Author: The Blogging Banshee

Ever since my sister forced my to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was four years old, I have been hooked on horror films. Some of the most important things to me in a horror film are character development, cohesive plot lines, and giving the audience something unique. For me, the scariest movies will always be ghost and haunting films (probably because they seem the most realistic to me). Please feel free to give input on my reviews or suggest movies for me to watch. Email: thebloggingbanshee@gmail.com Facebook: facebook.com/thebloggingbanshee Twitter: @BloggingBanshee Instagram: blogging.banshee ________________________________

The Candy Witch

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For months a family in England has been haunted by a ghost known as the candy witch. A pair of paranormal investigators, a psychic and his girlfriend, agree to try to help the family get rid of the ghost so they can film the events for their online following. Time is running out as the ghost becomes more violent, and the investigators uncover more and more secrets.

The Candy Witch is the latest film directed by Rebecca Matthews (Pet Graveyard, The Watcher 2) and written by Scott Jeffrey (The Bad Nun, The Watcher 2). There are many layers in this film drawing focus to different areas. There is the couple who does paranormal investigations and shares them on social media. Reece, the psychic, tries to use his ability to help people, but it takes a toll on him. There is the family being haunted. They seem like any normal loving family that only wants to be rid of this malevolent presence. Then there is the legend of the candy witch herself. What is interesting about this plot is that the witch who is haunting the family isn’t some urban legend from olden days. Instead, she is the ghost of a woman who once worked for the family as a nanny. As rumors spread about her murdering children, she turned into the mythical “candy witch.” These various subplots come together surprisingly well to create a story with several interesting twists and turns.

While the overarching story in The Candy Witch is entertaining, there are some definite bumps along the way. As I mentioned, I like that the ghost is of someone the family actually knew, taking it away from the stereotypical haunted house scenario. The problem is that the urban legend around the nanny being a candy witch feels incomplete. The rumors about her abusing children and murdering kids makes sense, but there isn’t really any point in time when they explain where the candy aspect came into play in her legend. Despite it never being explained, we see candy often used throughout the film. When we see the candy witch, she is often holding a giant, jagged-edge candy cane and she typically murders people using candy. It unfortunately makes most of the kill scenes comical when they are clearly not meant to be. It’s hard not to laugh when a ghost is killing someone by shoving handfuls of cotton candy down their throat until they choke to death (which I also feel realistically wouldn’t work with how quickly cotton candy dissolves in your mouth).

There is also a vagueness surrounding Reece. We learn about his ability to see and speak with the dead, but that it somehow takes a physical toll on him. Specifically, it seems to damage his ability to hear. We also learn that his father had the same gift. These are all things mentioned fairly early on in the film and seem like they are of some importance, but then never discussed again or resolved. Why does his gift make him lose his hearing? It seems like these are things have some significance, but the audience never gets to learn what the significance is.

Similar to the plot, the performances have high and low points, but generally speaking they are enjoyable to watch. Jon Callaway (The Mermaid’s Curse, Cupid) stars as psychic medium and paranormal investigator, Reece. This character is the most calm and collected of everyone because his abilities give him insight about the dead normal people don’t have. Callaway plays that quite well, but I wish when things take a turn for the worse he would ramp up the intensity, although I suspect this is an issue related to directing more than his performance. Heather Jackson (The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall) plays the matriarch of the family, Ruth. At first, Jackson’s portrayal of Ruth comes across as a bit false. As the plot progresses, Jackson’s performance stands out for all the right reasons and even makes her portrayal of Ruth earlier in the film better. The true standout performance comes from Will Stanton (Silent Place) as Ruth’s son, Tom. There is a sincerity of Stanton’s performance that makes the climax of the film all the more thrilling. The single biggest negative I can say of the cast isn’t related to any performance. It’s that the film takes place in England, yet only one of the main characters/actors is English. The filmmakers could easily have used the same cast and had it take place in the US, especially since the location isn’t significant to the plot.

When it comes to the visuals of The Candy Witch, there isn’t a lot to discuss. The sets are great, especially the house where the haunting takes place. It is a beautiful old estate that feels rich, but is also old enough to feel a bit sinister. It also looks like a home that could easily be in England. The design of the ghost seems very much to be a physical embodiment of the rumors about the nanny. She looks like a stereotypical witch with somewhat greenish skin and warts or boils all over her face. The practical effects to make the witch aren’t the best, but the effects for the wounds she inflicts are fairly well done.

The Candy Witch tries to tell an interesting story, but ultimately can’t overcome the holes in the plot. There is a seed of a good film within Matthews’ and Jeffrey’s work. There are simply too many things set up that either don’t make sense or don’t get the resolution they deserve. The performances are adequate and the effects are decent. Most of the issues with the film stem from the candy witch herself. From her look, to her method of killing, to her origin story, it seems as though the filmmakers cared more about injecting a memorable villain rather than creating a compelling and cohesive plot. There are enough unique aspects of the plot to make it an interesting watch, but too many drawbacks to make it a truly successful film.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10

Diablo Rojo PTY

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Thanks to the work of a coven of witches, a bus driver, his assistant, two cops, and a priest cross paths. They find themselves lost in a remote part of Panama. To survive, these men will have to combat witches, cannibals, and the legend of La Tulivieja. With only the bus for refuge, it will take all their effort to make it until morning.

Diablo Rojo PTY is the first horror film to come out of Panama, and it definitely jumps into the horror scene with a bang. The film is directed by first-time director Sol Moreno alongside J. Oskura Nájera (Megamuerte). Combining multiple different stories from Panamanian folklore, Nájera wrote the script along with collaborating writer Adair Dominguez, making his film debut. To say there is a whole lot going on in Diablo Rojo PTY would be an understatement. The opening of the film throws so many different things at the audience at once that many will likely have no idea what’s going on. Once the various characters are introduced, the filmmakers take time to make sense of what has already been shown. The various threads come together in a way that begins to make sense. Then in the final act the plot is thrown into chaos again, some things making more sense than others. It leads to a delightfully gory climax jam-packed with carnage.

It makes sense, since this is Panama’s first horror film, that the filmmakers would want to include as much folklore as possible into Diablo Rojo PTY. There are witches who have cursed the unfortunate men of the film. There is La Tulivieja, which has a similar origin story to Mexico’s La Llorona except La Tulivieja takes on a horrifying, ghastly form as she searches for her child along the river. There is even a deadly cannibal tribe hunting for human prey in the Chiriqui jungle. While these elements are interesting, it is really too much for one film. Viewers will see shocking things including the witches, cannibal tribes, a monstrous creature, infanticide, and even incest. Unfortunately, many of these things are shown, but never full realized or explained in enough detail. The plot ends up muddled and inconsistent as some areas are more explored while others are never fully resolved. The same can be said for the characters. Some of the characters, like Manuel, feel more fully formed compared to someone like Officer Pinilla who seems to just be there to have someone to dislike. Many viewers will likely find parts they can connect to and parts that leave them wanting more.

Despite the ups and downs in the plot and character development, the performances are still enjoyable to watch. Carlos Carrasco (Speed, Parker) stars as the Diablo Rojo bus driver, Manuel. He is by far the most complex character in the film, and Carrasco brings depth to a man who initially comes across as quite simple. Julian Urriola makes his debut as Manuel’s assistant, Juanito. Juanito is definitely a misfit, and that persona doesn’t really change even when facing certain death. While the character isn’t necessarily that likable, Urriola does a great job of bringing him to life. Blas Valois also makes his film debut as Officer Pinilla. This character makes the least amount of sense of everyone. He’s rude for no apparent reason, doesn’t seem to be a very good cop, and keeps stupidly going off on his own even when he knows what dangers lie in wait. The way this character is written unfortunately makes it really difficult to tell if Valois’s performance was part of the problem as well, or just the character.

As with much of the film, the visuals in Diablo Rojo PTY are also a mixed bag. For the most part I would say the visuals feel like what fans would expect from a low-budget horror flick. The filmmakers relied entirely on practical effects to create the creatures and gore. There are some particularly grotesque effects in the climax of the film that might not look the most realistic, but they are still very well done and make the scenes fun to watch. The creature design for La Tulivieja is definitely unique and is sure to remind horror fans of the demons from the Evil Dead franchise. That nod to classic horror is just one of many throughout the film, and honestly these nods are some of the most enjoyable parts of the film. The musical score by Ricardo Risco sometimes sounds very similar to the score from The Shining. Even the very last scene of the film takes iconic imagery that likely comes from Carrie and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. Again, I really enjoyed these visual nods to classic films, but sometimes they added to the muddiness of the plot.

Diablo Rojo PTY has some great moments and includes a lot of fascinating Panamanian folklore, but it quickly reaches the point of having too much. Moreno and Nájera have nuggets of greatness throughout the film. The problem is, when you try to include so many different elements, nothing ends up getting the time and attention it really deserves. A film that has witches, cannibals, and La Tulivieja is a lot to tackle in a film that is only about an hour and 16 minutes. The performances, practical effects, and visual nods to classic horror films make up for some of the film’s pitfalls, but there is still a lot to be desired. I do believe this is a promising start considering it’s the first horror film from Panama. Hopefully the filmmakers will remember this adage on their next film: sometimes, less is more.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10

Monstrum

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It’s an unstable time for Joseon, a kingdom of Korea. Between threats of plague, political unrest, and rumors of a vicious monster stalking the countryside, King Jung Jong’s reign is threatened. He sends the exiled Yoon Gyeom to investigate claims of the monster, but along the way he unlocks dark secrets and a conspiracy to dethrone the king.

Monstrum is a thrilling Korean film blending martial arts, history, and a giant monster directed by Jong-ho Huh (The Advocate: A Missing Body, Countdown). Huh co-wrote the screenplay along with first time screenwriter Heo-dam. I personally have always been a fan of Korean horror films. To date I haven’t seen one that I didn’t love, and Monstrum is no different. The plot combines multiple different genres and subgenres of film to create something beautiful. It is a period piece, showing a bit of 16th century Korean history intertwined with fiction. It is a political thriller, revealing sinister conspiracies to dethrone the king. It is a martial arts film, complete with fantastic fight choreography. Then, of course, it is a creature feature with a quite unique monster called Monstrum. Huh and Heo-dam seamlessly bring these elements together. The resulting film has a little something for everyone to enjoy.

The film builds suspense by gradually revealing information to the viewers. At first the rumors of the monster are just that, rumors. The filmmakers play with the audience by initially making it unclear if Monstrum is a real beast threatening the kingdom or if it’s a figment created by those wanting to overthrow the king. That makes the reveal of the monster even more exciting. There are many messages thrown around throughout the film, but what stands out as the prevailing theme is how those who suffer the most from coups are the common folk. Time and time again we see how the poor people in the kingdom are slaughtered, sacrificed, and left to starve or exposed to plague while those in power stay safe within their palaces. It’s a theme that stands out not only because it tells a thrilling story, but also because it is something that still happens today. In the world today, I think many of us can relate to the fear of plague and feeling as though those in power couldn’t care less whether we die or not.

Monstrum has a huge cast of characters and all of them are a delight to watch. Myung-Min Kim (Six Flying Dragons, Closer to Heaven) stars as the once exiled Yoon Gyeom. We we first meet Yoon, he’s kind of dopey and lives in the countryside with his daughter and brother. When he is called upon by the king to help the investigation into Monstrum, Myung-Min Kim completely changes the character to a respectable and formidable man, yet it still feels natural. In-kwon Kim (My Way, Tidal Wave) plays the lovable Sung Han. Living with Yoon and his daughter, Sung is definitely the goofy uncle. While he can clearly kick some butt as well, In-kwon Kim makes sure to keep that goofiness throughout the film. Hyeri Lee (Reply 1988, My Punch-Drunk Boxer) plays Yoon’s daughter, Myung. She is smart, skilled, and takes everything in stride. Lee shows how Myung’s strong will allows her to easily go from being a simple country girl to warrior fighting alongside her father. Honorable mention goes to Woo-sik Choi as royal guard member Heo, whom many will likely recognize from the Oscar-winning hit film Parasite. This motley band of heroes makes the film even more enjoyable because you have someone to really root for.

There are so many stunning visual elements that make Monstrum an artistic feat. The most obvious things viewers will notice are the fantastic costume and set design. It’s clear a lot of care was taken to not only make the costumes and sets visually appealing, but also true to the period of the film. Of course, the film also includes glorious fight choreography as well. Surprisingly, the film has some shockingly realistic and very well done practical effects. This is evident in various wounds and the physical effects of the plague. What I’m sure everyone is really wondering about is Monstrum himself. The beast is done with CGI and somehow manages to look both menacing and adorable. I may be alone on this, but I think Monstrum is cute. While the CGI itself isn’t necessarily the best, the actual creature has a stylish and distinct look. The design of the creature is stunning and feels reminiscent of the beasts one would find carved around ancient temples and palaces of Asia. There is just so much to look at, which may be discouraging for viewers who take issue with subtitled films, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

Monstrum is a gorgeous film brimming with action, beauty, suspense, and of course a giant monster. Jong-ho Huh and Heo-dam expertly put all these different elements and genres together in a way that tells a memorable story. It not only has great performances, but it also is one of the most visually appealing films I’ve seen so far this year. There is a lot for people to look at on screen while also reading subtitles so it can be difficult at times to take everything in, but don’t let that discourage you. Even if it takes multiple watches to catch all the details, it is one you won’t want to miss. Monstrum is sure to be on many “best of 2020” lists at the end of the year.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Z

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An 8-year-old boy gets an imaginary friend. What begins as a simple childhood fantasy quickly turns sinister. The boy is acting out and blaming his imaginary friend. As the family’s life is turned upside down as they are terrorized by this invisible force, they will have to turn to the past in order to survive the present.

Z is the sophomore feature film of director Brandon Christensen (Still/Born), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Colin Minihan (Grave Encounters, What Keeps You Alive). Christensen and Minihan’s combined efforts manage to bring viewers a bit of the familiar along with some thrilling new bits. These days, horror films about imaginary friends seem to be increasingly common. The filmmakers take a bit of time introducing this imaginary friend, allowing time to establish the family unit and their dynamics first. When we do finally meet Z, the imaginary friend, it is just whispers and mentions of him as the son plays. Yet it doesn’t take very long for those whispers to turn to behavior issues and then full-blown terror. This gradual increase in suspense allows for some brilliant and terrifying scenes that are sure to haunt viewers. Z even takes the time to tackle many issues including the horrors of parenting, emotionally and physically abusive relationships, and suicide (take this also as a trigger warning for anyone who has difficulty watching these topics on screen). For the most part these aspects of the film are very well done, but certain parts feel a little derivative of other films, especially the climax. Z ends with a fair amount of closure, but the filmmakers wisely left some questions in the dark. I could definitely imagine a sequel to Z in the future.

One of the things about Z that surprised me was how it almost feels like two films. The first half of the film is very much a story of a mother and the love she feels for her son. When she first learns of her son’s behavioral problems, and feels the consequences of this in their social circle, she is completely in denial. Every mother wants to believe the best of their child, and it’s more difficult to see the truth with those blinders on. When the mother finally realizes the real danger, she has to battle a sinister imaginary friend, her disbelieving husband, and even her own son in order to try and save those she loves. At one point there is a scene I believed to be the end of Z, but to my surprise the film continues for another 20 minutes. This second section of the film feels much more like watching an abusive, controlling relationship. It is truly disturbing to see the woman’s life upended and left to the mercy of a male figure. Every moment of every day of her life is controlled by this entity, forcing her to distance herself from the outside world for fear its jealousy will lead to their harm. This is very powerful and disturbing in how it’s conveyed, but at the same time it makes the film feel a bit disjointed. The two halves work very well on their own, but I don’t know if they necessarily work together.

Every performance in Z is truly stunning. Keegan Connor Tracy (The Magicians, Final Destination 2) plays Elizabeth. While Tracy is fantastic through the entire film, she truly shines in the last half of the film. Elizabeth goes from questioning her own sanity to being willing to do anything it takes to save her son. Tracy absolutely shines in this role and brings heart-wrenching emotion to the horror of what’s happening. Jett Klyne (The Boy, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) plays Elizabeth’s son, Joshua. The way Klyne shows Joshua’s gradual transformation from normal, sweet boy to a very disturbed child is a performance I won’t soon forget. While these two actors carry most of the film, Sean Rogerson (Grave Encounters) is great as husband and father, Kevin, while Luke Moore (Sex, Lies & Murder) frightens viewers as Z himself.

The filmmakers behind Z were very wise with their scares. Much of the terror is from the building of tension, including some long, drawn out images where you are at the edge of your seat waiting to see what will happen. Yet that tension is punctuated with some perfectly crafted jump scares. These are definitely earned jump scares that will still have an impact, if not necessarily the scare, upon subsequent viewings. Most of the bigger scares rely heavily on great camerawork, making sure your eye is drawn to the right place at the right time. But, of course, many of the scares wouldn’t be complete without Z. The single greatest thing the filmmakers did was barely show Z. Viewers will get starling glimpses here and there, giving enough of an impression of his frightening appearance, but for the most part he is invisible and left to the shadows. So many horror films show too much of their evil entities, but by leaving the imaginary friend mostly unseen the viewers are able to project some of there imagination onto the character. Z is also created with a combination of motion actor and CGI, which wouldn’t be quite as effective in full view.

Z brings a menacing imaginary friend to life in a way that tackles dramatic issues while also delivering scares. Christensen and Minihan definitely created a ghoulish tale to haunt horror fans, but they also managed to embed compelling takes on motherhood and trauma. boasts strong performances, especially from Tracy and Klyne, and has what is probably the most terrifying imaginary friend I’ve ever seen. While there is a clear divide that seems to split the film into two disjointed parts, both parts are fascinating in how they deal with certain topics. Despite the flaws in the overall story arc, there are definitive moments that are guaranteed to be embedded in your mind long after watching.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

The Lodge

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Grace goes on a holiday trip with her fiancé and soon-to-be step-children. Her relationship with the kids gets off to a rocky start. Things only become more awkward when her fiancé has to return to the city for a couple days. Then, when things finally start looking up, frightening events unravel in this wintery hell.

Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, of Goodnight Mommy fame, bring their latest slow-burn of a film. The Lodge is co-directed and co-written by the duo, along with Sergio Casci (The Caller) also co-writing the screenplay. The film begins by introducing the father, his ex, and their two children. The audience gets to learn their family dynamic as well as how each family member feels about Grace long before her character is introduced. It isn’t until the father and children take their holiday trip to their winter getaway that Grace comes into the picture. This is an interesting tactic that allows us to gain all of our knowledge about Grace from unreliable second-hand sources who are openly hostile towards Grace. Suspense slowly builds from the tense relationship between Grace and the kids to outright terror as the trio is left stranded without food or heat in a winter storm. Franz, Fiala, and Sergio do a great job of crafting terror around the unknown. So many questions come up about what’s really happening as events unfold, leading to a truly haunting climax.

To say that The Lodge is bleak would be an understatement. The filmmakers are not afraid to deliver a film that’s as harsh and cold as the landscape. Between that and the slow pace of the plot, there are likely horror fans who won’t enjoy this film as much as others. I believe the pace was pitch-perfect for the story being told. Each layer of mystery is given time to be unraveled from the supernatural, to the religious, to the more earthly dangers. The one thing that doesn’t work as well for me is how the filmmakers telegraph the truth behind what’s happening a bit too clearly. This was also my biggest issue with the filmmakers’ previous film, Goodnight Mommy, although they did manage to be a bit more subtle with The Lodge. While the big twist might not be as much of a surprise as intended, it doesn’t change how impactful the final moments of the film are.

For a smaller indie horror film, The Lodge truly has a fantastic cast of easily recognizable faces. Riley Keough (It Comes At Night, Mad Max: Fury Road) stars as Grace. At first Grace comes across as cold and emotionless. After learning she is on medications for her childhood trauma, her personality makes more sense. Keough really brings the character to life once Grace is forced to go off her meds and her sanity gradually falls to pieces. Jaeden Martell (IT, Knives Out) plays Aidan, the angry son and protective older brother. Martell does a wonderful job of injecting his performance with an underlying sinister tone, even when he’s being kind to Grace. The only time Aidan feels genuine is when he’s interacting with his younger sister, and Martell makes those moments stand out. Lia McHugh (They Come Knocking, Along Came the Devil) plays young Mia. McHugh’s performance overall is great, but she really shines when she conveys Mia’s emotional devastation. It’s truly heartbreaking and on par with Florence Pugh’s performance in Midsommar. It’s also important to give shout outs to Richard Armitage (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Into the Storm) as loving father Richard and Alicia Silverstone (Clueless, The Crush) as the jilted ex-wife, Laura.

To create this austere tale, The Lodge employs a combination of chilling sights and sounds. Of course the beautiful cinematography and harsh setting are a large part of the film’s appeal, but there is more than that. One thing viewers are sure to notice is the dollhouse. Mia has an exact dollhouse replica of the vacation house, complete with a doll for each family member. The filmmakers often use shots of the dollhouse as a means to add a distinct eeriness to what is happening in the real house. There is also quite a bit of religious iconography used throughout the film. These images are not only unsettling, but they offer a connection between Grace’s past and present in a way that is both striking and disturbing. Rounding each scene out is the musical score by Danny Bensi (N0S4A2, The Outsider) and Saunder Jurriaans (N0S4A2, The Outsider). The combination of dissonant booms, stirring strings, and light trilling like snow falling lends itself to this grim tale.

The Lodge is a sombre psychological thriller that leaves the viewers feeling as desolate as the landscape. The filmmakers clearly know how to fashion a suspenseful plot that forces you to wonder what is real and what isn’t. That being said, there are some clues that make the final revelation a bit too obvious. Luckily, the final moments of the film still bring shock and awe. The performances from the star-studded cast and stunning artistry of the film add to the emotional devastation that ensues. The Lodge is sure to be a new favorite feel-bad film horror fans watch for the holidays.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Blood Quantum

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In the early 80’s a zombie virus sweeps the country. Humans, and even some animals, are infected and turned into the walking dead. Yet the people of an isolated Mi’gMaq reserve of Red Crow appear to be immune. Now they must battle the undead while also battling whether or not they should let the white survivors into the reservation.

Jeff Barnaby (Rhymes for Young Ghouls) brings audiences his sophomore feature film as writer, director, and editor of Blood Quantum. The film tackles issues of colonialism in a modern way, allowing horror to act both as a metaphor and as a way to emphasize the message. Blood Quantum opens with a bang, then takes some time establishing the characters living on the reservation. From the beginning it’s clear there is resentment between family members as well as tensions between those on the reservation and those in town. The ensuing chaos of the virus and realization that the Mi’gMaq seems to be immune only exacerbate these deep-rooted issues. There is a constant fear of who you can trust, whether they are from the reservation or not, that ultimately leads to the final confrontation. It allows the film to be suspenseful and gory. Although, there are a few calm, still moments that slow the momentum of the plot a bit too much.

What I love about Blood Quantum is that it’s the kind of film that includes hidden meanings and details specific to indigenous people. There are things I could never fully grasp as a white woman, yet immersing the story in the horror genre allows it to be consumed by a wider audience. It also allows for a learning experience. Much like the subtle nods to various racial issues in Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Barnaby forces non-indigenous audiences to learn something from the film. A great example is simply the title of the film, Blood Quantum. After seeing the film, I learned this term refers to a controversial measurement that determines how much indigenous blood you have and whether or not you can become a citizen of a specific tribe. I can only imagine there are other details that went over my head that only add to the metaphors of the film.

Blood Quantum has stunning performances that bring the plot to life. The three stars of the film are a father and his two sons. They represent different points of view on colonialism and interacting with white people. Traylor, the father, is played by Michael Greyeyes (Fear the Walking Dead, True Detective). Greyeyes has a very commanding presence on screen, and his portrayal of Traylor conveys a lot of wisdom. This wisdom shows a wariness towards white people, but also a diplomacy that comes from his position as sheriff where he can easily work with them when needed. Traylor represents the middle ground while his two sons, who are half-brothers, are polar opposites of one other. Kiowa Gordon (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The Red Road) plays Traylor’s older son, Lysol. Lysol feels deep-seeded resentment for his father, as well as the white people who live in town. Gordon does a fantastic job of showing the anger build in Lysol throughout the film until it boils over at both the white people on the reservation and his own family. Then there is the youngest son, Joseph, played by Forrest Goodluck (The Revenant, The Miseducation of Cameron Post). Joseph is by far the most hopeful of this trio. Goodluck makes it clear to viewers that Joseph is a caring individual who wants to bring survivors together, whether they are Mi’gMaq or white. All three leads are wonderful on screen, and they create such a fascinating comparison with their different points of view.

The various artistic elements of Blood Quantum add to its overall appeal. The most immediate thing horror fans will notice is the stunning makeup for the zombies and the grotesquely realistic practical effects. There are multiple memorable zombie kills and gory moments that are sure to stick with viewers. To bring the film together, Barnaby and Joe Barrucco (Rhymes for Young Ghouls, Appiness) composed a haunting musical score. It manages to encompass an 80’s synth sound alongside more traditional indigenous sounds. Blood Quantum even includes striking animated scenes that create absolutely gorgeous visuals emphasizing dire events. One thing that seems odd is that the film takes place in 1981. While the clothes, cars, and lack of technology such as cell phones makes it easy to believe the film takes place in the past, it is also unnecessary. The area where the reservation is located is fairly remote, which stands to reason cell phones wouldn’t have great reception. Plus, the plot moves into the apocalypse quickly enough that the lack of technology would barely be noticed. Blood Quantum ends up with a timelessness where, if you didn’t know when it took place, it could easily take place in 1981 or 2020.

Blood Quantum masterfully delivers a social commentary on colonialism in the context of a zombie apocalypse. Barnaby clearly cares about the topic of his film and made sure to bring to life what he wanted by writing, directing, editing, and even co-composing the film. It includes captivating performances from the three male leads and remarkable visuals ranging from extreme gore to gorgeous animation. I won’t pretend I understand all of the various themes discussed. This is the kind of film that likely gets better with each subsequent viewing, particularly if you’re willing to do the research on what inspired these themes.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

The Killer of Grassy Ridge (Short)

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The Shenandoah backcountry is a gorgeous place frequented by hikers. Unfortunately, it is also the hunting ground for a dangerous serial killer. With several bodies already discovered, now the killer is stalking their latest victim.

Making his premiere as a writer and director, Johnny K brings horror fans his short film, The Killer of Grassy Ridge. This short film is less than 10 minutes long and utilizes minimal dialogue, but still manages to pack a punch. Johnny K does this by playing with the viewers’ expectations of the short. It opens on a dirty, somewhat frightening looking man burying something in the woods. As if that isn’t creepy enough, he soon encounters an injured young female hiker who is all alone in the wilderness. The man has no lines while the woman sparse dialogue. The only context we get in the short film is from a radio the man is listening to. It is turned to a news station that talks about another body being found. This is the source of the danger, as having a scary man in the woods is only enough to cause alarm rather than inducing fear. The lack of dialogue and setting up of certain horror expectations, or even tropes, allows K to have fun with the short and include a few great “aha!” moments in the climax.

The lack of dialogue makes it a bit more difficult to give a complete analysis of the performances. One thing I can say about the two leads of The Killer of Grassy Ridge is that they have great presence on screen. Michael Stumbo makes his film debut as the grimy looking sinister figure, Wetzel Reid. Wetzel doesn’t speak during the short, but Stumbo still manages to be an imposing figure. Many horror fans may watch Stumbo on screen and immediately think Wetzel sure looks a hell of a lot like Otis Firefly from Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, played by Bill Moseley. I can only assume this was a deliberate choice to make sure viewers look at Wetzel as the villain without it needing to be explicitly explained. Opposite Stumbo is Heather Stone, also making her film debut, as the hiker. Stone’s performance in The Killer of Grassy Ridge stands out because she shows quite a bit of range in the short amount of time she’s on screen. She starts out as a happy hiker enjoying nature, to being injured and alone in the woods asking for help, to something quite different during the climax.

The Killer of Grassy Ridge skillfully presents stereotypical characters and horror cliches, then proceeds to roll them in their grave. Johnny K takes care to make sure all signs point to a single logical conclusion. Everything from the lack of dialogue, to the casting, to the radio news context lends to one possible outcome. Then he flips the script and delivers something a bit more unexpected. The one thing I’m not sure The Killer of Grassy Ridge fully achieves is telling a complete story while also leaving the audience wanting more. There is definitely a complete story told here, and it could easily be expanded upon. Yet there isn’t anything making me crave more information from the plot. Either way, this is a strong debut from K, Stumbo, and Stone. The Killer of Grassy Ridge is a fascinating short thriller that feels fresh by using classic horror tropes to subvert your expectations.

OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5