Month: February 2020

Girl on the Third Floor

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Don buys an old home in a small town. He plans to fix it up so he and his pregnant wife can get a fresh start. The more work he does on the home, the more he learns about the secrets hidden within its walls, and those secrets are out for blood.

This supernatural thriller is the feature film debut for director Travis Stevens, who also wrote the screenplay inspired by Trent Haaga, Paul Johnstone, and Ben Parker. Girl on the Third Floor wastes no time in getting the juices flowing. From the moment Don enters the house, there is obviously something ominous at work. The film also makes sure to immediately make the viewers uncomfortable with some very disgusting looking fluids found throughout the house. As Don begins working on the home to fix it up, those fluids seem to become more active. The house clearly has a life of its own, as well as some other strange inhabitants. Despite the immediate eeriness and unease of the film, it’s still more of a slow burn. The audience is gradually given new clues and bits of information leading up to the nightmarish conclusion.

Girl on the Third Floor is a strange and unique nightmare. It combines elements of a haunted house film, a Fatal Attraction-esque thriller, and body horror. The haunted house element is the most obvious. The decrepit old home clearly has a sordid past and the restless spirits to go along with it. When Don settles into the house, he meets a mysterious, seductive woman. What he thought was a one night stand turns into repeated ominous visits and thinly veiled threats that could destroy his relationship with his pregnant wife. When it comes to the body horror aspect, I don’t necessarily mean a human body. The body in the case of Girl on the Third Floor refers to the house itself. The house is clearly a living thing and this is especially apparent when the house gets ooey and gooey in response to Don knocking holes in the wall and fixing things up. All of these elements combine to tell a tale of morality and show just how dire the consequences to your actions can be.

With a small cast, Girl on the Third Floor has a great range of performances. Phil “C.M. Punk” Brooks (Rabid) stars as Don. Don is really not a very likable guy. He lost his job after doing something illegal, he’s an alcoholic, and he cheats on his pregnant wife. Yet Phil Brooks manages to play Don in a way that is just endearing enough to make you like the guy, but you still want to see Don get what’s coming to him. Sarah Brooks (There, Chicago Med) plays the mysterious Sarah. Sarah Brooks is the perfect combination of sultry and sinister in this role. Trieste Kelly Dunn (Blindspot, The Push) plays Don’s wife, Liz. While Liz at first glance appears to be the typical loving wife who trusts her husband and is carrying his child, it eventually becomes clear she is much more than that. She’s the sole breadwinner, running a business while also going through pregnancy and picking up the pieces of her husband’s failures. Dunn not only does a fantastic job in this role, but she offers a strong juxtaposition as a truly good, successful person compared to Don’s overall failure. Honorable mention goes to the house itself, which might not be a credited actor, but definitely is a vital character in this film.

There is no shortage of artistry in Girl on the Third Floor. Everything from the camera angles, to the practical effects, to the copious amounts of goo combine to create a stunning film. There is a lot of great camera work. There may be something happening in the foreground, but the camera work will draw your eye to minute details that normally would just catch the corner of your eye. The practical effects overall are stunning. Much of it is truly unique, especially for one specific character, and straddles the line of realism and fantasy. One specific kill is questionable in terms of how realistic it is, but the effects themselves are still very well done. Of course this film wouldn’t be quite as effective if it wasn’t for all the icky bits. All of the ooze and goo and slime help to make the audience as uneasy as possible and it definitely does the trick.

Girl on the Third Floor oozes atmosphere as it tells a disturbing and sticky tale of morality. Stevens proves that he is a highly skilled storyteller in his feature-film directorial debut. He not only knows how to create a compelling film, but he knows how to make viewers squirm in their seats while watching. Phil Brooks gives a surprisingly good performance and manages to hold his own alongside both Sarah Brooks and Dunn. The combination of the visceral use of slime, practical effects, and cinematography creates a stunning film. This film has a little something for everyone with the overlapping themes and is definitely a must-watch for horror fans.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Blood on Her Name

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After an accidental death, a woman decides to dispose of the body instead of going to the police. The guilt begins to eat away at her. As she continues to make rash decisions, the life she has built for herself and her son crumbles around her.

Director/writer Matthew Pope and co-writer Don M. Thompson both make their feature-film debut with Blood on Her Name. The film opens in the seconds after the accidental murder. We are immediately introduced to Leigh, the owner of the auto garage where the murder happened. As the shock wears off, we see Leigh make the unfortunate decision to clean up and hide the body instead of calling the police. We don’t know why this murdered happened, who the man is, or why she decides to get rid of the body. The answers to the many mysteries behind the man’s death are revealed slowly and methodically, making each revelation more surprisingly than the last. The film also shows how each decision Leigh makes, while dripping with good intentions, ultimately makes her situation more and more dire. For the most part this method of storytelling will hold the interest of audiences and delivers a fascinating mystery, yet there are some areas where the pace seems to drag a bit.

The filmmakers make an interesting decision to never actually show the murder. While gore lovers will likely be disappointed by this, I think it helps to set up Leigh as an unreliable storyteller. We see everything from her point of view. By not showing the murder itself we are forced to believe her ever changing story of events. This also makes the trickle of truths all the more shocking.

Blood on Her Name is carried by strong performances from a talented cast. Bethany Anne Lind (Doom Patrol, Ozark) stars as Leigh. This woman is hardworking and cares deeply for her son. Not only does Lind perfectly convey the turmoil Leigh goes through after the murder, but she shows how this character tries so hard to escape the legacy of her father and ex-husband. Will Patton (Swamp Thing, Halloween) delivers a strong performance as Leigh’s father, Richard. Richard is a local cop, but he clearly isn’t the cleanest man in law enforcement. Lind and Patton play off of each other very well, especially in the more tense conversations. We watch a daughter who would rather avoid communicating with her father forced to seek out his help, and a father who wants to solve his daughter’s problems in ways she doesn’t agree with. It creates a very tense dynamic between the two characters, and it makes watching Leigh’s attempt to break the cycle she’s known her entire life even more compelling.

The film has a griminess to it that compliments both the plot and setting. Colors are dull and lack vibrancy, and everything looks dirty. It matches the rural setting and the lives the characters lead in Blood on Her Name. This relatively monochromatic look also appears to further Leigh’s POV. To her, the world she lives in is grey and unhappy, so it makes sense the film would fit in with her POV.

Blood on Her Name is a compelling noir thriller from the point of view of an unreliable protagonist. Lind plays Leigh perfectly as we follow her story and try to determine what really happened and why she makes the choices she does. While the film has a tendency to meander a bit, there is still a definite storytelling skill that shows promise for both Pope and Thompson. Blood on Her Name is a great first feature film that will make critics and audiences take note of these filmmakers and what they do in the future.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

Jessica Forever

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In an alternate version of our reality, young orphaned boys lead violent lives on their own and are hunted by the government. A woman named Jessica takes these young men in and calms their inner beast. This unique family only wants to live in peace, away from the outside world, but the outside world threatens to destroy what they have built.

Jessica Forever is a very unique French film and the feature-film directorial debut of Caroline Poggi and Jonathan Vinel. The duo collaborated with Mariette Désert (Suzanne, Particles) on the screenplay. The film takes place in a world where orphaned young men commit horrific crimes and are unable to contain the rage within. That is until Jessica finds them. She is a mysterious woman who seems to have some supernatural ability to not only find these young men, but also calm their inner anger. Like Wendy cares for the Lost Boys of Neverland, Jessica takes care of these young men and nurtures them to make them peaceful. She is their mother, their sister, their angel, and never shown in a sexual light. By giving them the thing no one else will, these young men become dedicated to her and the family they have created. Yet society wants these orphans dead because of their crimes and constantly sends armed drones to destroy them.

These filmmakers not only created a unique story, but they also created a film that elicits strong emotions and deals with many issues related to masculinity. Emotions run deep within all these young men and those emotions can easily be felt through the screen. Even when there is complete silence, it is impossible to not feel what they are feeling deep in your soul. Jessica Forever offers an interesting commentary on what it means to be a young man. When they are alone, each of the young men is violent and has no control over their emotions. When they have the maternal nurturing of Jessica and the familial support of others, they are able to be calm and supportive of one another. The film also displays how young men often try to hide their sadness and true feelings from the world. In one particularly beautiful scene, the family is grieving, but none of them shed a tear. Instead they come together with melancholy music and dancing. While the entire group, even Jessica, holds back their emotions, it is still impossible not to feel their pain.

The entire family delivers deep, compelling performances that will strike a cord with viewers. Aomi Muyock (Love, Scenario) stars as Jessica. While Muyock has very little dialogue throughout the film, her performance stands out. She exudes a strong, etherial, maternal, and even otherworldly presence. While it’s difficult to just select one performance from the family of young men, the one that stands out to me is Augustin Raguenet (War of the Worlds, Parties: Homelands) as Lucas. We get the most background on Lucas and watch as he works through some of his past trauma and mistakes. Raguenet truly embodies this complex character as he overcomes his past for the sake of his new family. The entire cast is really phenomenal and audiences are sure to feel the devotion Jessica and the young men have for each other.

Much of the film relies on cinematography, unique visuals, and monologues to move the plot forward. This method may be off-putting to some viewers, but it does effectively bring out inner feelings. The cinematography is especially interesting because it consists of many images in which the entire family is together with Jessica almost always at the center. It shows how she has a gravitational pull that brings the family together. There is also a lot of gorgeous juxtaposition throughout the film. Much of it shows the dangerous appearance of the young men compared to the tenderness they feel for Jessica and each other. There is also a very interesting scene where some of the young men go shopping for supplies. After seeing the hostile world these men live in compared to the seemingly average, everyday world everyone else lives in allows the audience to sympathize more with the family. Jessica Forever also utilizes CGI to generate fascinating imagery relating to Lucas’ personal journey. This imagery seems a bit out of place in the film as a whole, but works to show how Lucas has to work through his past in order to become closer to his new family.

Jessica Forever is a stunning film that uses a dystopian setting to show how the love and support of family, even an adopted family, can tame the savagery within. Poggi, Vinel, and Désert made an arthouse drama in the body and a sci-fi adventure. It isn’t a film that is going to have mass appeal, but those who can connect to the emotions of the film are sure to enjoy it. Jessica Forever also boasts strong performances and a fascinating universe I hope the filmmakers get the opportunity to expand on. Genre film lovers won’t want to miss this film.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10