Month: July 2018

Secret Santa

secret santa

A large family comes together for Christmas. Like many other families, this one is broken and estranged and dysfunctional. As they all come together around the table for Christmas dinner the fighting begins. But these aren’t your ordinary family arguments. The fights turn violent and this average holiday get-together becomes a bloody, chaotic massacre.

Everyone believes they have a weird family. Some family members you love and others you can’t stand. Writer/director Adam Marcus (Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, Texas Chainsaw 3D) and co-writer Debra Sullivan (Conspiracy, Texas Chainsaw 3D) take something we are all familiar with and amplify it. This family has deep seeded issues due to divorce, remarriage, success, failure, and of course a large dose of sibling rivalry. When something happens that turns the family members into crazed, bloodthirsty killers the excitement really kicks in. The dynamics between various family members are some of the highlights of the film because many audience members will see themselves and their families in the film. The hilarious dialogue helps to highlight those strained relationships and it even carries into some of the kill scenes. As truths are revealed and the non-crazy family members try to fight for their lives, things get very thrilling and hilarious.

There are a few breakout performances in this film that will stick with you long after the credits roll. A early standout is Nathan Hedrick (Art of War, Seven Deadly Sins) as Jackson, the outspoken horndog half brother. Hedrick’s performance is totally over the top, but it works for his character. He’s loud, he’s crazy, and when he becomes violent he has some hilarious scenes. A Leslie Kies (The Newsroom, Jane the Virgin) shines as April. April is the perfect child among all the siblings. On the surface she seems too perfect, but as the film progresses Kies shows April’s hidden flaws and secrets in a compelling way. The true star of this film, in my opinion, is Ryan Leigh Seaton (NerdGirls, Dogs & Me) as Penny. Penny is the black sheep of the family and Seaton plays her as the sarcastic sibling who hates everyone incredibly well. Seaton also has some of the most hilarious lines and her delivery will leave you in stitches. While the entire cast is really fun to watch, Seaton is likely the one who will be remembered the most.

It’s safe to say that there is a lot of blood in this film. Fans of gore will not be disappointed. On top of that, there are some really unique kills. The film even opens with a fight from the point of view of a snow globe, which ends up being used as a weapon. This allows the filmmakers to show some very creative effects. All the attacks, from severed heads to cut Achilles tendons, are grotesque and thrilling.  Not only are these kills creative and even funny at times, but the practical effects look amazing as well. There is a level of campiness with the amount of blood and gore, but it fits in very well with the tone of the film.

Secret Santa is the holiday horror film to watch when you want to see a family that is more dysfunctional than your own. It is equal parts carnage and laughs, with outrageous characters that have you laughing and screaming from start to finish. This is the kind of film that you go into knowing it is meant to be humorous, gory, and campy. Slasher horror comedies with this kind of humor and gore can be an acquired taste, but they can also be some of the most fun experiences you’ll have in watching a film. This film will clearly become a holiday staple for horror fans.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

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The Heretics

heretics

A young girl is kidnapped by a cult. They use her to perform a ritual under the locust moon, but then the entire cult commits suicide. Years later she struggles to cope with the trauma of that day. As a new locust moon approaches, the girl is kidnapped again by a lone survivor of the cult, but he claims to want to save her from an evil growing inside her. She must decide to believe him or escape, and time is running out.

The single strongest part of this film is the premise. Chad Archibald (Bite, The Drownsman) came up with the story and directed while Jayme Laforest (Bite, Gods of Accident) wrote the screenplay. The plot is interesting because it almost instantly subverts your expectations. When you see a young girl kidnapped by a cult, you expect her to be sacrificed for some demon or god. That isn’t what happens here. The cult actually sacrifices themselves, leaving the girl alone on the alter to find her way home. It isn’t until years later that the horror truly begins. The film flips back and forth between what is happening with the kidnapped girl and her captor, then showing the people who are searching for the girl. It allows the filmmakers to slowly reveal details as the plot progresses. There is also a really interesting level of surreal hallucinations as it gets closer to dawn. The idea behind the film is great, but the film leans more towards melodrama and camp in a film that otherwise has a very serious and sinister tone.

The performances in this film are a bit of a mixed bag. Nina Kiri (The Handmaid’s Tale, Let Her Out) plays Gloria, the victim of two kidnappings. For the most part Kiri’s portrayal of Gloria keeps the audience interested and empathetic, especially as we learn the PTSD she experiences in the wake of the first kidnapping. There are times in her performance later on where she comes off as a bit breathy (I know that may sound odd, but it is the word that comes to mind). She sometimes speaks softly and with the breathiness of someone trying to talk after going for a long run. While this technically works for the circumstances she is in, it comes across as more of an acting tool rather than a genuine reaction to the circumstances. Ry Barrett (The Demolisher, Inspiration) plays kidnapper Thomas. This is likely the most complex character. He was a member of the cult and, in an act of regret and cowardice, he does not sacrifice himself with the others. Now he kidnaps Gloria again in order to redeem himself. Barrett does a good job of conveying the complicated emotions Thomas goes through as he tries to overcome his guilt. Jorja Cadence (Helltown, Y2K) plays Gloria’s girlfriend, Joan. Cadence’s performance starts out fine, but as she goes into hysterics after Gloria is kidnapped her performance becomes a bit over the top. There is a lot of yelling and screaming that is exaggerated to the point of being almost humorous.

One of the stronger points of the film is the practical effects. The longer Gloria is locked away in the secluded cabin, the more she begins to transform. The filmmakers take their time with the transformation, allowing there to be subtle changes as the plot progresses. These changes eventually get fairly grotesque. The grotesque features altering such a beautiful young woman make the changes even more disturbing. The final transformation moves away from practical effects and turns to CGI, which unfortunately takes away from the shocking imagery and cheapens the overall look.

The Heretics is a film with the makings of a great plot that just wasn’t executed as well as it could have been. The idea behind it is great and the plot has some surprising points to keep audiences interested. For the most part it has compelling performances as well, but again there are times when the acting goes over the top into the realm of campy B-movies. The special effects stand out as a high point, until the end when the filmmakers make the choice to move from practical to CGI effects. It is obvious that the film is split down the middle when it comes to high and low points, making it just an okay film.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10

Feral

feral

A group of medical school students venture into the woods for a camping trip. On the first night they are attacked by something. Once bitten, they become infected with a strange disease and it’s changing them into dangerous creatures. The students will have to use their medical knowledge and whatever survival skills they have to escape with their lives.

This tale of survival is directed by Mark H. Young (Tooth and Nail, Wicked Blood) and written by both Young and first-time screenwriter Adam Frazier. On the surface, the plot will seem very familiar. A group of college kids going into the woods and then being terrorized by some unknown creature is a concept that has been done time and time again. There are some thrilling and frightening moments mixed in with some more predictable ones (such as the obvious foreshadowing of who the first victims will be). The filmmakers use two methods to try to make Feral stand apart; the leading couple is a lesbian couple, and instead of just a monster in the woods there is a “feral virus.”

When it comes to having a prominent lesbian couple, the film has some high and low points. First and foremost is that the couple doesn’t fall into the typical stereotypes commonly found in film. There isn’t one woman that is more “butch” and one that is more “femme,” they are not man-hating, and their sexual orientation isn’t all they talk about or what defines them. In this way, the couple is very well developed compared to other films. The biggest drawback is the fact that they are two women in a relationship was brought up to much by other other characters, putting it in the spotlight and focusing a lot of the non-monster drama on that relationship and what others thought of it.

The virus itself is very interesting. Calling it a “feral” virus implies it might be some kind of rabies-like virus that infects the host and makes them hyper-violent. This is somewhat true in the film, but the virus also kills the host then brings them back to life as a bloodthirsty creature. There are even physical changes such as hair loss, yellow eyes, pale skin, elongated ears, and razor sharp teeth and claws. It honestly comes across as very muddled, like it is a rabies virus that turns the victims into zombie-vampire monsters. The origin of the virus is also underdeveloped. We learn that some creature in the woods bit a man, and that is supposedly how it all started. This opens up so many questions. What was the creature? Why do humans seem to be the only ones affected? Why hasn’t the virus reached outside the forest? It is good to leave some mystery for viewers, but this origin is simply too vague. Unfortunately, by trying to create something new and original, instead audiences will get something that is more confusing than anything else.

The origin of the creatures may be a bit fuzzy, but the creature design itself is pretty creepy. The makeup design does a great job of making each infected individual look similar, showing how the virus physically changes a person in the same way. The overall look reminds me of a vampire, but much more wild and ferocious than one would normally expect. The first time a creature is shown on screen is probably the most frightening part of the entire film. You can just barely make it out in the darkness as it stares down its victim. By the time you get a good look at the creature, it’s too late. There is also a healthy amount of blood and gore in the film. They do a great job of showing the attack wounds and how those eventually translate to an infected creature.

This film has some great actors who have made a name for themselves in the horror industry. Scout Taylor-Compton (Halloween, Cynthia) plays the main character, Alice. What makes Taylor-Compton’s performance stand out is how natural she portrays Alice. She is the most comfortable in the woods and remains cool under the most stressful circumstances, taking a natural leadership role in the group without any unnecessary bravado. She also has fantastic on-screen chemistry with Olivia Luccardi (It Follows, Chanel Zero: Butcher’s Block), who plays Jules. She stands out because Jules is the only one not part of the original group of friends. She is really only there because of her relationship with Alice. Luccardi portrays Jules as the outsider of the group, which makes her attempts to step up and be strong even more compelling. The most surprising performance of the film is Lew Temple (The Devil’s Rejects, 31) as Talbot. The character is interesting because Talbot functions as the harbinger archetype commonly found in horror films, but he is developed even further into a main character. Temple does a great job of making Talbot a strange mixture of sympathetic and ominous, which is not easy to achieve. The film has an overall well-rounded cast who know how to bring intensity to their performances.

Feral brings excitement and terror to the “monster in the woods” subgenre of horror. It successfully brings some elements to the plot that make it stand out from other similar films, such as including LGBTQ characters and changing up the familiar harbinger trope. There are also some standout performances from horror actors fans know and love, and creepy creature design that will make you not want to go into the woods. Where the film falls short is in the virus that creates the frightening creature. The underdeveloped background almost takes away from the fear of the virus and what it does because it simply doesn’t make sense. The film is entertaining enough, but it will likely be forgotten by the end of the year.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10