands of fans rushed to stream the film as soon as it was available. Despite the success of the marketing, I can’t help but feel that a sci-fi film with this fan base and with these special effects would have been better served by being viewed in theaters on a big screen.

The Cloverfield Paradox is a worthy addition to the franchise and does a lot to connect the films, but it is also the weakest of the three films. It holds a lot of the same intensity and excitement fans have come to expect from the franchise, making it fun to watch. It also has an all-star cast with stellar performances. Where the film loses me a bit is how the filmmakers seem to use the multiple-universe idea as a way to throw random events into the plot that make no sense. If those scenes were removed or altered to be a bit more logucal, then the film would have been closer to the same level as the rest of the franchise. While I find myself a bit underwhelmed by The Cloverfield Paradox, it still makes me look forward to what else they can do with the franchise.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

Strawberry Flavored Plastic

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When two aspiring documentarians find a man who they believe is their perfect subject, they begin making their film. Unfortunately, they discover a little too late that his story wasn’t quite true. Instead of committing a single crime that he was imprisoned for, he has committed numerous murders, and he has yet to be caught. The filmmakers find themselves in an interesting position. By continuing to make their documentary they put themselves at risk in many ways, but it may just be worth the infamy.

Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic surprised me in a number of ways. Going into the film I had certain expectations of what I was about to watch, and for the most part the film managed to subvert those expectations. I assumed a large part of the plot was going to be the beginning of filming the documentary and the eventual discovery that Noel, the subject of the documentary, had not been totally honest. Surprisingly, Bemis chooses to only mention this. Instead the film begins after the documentarians decide to continue filming despite their discovery. Initially, this felt like a missed opportunity for some interesting drama in the film, but it actually works better with the documentary style. The film is about Noel. It would be odd for the “documentary” to spend a lot of time on the drama behind the camera instead of Noel. Although part of me still wants to know how Noel’s true nature was discovered when he has never been caught by the police.

The film feels like a true documentary in the filming style and how it spends a majority of the time diving deeper into Noel’s life, who he is as a person, and why he does the things he does. While the behind the scenes drama in the discovery of Noel’s murderous ways was rightly left out to keep the feel of a true documentary, there are other scenes that do the opposite. While some of the scenes make sense for the storytelling of the film, many of them simply add subplots that are unnecessary. Most of these scenes are there to provide more information about the documentarians. Some of these work well because they relate back to the process of making the documentary and become ultimately important to the story.

When you first hear Noel speak it may seem odd. He speaks in a very formal, polite, and old fashioned way that isn’t what you would expect from a killer. It feels out of place until the audience learns that he grew up watching old movies from the 40’s and how those movies influenced him. This minor detail explains an interesting bit of background for the character that makes him even more complex. The film is shot like a classic documentary, relying on “confessional” style interviews, a single camera following the subject, and strategically placed cameras to catch more candid shots. Since Noel is a killer, the filmmakers choose to take an extra step and give him a body cam to use when he gets the “itch.” The first time we see Noel use the body cam is quite jarring because he goes from being a very polite, soft spoken man to a raving maniac who swears and says things like “sugar tits.” At first it seems out of place, but again when paying attention to the details of Noel’s life the puzzle pieces fit together in a way that is logical for the character.

Aidan Bristow (Black Widows, L.A. Macabre) stars as the complex and troubled Noel. Since the film focuses on Noel’s character, it is important to have a strong leading man to drive the film. Luckily for these filmmakers, Bristow delivers a powerful, fascinating, and sometimes disturbing performance. The film often plays with the idea of nature vs. nurture when it comes to why Noel gets the urge to kill, and the way Bristow portrays Noel convinces audiences he isn’t a bad guy, he just commits a brutal murder every now and again. Nicholas Urda (Audition) plays one of the filmmakers, Errol. This documentary is Errol’s passion project, and Urda does a great job of conveying that. Overall Urda performs well, but there are times where is dialogue comes across a bit awkward or overly formal. It is difficult to say if this is due to his performance or because some of the ways in which Noel speaks bleed into Errol’s dialogue. Andres Montejo also does well in his first film acting roll as the second filmmaker, Ellis. He brings a bit more lightheartedness to the otherwise serious film.

Strawberry Flavored Plastic takes a thought provoking and unexpected look into the mind of a killer. While initial reactions may draw comparisons to other recent found footage films, such as Creep, a closer look reveals something all its own. Bemis creates a film that digs at the psychology behind a sociopath, subtly debating nature vs. nurture, and making audiences question what makes a person good or bad. There are certain scenes that take the film out of the documentary style, but for the most part this is a rare “mockumentary” that feels like an authentic documentary. Bemis’ story and direction coupled with Bristow’s fantastic performance makes for a film with a surprising amount of heart that will keep audiences contemplating what they watched long after the film has ended.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Insidious: The Last Key

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Parapsychologist Elise Rainier is back, and this time her newest case will take her to where it all began. A man calls asking for Elise’s help. It turns out the man lives in her childhood house. Elise is forced to remember her tragic past and the horrifying events that lead up to her returning to her hometown. She must solve this case in order to save her family from the demon that ruined their lives.

I want to start by giving some context to the film as it is technically another prequel to the first two installments. This film takes place after Elise has helped Quinn, and before she helps Dalton. The timeline for the Insidious films is as follows: Insidious: Chapter 3, Insidious: The Last Key, Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2. That being said, there is a lot of timeline overlap between the films thanks to the Further breaking the rules of time and flashbacks. The best part of this installment is that it finally gives me what I wanted; more of Elise’s backstory. Through a series of flashbacks and dream sequences the audience finally gets to learn about Elise’s childhood and the events that lead her becoming a parapsychologist. It is the strongest aspect of the film, and I wish there was much more of it.

Much of the downside to this film is when we get to the present. The first half of the film deals with more of Elise’s past, but when we see the investigation at her childhood house things begin to spiral downward. The main issue is that the filmmakers attempt to cram too many subplots into one story. There is Elise’s origin, the investigation at her old house, and what happens when she once again enters the Further. While any two of these would work well together, having all three storylines together in a single film is a bit much. As a result, while Elise’s backstory feels more complete, the other two subplots are underdeveloped. It gives the impression that the resolutions come too quickly and too easily. Especially when looking at what happens in the Further, there is virtually no explanation for much of what is shown. What’s even worse is that we never get a true sense of what the ultimate villain is trying to achieve or why. Many of his actions have no purpose, or at least not one that is apparent to audiences. If you look back at the early trailers and some of the promotional stills from the film there are several scenes that were not in the final cut of the film. It makes me wonder what this film could have been and if there was more explanation before the studio got their hands on it.

Along with Elise’s backstory being a strong point for The Last Key, Elise herself is likely the strongest aspect of the entire Insidious franchise. Lin Shaye (Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2) has been the one constant as Elise throughout the films. She always delivers a strong performance, and the fact that a horror film franchise focuses on a strong elderly woman is absolutely fantastic. Shaye makes the most of this film, despite some of the clunky dialogue, and makes audiences fall in love with her all over again. No matter what, Shaye shines through and commands the screen. As always, Elise has her trusty sidekicks by her side in this installment. There is Leigh Whannell (Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2) as Specs and Angus Sampson (Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2) as Tucker. They bring some heart and comedic relief to the thrills and chills of the film.

The Insidious films are known for having iconic and stylistic demons. The Last Key is no different. The villain, known only as KeyFace, has some disturbing creature design created with prosthetics, which are worn by none other than Javier Botet (Mama, REC). Unfortunately the amazing character design gets lost in the lack of character development. It is unfortunate that Botet’s talent is somewhat wasted in this fantastic design simply because the character is weakly written. Despite that, he is still frightening and he is the focal point for several scares throughout the film. Much like in Chapter 3, The Last Key relies heavily on jump scares and lacks some of the more subtle scares of the first two films. This film succeeds the most in building the anticipation for the jump scares. The filmmakers make you wait and wait, knowing that jump scare is coming, before the scare is finally delivered. Unfortunately, in many cases, the anticipation is more thrilling than the actual scare, but there are still plenty of frightening moments.

Insidious: The Last Key fulfills my wish of learning more about Elise, but it is still probably the weakest installment of the franchise. There are simply too many subplots, not enough development of those subplots and characters, and there are several weak points in the dialogue. Despite that, there are still some positives of the film. Elise has a fascinating backstory that audiences finally get to learn, and Shaye does a fantastic job reprising the role of Elise. While we don’t get enough information about him, the design for KeyFace is still quite iconic and disturbing. I only wish there had been more focus on him as a villain and his motivation. The Last Key completes the story of Elise in the Insidious franchise. It is an important piece of the puzzle worth watching, but I can only hope there is a director’s cut in the future that will give fans something more polished.

OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10

Favorite Things: Best of 2017

Disclaimer: 2017 was a busy, stressful, and emotional year. Between working full time, going to school full time, trying to maintain this website, and dealing with personal issues, I have neglected my site more than I care to admit. As a result there are several films I saw in 2017 that I unfortunately never had time to write reviews for. Instead of stressing out about it and trying to cram multiple reviews into the last few days of the year, I’ve decided to instead start 2018 with a clean slate. Some of the films in my top 10 list I did not write reviews for, but I will include a number rating for those films and links to the full reviews for others.

Ok, now for the fun stuff. There were many amazing great horror films, shorts, and TV shows in 2017. Here are my top picks for the year!

TOP 10 FILMS OF 2017

10. It Comes at Night

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This film suffered from misleading advertising. Between the name and the trailer, audiences got the impression it was going to be a very different film than what they got. Looking past that, It Comes at Night is still an intense film that puts audiences in the frame of mind of the main characters. All we know is there is an end-of-the-world type virus killing everyone, but no one knows anything more about the virus or what is going on in the rest of the world. The concept, along with a stellar performance from Joel Edgerton (The Gift), makes for a suspenseful film that sticks with you. OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

9. A Dark Song

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A Dark Song is a polarizing film. The majority of the plot is a slow burn showing the meticulous ritual a mother goes through to get revenge on those who killed her son. The climax then goes in a wildly different direction leading to a fascinating image that some will love and others will hate. Personally, I thought it all worked well together, and the two leads are both fantastic, especially Catherine Walker (Critical) as Sophia. Click here for my full review.

8. IT (2017)

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The latest adaptation may not have had the scares everyone expected, but it was exciting, well written, and had a superb cast of young actors. This film managed to make Pennywise a much more terrifying monster because they actually showed him being violent towards kids, something lacking in the first adaptation (and something many horror films don’t have the guts to do). This film makes me excited to see part two. Click here for my full review.

7. Hell House LLC

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There is one thing that makes me love Hell House LLC so much; it is not only the scariest film I saw in 2017, but it is also the scariest film I can think of in recent memory. Writer/director Stephen Cognetti took the more subtle approach with his scares, and it definitely paid off. This film is a perfect example of found footage done right. Click here for my full review.

6. The Devil’s Candy

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Metal music and the devil go hand-in-hand in The Devil’s Candy. The film is haunting and atmospheric, utilizing music to drive the plot down a dark and twisted path. The great story is accompanied by an even greater performance by none other than Ethan Embry (Empire Records). This could be Embry’s most powerful performance yet. Click here for my full review.

5. Gerald’s Game

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I hadn’t read Stephen King’s book before seeing Gerald’s Game. The plot sounds like something that wouldn’t work in a feature length film, but director Mike Flanagan made a thrilling and suspenseful film with various scenes that won’t leave my mind anytime soon. The film also has one of the strongest female performances of the year from Carla Gugino (San Andreas). OVERALL RATING: 8/10

4. Tragedy Girls

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Tragedy Girls was one of the most fun film experiences I had this year. It is disturbing, hilarious, and sweet all at the same time. Both Alexandra Shipp (X-Men: Apocalypse) and Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool) deliver hilarious performances with great chemistry between the two of them. The film perfectly displayed the lives of teenage girls; these teenage girls just happen to be serial killers. OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

3. Get Out

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Jordan Peele gave audiences a socially poignant thriller that is equal parts disturbing and funny. Get Out may be one of the most important horror films to come out this year because of the social climate throughout the country. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s just a genuinely great film with an interesting story and lots of little hidden meanings throughout. Click here for my full review.

2. Raw

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For most of the year Raw held the number 1 spot on my list of favorite films in 2017. While it got bumped at the last minute, this film still stands out in my mind. Raw is a French film focusing on a girl going through a sexual awakening while also discovering she has cannibalistic tendencies. The film is intense, unsettling, and even beautiful. Click here for my full review.

1. The Shape of Water

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The Shape of Water is not only my favorite film of 2017, but it just might be my new favorite film of all time. It is visually stunning, well acted, and has a beautiful story that many people will be able to relate to. Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Elisa. Guillermo del Toro yet again proves that he is a master of his craft with this gorgeous piece of art. Click here for my full review.

Honorable mention: Dave Made a Maze, The Night Watchmen, The Babysitter, Boys in the Trees, Better Watch Out.

TOP SHORT FILMS OF 2017

TOP TV SHOWS OF 2017

  • The Exorcist
  • Stranger Things
  • Bates Motel (series ended in 2017)
  • American Horror Story: Cult
  • Grimm (series ended in 2017)

The Shape of Water

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In the 1960’s a mute janitor, Elisa, works nights at a government research facility. She goes through the same lonely routine day after day, only able to communicate with her two closest friends, until the facility acquires a new “asset.” This asset is a strange and beautiful aquatic creature, as mysterious as it is dangerous. When Elisa forms a bond with the creature she decides that she must do anything she can to save his life.

Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak) is one of the most visionary writer/directors of our time. He is known for creating haunting films that are as strikingly beautiful as they are fascinating. While his credits include a number of fantastic films, The Shape of Water may be the most breathtaking film he has ever created. The plot seems to combine elements that display del Toro’s passions: classic film, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, and people who are considered “different” who find love and acceptance in each other. The influence of The Creature From the Black Lagoon is the most apparent aspect of the film. Del Toro himself has stated that it was his inspiration for the plot. What is more subtle is how del Toro injects his love of old Hollywood cinema into the film. Not only does Elisa reside above a movie theater, but she is often shown watching old black and white films with her neighbor and friend, Giles. Yet, it is the feeling of being an outsider, and finding others who feel the same, that is the focus of the film.

Elisa is not only mute, but she is an orphan as well. She is an outsider and spends much of her time alone. Her only two friends are also outsiders for a number of reasons; Zelda, who is a black woman in a time when that made you an outcast, and Giles, who is also an outcast in his own way. Their mutual loneliness brought them together as friends, and it is also what draws Elisa to the creature. She doesn’t see him as a monster. He is simply another outsider in need of companionship. This premise is something that many people can relate to in some capacity. The friendship that grows between Elisa and the creature makes the heart swell.

The entire cast of The Shape of Water delivers outstanding performances, from the leading lady down to fleeting roles that only last a few minutes. Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine, Never Let Me Go) is absolutely stunning as Elisa. Expressing strong emotion is difficult without a voice, but Hawkins does it perfectly. In a particularly powerful scene Elisa is desperately trying to explain to Giles why she has to save the creature. Watching Hawkins emotionally use sign-language to express her explanation is utterly heart-wrenching. Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) is also fantastic as the creature. Jones and del Toro have done many projects together, and Jones is known for his work as various strange beings that involve full body and face prosthetics. Much like Hawkins, Jones has to emote without the use of a voice, but he has the further disadvantage of not having a human face either. Still, Jones finds a way to push the emotion through the costume. Not surprisingly, Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire, Nocturnal Animals) delivers a very disturbing performance as Richard Strickland, the man who captured the creature and brought it to the facility. A common theme of this film is that humans are often the true monsters, and Shannon gives audiences a monster they can truly despise. While they have somewhat smaller roles, it is just as important to state how great the group was who makes up the remaining “outsiders” in the film: Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Help) as Zelda, Richard Jenkins (Cabin in the Woods, Let Me In) as Giles, and Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire, A Serious Man) as Dr. Hoffstetler.

As with most of del Toro’s work, The Shape of Water is visually exquisite. The creature design alone is absolutely gorgeous. There is clear inspiration from the look in Creature From the Black Lagoon, but del Toro made the creature much more sleek and beautiful. The prosthetics blend so well with the CGI of the creature, creating a striking and realistic being. Along with the creature design, del Toro also made each scene stand out with distinct color palettes. Via Twitter, del Toro explained the meaning behind each color choice made in the film. He explains that Elisa’s apartment and things in her world are the cyans and blues of water, while the homes of other characters are the warm tones of gold and amber. The color red is for “cinema, life, and love,” which is apparent in the red drapes in the movie theater and how Elisa wears more and more red during the film as she gets closer to the creature. Green is used to represent the future. It is a prevalent color in the government lab, fancy new cars, and other items of the future. These deliberate choices add meaning in places it would not normally be found, as well as elegance. These choices allow del Toro to achieve a truly breathtaking aesthetic throughout the film.

The Shape of Water may be the most stunning film I have ever seen. Visually, it draws you in with gorgeous creature design and fascinating use of colors. The performances are absolutely outstanding, and the characters are fascinating. The story del Toro creates in this film is one of being an outsider, and finding others who feel the same and creating an intense, strong bond. I rarely watch a film where I wouldn’t change a thing, and I virtually never give out perfect scores for films. The Shape of Water is an exception, as I wouldn’t change a thing, and it is wholly deserving of a perfect score. The Shape of Water is a film that people will be talking about for years to come.

OVERALL RATING: 10/10

The Devil’s Candy

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Jesse is a struggling painter. His life focuses on his art, his family, and metal music. When he and his wife find their dream home at a too-good-to-be-true price (due to the fact that the previous owners died in the home) they quickly purchase it. Everything starts out great as Jesse works away in his barn studio, but something dark resides in the house. When the son of the previous owners shows up out of the blue, things quickly begin to spiral out of Jesse’s control, putting his family at risk.

There are two things that stand out about the plot of this film: the way it integrates music throughout the story, and how it provides a more subtle look into satanic forces. Heavy metal music is a clear driving force throughout the film. Not only does this come through when Jesse and his daughter, Zooey, are bonding over their favorite musical genre, but the music is also directly connected with the demonic forces. When the audience hears what is likely the “voice” of the Devil it sounds very much like music. Also, the son of the previous home-owners, Ray, attempts to drive the voice from his head by loudly shredding his axe (playing his electric guitar, for those not well versed in metal-speak). The music goes along hand-in-hand with the demonic nature of the film and the often dark, grimy look of many scenes.

When a horror fan thinks of a film that focuses on satanic forces, typically what comes to mind is possession or demons wreaking havoc. The Devil’s Candy takes a much more subtle approach. We hear a satanic “voice” in the form of eerie music. Ray hears this voice and can only keep it out by playing music even louder than the Devil. Unfortunately, the satanic forces are too strong for him, and they drive him to commit unspeakable acts. The approach makes the film even more haunting and even a bit more realistic. Instead of a demon controlling a person’s body it is simply a voice in the back of the mind, like a constant buzzing, driving someone to do harm. What makes this more realistic is that from the outside it simply looks like a lunatic serial killer. Only those who can hear the Devil’s music know the truth. Writer/director Sean Byrne (The Loved Ones) even includes little hints such as Jesse trying to sell his art at a gallery called “Belial,” another term for the Devil, and the draw to become a respected artist continually tries to pull Jesse away from his family.

The Devil’s Candy is very much about music and satanic forces, but it is also a film about the bonds of family. Jesse and Zooey have a very close bond. Much of their bond is rooted in their mutual love of metal. As the satanic forces attempt to pull him further away from his family, it is Jesse’s love of his wife and daughter that continues to pull him out of the Devil’s hold. It is an interesting juxtaposition to see how Jesse is able to keep evil out of his mind because of his family, while Ray is unable to keep the voice out of his head no matter how hard he tries.

This film is filled with stellar performances. Ethan Embry (Empire Records, Sweet Home Alabama) absolutely shines as Jesse. This may be Embry’s most powerful performance as he shows audiences his struggle between his family and his desire to be a famous artist. It is almost as if the role was made for Embry, and I find it difficult to imagine anyone else in the role. Pruitt Taylor Vince (Identity, Constantine) also gives a disturbing performance as Ray. Vince has made quite a name for himself playing a series of unsettling characters, and his performance in The Devil’s Candy is no different. What makes his performance especially compelling is the way he is able to make audiences feel both sympathy and revulsion towards his character. Then there is relative newcomer Kiara Glasco (Bitten, Maps to the Stars) as Jesse’s daughter, Zooey. The way Glasco conveys the fear her character feels will give you chills. Together this cast is a force of nature driving the plot to its hellish climax.

The Devil’s Candy is a haunting film that perfectly melds disturbing events, satanic forces, dark imagery, and metal. The plot alone is interesting enough, but when it is combined with the music it becomes even more powerful. The Devil’s Candy also features amazing performances including a powerhouse portrayal by Embry. This is only Byrne’s second feature length film, and already he is making quite a name for himself in the horror industry. The Devil’s Candy is sure to be on many top ten lists for 2017.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10