Month: September 2019

In the Tall Grass

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A brother and sister on a cross-country drive pull over in a remote part of middle America. While stopped, they hear a young boy calling for help in a field of very tall grass. The siblings decide they have to go into the field to help the boy. It doesn’t take long for the two to become separated and soon they realize there is something sinister about the grass.

Based on the novella by Stephen King and Joe Hill, writer and director Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice) brings In the Tall Grass from the page to the screen. This sci-fi horror mash-up begins with the brother and sister. They are lured into the field of grass, which appears to be at least 8 feet tall, and quickly find themselves separated and lost in the abyss of green. There also seems to be a family separated and lost in the grass, but their intentions aren’t very clear. It isn’t until the sister’s ex-boyfriend comes looking for her that the mystery slowly begins to unravel. The film plays with some ideas that will feel familiar to fans of this particular type of horror, while also managing to create something thrilling and unique. The plot takes the very simple idea of being lost in a virtual sea of grass that rises high above the average person’s head and expertly turns it into something much more complex.

The tension of In the Tall Grass can be felt almost immediately. Each part of the plot builds this tension from the young boy calling the siblings into the grass, to the siblings immediately getting separated, to the simple fact that the sister is pregnant, and to the various people in the grass not being trustworthy. Even the grass itself adds to the suspense. It is so tall and it seems to go on forever, generating an extremely claustrophobic feel as the audience sees from the point of view of those trapped in the grass. From there the suspense and the plot become much more complex. Whatever entity or energy exists within the grass, it has the ability to play with all the laws of physics humans have come to know. Time and space mean nothing in the tall grass. Being in the grass creates a sort of time loop, which is a popular concept in many recent horror films, yet In the Tall Grass still manages to make it feel unique. There is also a great element of the unknown. The film hints at the ancient power within the field and other specific elements, but nothing is overtly explained. There is just enough shown to create a mythos, but a majority of why these horrible things are happening is left a mystery. There is one aspect of the mythos in the climax that is rather horrifying. It is the one aspect that is not explained that really should have been as it leaves a gaping whole where the answer should be.

The cast of the film is primarily made up of lesser-known actors, with the exception of one name horror fans are sure to recognize. Laysla De Oliveira (Guest of Honour, Locke & Key) stars as the pregnant Becky. Oliveira does a fantastic job of conveying Becky’s vulnerability in her pregnant state, yet that pregnancy is also what makes her more determined to survive and escape the grass. Equally determined is her ex-boyfriend, Travis, played by Harrison Gilbertson (Need for Speed, Upgrade). Travis’s determination comes from wanting to save his unborn baby and the woman he loves. Gilbertson also delivers a compelling performance in this role. The surprise performance of the film comes from the most famous of the actors, Patrick Wilson (Insidious, The Conjuring). Wilson plays Ross, a man already trapped in the grass. He manages to portray a character that is far more sinister than anything we have seen from him before. Additional strong performances come from Avery Whitted (The Vanishing of Sidney Hall) and Will Buie Jr. (Bunk’d).

Most of the horror and suspense in the film rests entirely on the setting. Many horror films take place in fields of corn, but the field of grass that goes far above your head in this film is far more menacing. The grass doesn’t grow in a uniform way like corn does, which makes it much easier to get lost in the endless green. The grass is also very tightly packed, making it difficult to know where you are or if there is anything lurking just beyond those blades. It’s quite effective and beautiful. The filmmakers include gorgeous aerial shots of the grass that truly make the field appear as if it goes on forever. At the center of the field lies something large and ominous that lends to the mythos created throughout the film. It is a simple setting that has a striking look. The only other visual aspects are a few practical effects. These are also well done. They come in the form of minor wounds, a few corpses, and some very intriguing masks worn by beings in the grass.

In the Tall Grass is a twisting, cyclical journey of mysticism and madness from the minds of Stephen King and Joe Hill. Natali does a superb job of bringing the story to life. The resulting film is mysterious, thrilling, and gives the viewer something unique. The filmmakers were smart in making much of the mechanics behind the field of grass a mystery, yet there is one aspect of the climax that needs a bit of explanation. As is, it comes across as simply being in the film for shock value. While this plot stands apart from similar films, it may fall to the wayside with the many successful time-loop films that have been released in the past few years. Luckily the film has strong performances and an eerie setting to really build the suspense. This is a Netflix original film fans of Stephen King, Joe Hill, horror, and time-loop films will definitely want to see.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

 

 

Creepshow: Season 1 Episode 1

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In 1982, the iconic horror anthology, Creepshow, was released. The anthology was written by Stephen King and directed by George A. Romero, who are both horror icons. The film spawned a sequel in 1987. Now, Creepshow is back in an exciting new way.

The horror streaming service, Shudder, is bringing back everyone’s favorite creep with his chest of comics and all new stories. Creepshow is getting a new life in the form of a weekly series. Every Thursday night Shudder subscribers can tune in to watch the latest episode live and the episode will also become available ondemand. Each episode will tell two different stories and each week fans will get to see work from some of their favorite actors, writers, and directors while also being introduced to some exciting new talent. The lovely folks over at Shudder were kind enough to give me an early look at the first episode. In this episode viewers will see two thrilling tales, “Gray Matter” and “The House of the Head.”

“Gray Matter,” based on a short story by legendary author Stephen King and adapted for the screen by Byron Willinger (The Commuter) and Philip de Blasi (The Commuter), starts off the episode with a bang. Directed by Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead), the segment tells the tale of a father and son. After losing his wife, the father turns to alcohol to ease his pain with horrifying consequences. The story takes place on one dark and stormy night as most of the town has either left to avoid the storm or boarded everything up. This generates a claustrophobic feeling of being trapped as things gradually go from bad to worse.

This short was a great way to kick off the first episode. It is a frightening story that all culminates in fantastic practical effects that you have to see to believe. “Gray Matter” also includes a couple of fan favorite horror actors including Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Escape From New York) and Tobin Bell (Saw, Belzebuth). This segment also stars relative newcomer, Christopher Nathan (Barely Lethal, The Spectacular Now) as Timmy. Nathan delivers a compelling performance as he struggles between doing the right thing and his love for his father.

The second segment, “The House of the Head,” takes creepy dolls to a whole new level. This story follows young Evie as she plays with her doll family in their beautiful dollhouse. When a mysterious toy head appears in the house the lives of the doll family are threatened. “The House of the Head” is written by Josh Malerman, who also wrote the Bird Box novel, and directed by John Harrison (Tales From the Darkside: The Movie, Book of Blood).

This story is particularly frightening. The viewer sees the lives of the dolls through the eyes of young Evie. This is a highly effective storytelling tool because there is really no major action, we don’t ever even see the dolls move. It is Evie’s love of her dolls and childish point of view that allows the sense of danger to the dolls to come through the screen. Evie is played by the very talented Cailey Flemming (The Walking Dead, Peppermint). Flemming really makes the plot work. If it wasn’t for her love of the dolls and her ability to treat them as if they were real people, then the viewer wouldn’t care about the dolls and feel the peril they are in.

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Shudder and the entire team behind the new Creepshow series got the show off to a strong start with “Grey Matter” and “The House of the Head.” Both stories boast strong performances, beloved horror actors, favorite horror writers and directors, stunning practical effects, and chilling tales that are sure to give you goose bumps. Even more appealing is how both segments do what I always want to see from short films: they tell a complete story, but leave enough mystery to make you want more. It makes me excited to see what the future episodes will hold. I also love that Shudder is only releasing one episode a week, allowing for the collective live viewing experience that has been lost with many streaming services. With the success of the weekly episodes of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, I can only imagine how many Shudder subscribers will watch live and tweet along with the show.

The first episode of Creepshow will air on Thursday, September 26th at 9pm EST/6pm PST. If you aren’t a Shudder subscriber yet, be sure to sign up so you can be part of this fantastic weekly horror event.

3 From Hell

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The Devil’s Rejects survived the shootout with Ruggsville police. After being found guilty of heinous crimes, the Firefly family has been locked away in prison awaiting death row. When Otis Firefly is able to make a bloody escape, he comes up with a plan to free Baby. Then it’s time for this deranged family to wreak havoc on all those who cross their path.

Ever since the film was first announced, fans have been chomping at the bit to see 3 From Hell. Written and directed by Rob Zombie (House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects), this is the third film chronicling the murderous adventures of the Firefly clan. The film begins by giving a brief update of the family surviving the shootout from the end of the previous film and a bit about the trial that took place after. From there, we see Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding nearly 10 years later as they await their death sentence. Eventually the family is able to escape, with the help of a new face. We see as these psychopaths balance trying to stay hidden from the law while still following their murderous nature. The film is as violent as one would expect from a Zombie film, while also incorporating dangerously dark humor fans will love.

The Devil’s Rejects is a much loved film, and it has one of my favorite film endings of all time. With the way that film ended, there was no real need for a sequel. Audiences watched as their favorite murderers went down in a blaze of gunfire, being shot so many times they should have died. When 3 From Hell was announced I wrote an article for The Coda Films discussing different ways the family could be brought back for a third film (you can read that article here). Unfortunately, Zombie went with what I believe is the laziest option by having them simply survive. I do appreciate that there is a joke made about it in the beginning of the film, but there was a missed opportunity to either bring back the Doctor Satan character from House of 1000 Corpses or even connect this film to The Lords of Salem and have the witches bring the family back. That being said, Zombie clearly wanted the second and third films in this trilogy to be more firmly rooted in reality than the first film, which could explain this storytelling choice.

While it’s not a necessary sequel, 3 From Hell still manages to come very close to the magic of its predecessor. Fans get to see more of their favorite psychopaths, Otis and Baby Firefly, while also getting to meet another member of the family. Zombie is eerily successful at writing despicable characters who do horrific things, yet there is something about them that makes you root for them. There are also some very compelling moments of humanity mixed in with all the chaos, especially between Baby and a new character named Sebastian. I believe what holds the film back a bit from reaching the same level as The Devil’s Rejects, aside from the way the family survived, is the lack of a truly formidable opponent. In the previous film the Firefly clan was up against Sheriff Wydell, who was just as sinister and deadly as the Fireflys themselves. In this film there are a few different opponents, but none of them have quite the same presence as Wydell. Without that opposing force, the Fireflys not only don’t have an worthy adversary to go up against, but it also doesn’t give the audience as much of a reason to sympathize with them.

Between the familiar and new characters, the entire cast is pure magic. The highlight is definitely Sheri Moon Zombie (The Lord of Salem, The Devil’s Reject) as Baby Firefly. Fans are familiar with Baby’s playfully homicidal antics. This time around, years in solitary confinement have turned that playfulness into insanity. Moon Zombie gives a stunning portrayal of the character in those moments of insanity, but she also brings a deeper emotional level to Baby, especially during her interactions with Sebastian. Bill Moseley (House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects) also returns as the most brutal of the family, Otis Firefly. Moseley brings much of the same ferociousness to the character of Otis in this film, but the years in prison have changed Otis as well. It may not be as obvious as with Baby, but he has become a bit more cautious as he tries to keep himself and his family out of police hands. A new member of the Firefly clan is Richard Brake (31, Doom) as Winslow Foxworth Coltrane, half-brother to Baby and Otis. This is the first time we have met Winslow, but he clearly has the same extracurricular interests as the rest of the family. Brake’s chemistry with both Moon Zombie and Moseley is a delight to watch, and watching him on screen feels like he’s been part of this franchise from the beginning. Other fantastic performances come from Dee Wallace (The Howling, The Lords of Salem) as Greta the prison guard, Pancho Moler (Candy Corn, 31) as Sebastian, and Jeff Daniel Phillips (The Lords of Salem, 31) as warden Virgil Dallas Harper.

As with every Zombie film, 3 From Hell is both stunning to look at and has great music. The sets, cars, wardrobe, and filming style all transport the viewer back to the films of the 70’s and 80’s. Zombie has always had a great eye for creating that vintage aesthetic, and this film is no different. He also curates an amazing soundtrack of rock classics combined with the gorgeous film score by Zeuss, who also did the score for 31. 3 From Hell also incorporates very realistic practical effects for the various wounds the Firefly family inflicts on their victims, as well as ones inflicted upon them.

3 From Hell is an unnecessary, yet delightful third film in the saga of the savage Firefly clan. The film has it’s flaws, mostly in the way the family is brought back for this film and the lack of a worthy adversary for them to fight against. That being said, Zombie comes so dangerously close to catching the same magic of The Devil’s Rejects that most of his fans will likely be delighted with this film. It has great visuals, fantastic acting, and it’s a bloody good time. Much like every film Zombie has ever made, 3 From Hell is sure to polarize audiences. One thing is for sure, I had a smile on my face during this film from start to finish.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire

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After several years, the Abaddon Hotel will once again be open to the public. This time, famed interactive-show director Russell Wynn is putting on a live performance in the hotel called Insomnia. Wynn invites the new Morning Mysteries crew to come and document the making of his latest show. What they film is even more horrors in this cursed building.

Like the first two films, Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire was written and directed by Stephen Cognetti. The film is a combination of found footage and mocumentary style. As with those first two films, this one takes place in the Abaddon Hotel. Despite the numerous reports of strange happenings, disappearances, and deaths, a new crew is entering the hotel. In the second film we met the new host and crew of Morning Mysteries, the TV segment whose previous host and crew were in the second film. They are sent to the Abaddon Hotel to document the making of a live interactive performance called Insomnia. At first everything seems normal, but then increasingly frightening things happen. What’s worse is the creator of this show, Russell Wynn, seems to know more that he lets on and is determined to finish the show.

Cognetti’s final installment of the Hell House LLC franchise does a fantastic job of upping the stakes. It comes to new revelations fans didn’t already know and brings the tale of the Abaddon Hotel to a close. In some respects, the final act of this film is a bit too neat in how it brings all the various storylines to a end. There is such a thing in horror as too much closure. The very last scene of the film does a nice job of bringing everything full-circle, but it is still too tidy.

One thing Cognetti has been incredibly successful with in all three films is capturing the feel of walking through a haunt. There is a near constant feeling of tension just from the eerie set of the hotel itself. As we follow the camera walking from room to room, you never know if something is going to jump out at you from around the corner. Cognetti also knows how to use subtlety to his favor. The first scares are small and involve a creepy sound or a slight movement of something that shouldn’t move. From there the scares build, often feeling reminiscent of a true haunt when you aren’t sure if something is a prop or a person until they finally jump out and scare you to death.

The filmmakers also wisely chose to go for very simplistic makeup, also much like a haunt. Lake of Fire includes some familiar spooky faces including a creepy woman who likes to lurk in one of the upstairs rooms and the clown mannequin who likes to move around on his own. These chilling characters are created with very minimalistic makeup and masks. The climax of the film utilizes some CGI effects. Much like with the previous films, I don’t think the CGI works as well in this found-footage, lower budget film, but it doesn’t detract from the overall appeal of the film.

Luckily, Lake of Fire continues the trend of great performances for the Hell House LLC films. The entire ensemble cast is fantastic and conveys fear quite well. Gabriel Chytry (Altruism) plays the creator of Insomnia, Russell Wynn. Russell is an interesting character as he clearly is hiding things from the crew. Chytry balances the character between appearing to have sinister intentions and simply being an eccentric director. Elizabeth Vermilyea stars as Morning Mysteries host, Vanessa, in her first feature film role. Vermilyea’s portrayal of Vanessa also plays a balancing act as she attempts to prove herself in a male-dominated industry while also doing what’s best for the people around her rather than her career. Other notable performances come from Sam Kazzi (Law & Order: SVU), Bridgid Abrams (Contributions), Leo DeFriend (Mordeo), Jordan Kaplan (My Alien Girlfriend), and Scott Richey (Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell).

Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire is a fitting end to a trilogy that perfectly captures the feel of walking through a Halloween haunt. Cognetti created an intricate a complicated plot spanning three films, each one raising the stakes and revealing terrifying new information. While the end of the film attempts to tie all the various subplots up too cleanly, the franchise still ends in an impactful way. Of all the films, Lake of Fire may be the least scary, but there are still plenty of spine-chilling moments that will keep you up at night. Along with great performances and creepy effects, it’s hard to escape the thrilling feeling of walking through a haunted attraction. Lake of Fire rounds out a great trilogy that is a must-watch for the Halloween season.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Candy Corn

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It’s almost Halloween. A group of local punks decide to honor their longtime tradition of pranking the local outcast while he’s at work at the visiting freak show. When the guys take things too far, a ritual is used to bring him back to life. Now he will take his revenge on this sleepy little town.

For me, Candy Corn has been one of my most anticipated horror films of the year.  The film was written, directed, edited, and produced by Josh Hasty (Honeyspider, In Hell Everybody Loves Popcorn: The Making of 31).  Immediately we are introduced to the group of young adults who just love hazing the local outcast, Jacob. The three young men are your typical small-town jerks who get pleasure out of other people’s misery. When they accidentally kill Jacob, it is Jacob’s employer, Dr. Death, who comes up with a plan to bring him back. This introduction to the various characters automatically makes the audience despise the locals and sympathize with Jacob and the freaks. It also plays well to those in the audience who have ever been bullied. When it comes down to it, that’s all those who tormented Jacob really are; a bunch of bullies. Watching them get torn apart is incredibly satisfying.

The film is one part supernatural and one part slasher resulting in a thrilling and bloody ride. This blend of horror subgenres helps to make Candy Corn the perfect fall film. It captures the essence of what horror fans love about this time of year. Part of that Halloween feel also comes from the filmmakers who clearly influenced Hasty in this film. The most obvious influences are John Carpenter and Rob Zombie. From the filming style to the sets to the characters and the music, Hasty shows his passion for the great filmmakers who came before him while still creating a film that is entirely his own. Even though those influences are clearly felt, Hasty still creates a really entertaining and unique mythos around the freak show and the ritual Dr. Death. Hasty wisely leaves some of the mythology vague, yet gives the audience enough to follow what’s happening, which leaves the film open to sequels that expand on that mythos.

It is clear that each artistic decision made by Hasty was chosen to make Candy Corn a new Halloween classic. From the first frames the look of the film transports the audience back to the 70’s. While it isn’t explicitly stated, it is clear from the wardrobe, the cars, and the technology used in the film. Even the somewhat gritty look of the film and the slightly washed-out colors harken back to that era of filmmaking. This time period and look also feel very reminiscent of Carpenter’s and Zombie’s films. One thing that doesn’t work quite as well is the use of freeze frames and removing audio, except for the music, in scenes where people are killed. This is similar to some of Zombie’s filming methods. It looked interesting in a couple scenes, but it is a bit overused throughout the film.

Other artistic elements help to make the film exciting, gory, and fun. The mask worn by Jacob when he returns to exact his revenge is absolutely terrifying. It almost looks as if a jack o’lantern was combined with the Michael Myers mask to create something out of a nightmare. Candy Corn also primarily sticks to gruesome practical effects for the kills. Each kill has a high level of brutality created with the practical effects and minor CGI enhancement, mostly utilized to add extra blood spatter. Then of course there is a fantastic score composed by both Hasty and Michael Booker. It is ominous, yet has a lightness to it that helps to build both suspense and excitement. Much like the plot, the score simply feels like the Halloween season.

This indie film has several faces horror fans know and love. Courtney Gains (Children of the Corn, The Funhouse Massacre) stars as the local sheriff, Sam Bramford. The sheriff tries his best to keep the peace between the local punks and the visiting freak show, but when the bodies start piling up he’s left with no choice. Acting opposite him is Pancho Moler (31, American Fright Fest) as Dr. Death, leader of the freak show. While on the surface he seems stern and mistrusting of outsiders, it is also clear that he cares deeply for his freaks and is sick of seeing them treated like second-class citizens. These two characters play off each other quite well because neither of them is purely good or bad, they simply want to protect the ones they care for. Unfortunately, they care for people on opposing sides. Other notable horror favorites are Tony Todd (Candyman, Final Destination), PJ Soles (Halloween [1978], Carrie), and Sky Elobar (The Greasy Strangler, The Rocker).

When it comes to the group of punks who attack Jacob, the performances are well done, but the casting is a bit confusing. The group is played by Cy Creamer in his feature film debut as Steve, Madison Russ (Junkie) as Carol, Caleb Thomas (The Terror of Hallow’s Eve) as Bobby, and Jimothy Beckholt (Corky and Bob Get a Job!) as Mike. They all do a great job of making the audience dislike their characters, which in turn makes it more fun to watch them die. The issue is it is difficult to figure out what age these kids are supposed to be. Most of the actors could pass for teenagers or very early 20’s, yet Beckholt appears to be older than the rest of the group. It may be a small detail, but in a genre where it’s typically either teens or college kids being slaughtered, that missing piece stood out.

Candy Corn is a love letter to Halloween and classic slashers of the 70’s and 80’s that is sure to be a holiday favorite for horror fans. Hasty’s passion for filmmaking and his influences are clearly felt. It perfectly balances the line between homage and originality resulting in a violent thrill ride with a unique mythology. The cast of horror fan favorites and newcomers all do a fantastic job. Then of course the film looks like it came straight from the 70’s, has gory practical effects, and the score is so fantastic that I can’t wait to buy it. You’ll want to watch the film now and then again for Halloween.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Tigers Are Not Afraid

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Drug wars have turned cities into ghost towns. They have also left children without parents or homes, forced to fend for themselves on the streets. After Estrella’s mother doesn’t come home, she is left to seek shelter and help from a group of orphaned boys. Their fight for survival on those unkind streets takes the children down a twisted fairy tale complete with wishes, zombies, and tigers.

Written and directed by Issa López (Casi Divas, Ladies’ Night), this film is one of the most talked about indie horror films of the year. Much of the talk about Tigers Are Not Afraid is thanks to legendary director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water) singing its praises. Much like traditional fairy tales, the film opens by introducing us to the lovely “princess” in the form of Estrella. Everything that happens in the film is either shown from her point of view or the leader of the orphaned boys, Shine. They are all doing their best to survive on the streets while avoiding the cartels. At the same time, Estrella is haunted by the memory of her mother and the weight of three chalk pieces that may or may not be able to grant her wishes. She bears this weight all on her own since the other orphans don’t see the things Estrella sees. This childlike point of view allows for the reality of the brutal crimes happening all around the kids to seamlessly blend together with the fantastical elements. The result is an incredibly unique story that is as unsettling as it is beautiful.

All of the main characters in Tigers Are Not Afraid are children, and each of them is a joy to watch on the screen. Young leading lady, Paola Lara, makes her feature film debut as Estrella. When Estrella joins the group of boys, she immediately takes on a maternal role, yet her longing for her mother keeps her trapped in the twisted fairy tale. Lara manages to show a certain amount of vulnerability, while also showing how Estrella is able to adapt in order to survive. Also making his feature film debut is Juan Ramón López as Shine. His performance, for me, is the stand-out of the film. Poor Shine is both emotionally and physically scarred from losing his mother to the cartels. Shine takes care of the other boys and takes on a tough-guy persona, but López shows the ocean of emotional depth hidden just beneath the surface of that persona. Both Lara and López are great on screen together, naturally taking on the roles of mother and father to the other boys despite being kids themselves. The other children in their small band of orphans are also a joy to watch, including Hanssel Casillas (Sitiados: México) as Tucsi, Rodrigo Cortés as Pop, and Nery Arredondo as the adorable Morrito.

The film is a feast for both your eyes and ears. As the film begins, the sets are slightly run down apartments and makeshift rooftop shelters. Then the fairy tale element is played up more throughout the film when the kids discover what appears to be an abandoned old mansion. What might be the most surprising artistic element of Tigers Are Not Afraid is the superb use of CGI. For the most part, the effects themselves are subtle, but because they all relate to the fantasy in the plot the effects still stand out. There are dragons, sentient blood trails, tigers, and more all done with gorgeous CGI. Then of course the plot is emphasized by the melancholy and captivating score by composer Vince Pope (Misfits, Black Mirror). The film is stunning on how well it combines the horrors of life and nightmares with the hope of children and their fairy tales.

Tigers Are Not Afraid is a uniquely dark fairy tale rooted in the real life horrors experienced by children. López has shown the world she can not only write a compelling film, but she can also direct and bring it to life in a way that is simultaneously haunting and heartbreaking. It is the kind of film that can make the audience feel the full gamut of emotions through effective storytelling and fantastical visuals, not to mention the amazing performances from the entire cast of young actors. One thing I will warn people of is that this Mexican film is in Spanish and is subtitled. While this should never deter a viewer from watching a film, I know in this day and age many people shy away from subtitled films. Tigers Are Not Afraid is the kind of film that will be noticed by a wide range of audiences, not just horror fans. I can’t wait to see what López does next.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

Freaks

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Chloe lives alone with her father. He has many rules. The windows must always be covered, the doors have to stay locked, and Chloe can never go outside or bad people will kill her. Yet, being a child, Chloe wants to go outside and be a normal kid. Her contact with those outside her home will reveal the truth about the outside world.

Freaks is a film that takes a unique approach to an age-old concept. The film is co-written and directed by Zach Lipovsky (Leprechaun: Origins, Ingress Obsessed) and Adam B. Stein (Ingress Obsessed, Nerd Court). Together this duo creates a film that continually manages to subvert expectations. It begins by introducing the audience to a young girl, Chloe, and her dad. They live alone in a dilapidated house with all the windows covered by boards and newspaper. Chloe’s dad is very strict and has elaborate rules that must be followed in order for them to stay alive. After years of living this way, a chance encounter begins to unravel Chloe’s world.

This film effectively keeps the audience guessing by showing everything from Chloe’s perspective. She is a child so everything she knows about the world is what her dad told her. The strange happenings are rationalized in her child mind and the audience is kept guessing as to what the truth behind it all is. We don’t initially know if Chloe’s dad is telling the truth or if he is paranoid. We hear mention of “freaks” and a “mountain,” but the significance and weight of those words mean nothing to Chloe. It’s an effective means of storytelling that allows the filmmakers to reveal things at the pace of a snowball rolling down a mountain; just a small bit at first, but then the revelations get bigger and come barreling down even faster.

At times, Freaks comes across as a more grounded version of an X-Men film. It is much more focused on the familial relationships between father and daughter, but the strange revelations happening around Chloe are still very important to the plot. Because that father-daughter relationship is so vital, it makes certain scenes in which the two do not quite get along a bit jarring. It is normal for a young girl who is just discovering the outside world to act out and rebel a bit. Yet Chloe takes things to a whole new level that seems too extreme. One minute she is a sweet child, the next she seems to be capable of murder. The best way to rationalize this behavior is Chloe’s isolated upbringing and the lack of human interaction to truly understand the difference between right and wrong.

Across the board, Freaks has fantastic performances. The true star of the film is young Lexy Kolker (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Shooter) as Chloe. Kolker carries the film and pushes the plot forward. At first Kolker portrays Chloe as a sweet young girl who loves her father and follows his rules. As curiosity gets the better of her, an inner ferocity comes out of Chloe. Kolker particularly shines when she is able to bring that ferocity to the surface. Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) plays Chloe’s dad. At first the dad is hard to read. He seems as if he’s paranoid, possibly a drunk, and a generally disheveled man. He clearly loves Chloe, but his sanity isn’t as clear. Hirsch does an amazing job of conveying that paranoia and hysteria, then as the truth is revealed he helps the audience to see the dad in a different light. Hirsch and Kolker play off of each other very well. You can feel the struggle between them, yet you can also very clearly feel the love between father and daughter.

The filmmakers behind Freaks made some very interesting and striking visual choices. This is most evident in the difference between inside and outside Chloe’s home. The shots from inside the house are very dark and dingy. Everything takes on an old, yellowish hue. It makes the home appear even more depressing and unfit for a little girl to live in. The outside world is the exact opposite. That world is bright and every color is so vidid, almost beyond reality. There are also stunning special effects used in the climax of the film. Between the truth about Chloe’s dad and the outside world, there is ample opportunity for the filmmakers to create interesting visual representations with these effects.

Freaks takes a familiar and arguably fatigued sci-fi subgenre and gives in new life. Lipovksy and Stein deliver a compelling story about the relationship between father and daughter. They also put ample focus on the power behind fear of the “other.” The film is brought to life by powerhouse performances from Kolker and Hirsch, as well as stunning visual storytelling. While I have a feeling this film may fly under the radar upon initial release, it has enough mass appeal to garner a cult following as word about the film spreads.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10