Scifi

Fantasia Review: Minor Premise

A neuroscientist is attempting to escape from his deceased father’s shadow. In a desperate move, he uses an experimental machine on himself, causing his psyche to fracture into multiple pieces. He has to find a way to put the pieces back together or face deadly consequences.

Minor Premise has one of the most fascinating stories I have seen at Fantasia International Film Festival. The film is directed by Eric Schultz, making his feature-film directorial debut. Schultz co-wrote the film with Thomas Torrey (Fare, Savannah Sunrise) and Justin Moretto, the latter also making his feature-film debut as a writer. As the film begins, we meet Ethan, the young neuroscientist. His work seems to center on being better than his father was and getting the recognition he believes he deserves. This is what leads him to test a machine on himself that fractures his psyche. There are now 10 versions of Ethan, each one focusing on a specific facet of his personality and only having 6 minutes to be “alive” at a time. This cycle takes a toll on his mind and body, giving him a short amount of time to put his mind back together. This alone leads to a very suspenseful film, especially since only a couple of the versions of himself are helpful in trying to solve the problem. To add to the suspense, there is one version of Ethan who is actively working against the real version of himself, attempting to take over both mind and body.

The driving plot of Minor Premise is different than anything I’ve ever encountered. It presents a unique scientific goal. The consequences of trying to reach that goal are shocking, but also make sense with what Ethan is trying to achieve. One thing I really appreciate about the film is that it makes a point of stating this is not a case of dissociative personality disorder. While they refer to the different versions of Ethan as “personalities,” the fact that they make sure to explain that each personality is really just a different, specific facet of Ethan. Thrillers and horror films so often show individuals with DPD in a negative light, so making this distinction is a much needed and welcome change. It ultimately helps Minor Premise stand out while still keeping the audience at the edge of their seats.

Minor Premise has outstanding performances, but the clear stand out is Sathya Sridharan (Bikini Moon, All the Little Things We Kill) as Ethan. Sridharan completely shines in every moment he’s on screen. Not only does he play the original Ethan, but he has to play the other 9 facets of Ethan’s personality. With subtle facial expressions, physical movement, and manner of speaking, Sridharan is able to easily convey which version of Ethan he is portraying in any given moment. It’s really a fantastic performance that drives the increasing suspense of the plot. Honorable mention goes to Paton Ashbrook (Shameless) as Alli and Dana Ashbrook (Twin Peaks) as Malcolm, who both also excel in their roles.

Because the performances in Minor Premise are the focal point of the film, the filmmakers opted for more subtle visuals. Aside from the production design, science experiment props, and darkly creepy lighting, the one thing that makes quite an impact is the makeup. As the plot progresses, the audience sees Ethan’s physical health decline as his body cannot withstand the constant switching between personalities. The makeup effects make him look more gaunt, pale, and sickly throughout the film. It begins with subtle changes, but becomes more and more pronounced. It’s a great way to show Ethan’s time running out and adds to the suspense.

Minor Premise is a unique sci-fi thriller that plays with the mind in the most delightful way. The filmmakers clearly have a firm understanding of how to create impactful suspense from start to finish. Sridharan is the true heart and soul of this film with his absolutely stunning performance as the many versions of Ethan. The film also boasts subtle yet effective makeup to convey just how dire the situation is. It’s the kind of film that brings up interesting scientific theories and the ethics behind them. Schultz, Torrey, and Moretto show the world they are highly skilled storytellers. Minor Premise is an especially strong debut for both Schultz and Moretto, making it known we should pay attention to their future careers.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Fantasia Review: The Block Island Sound

There is something off the coast of Block Island. It takes hold of members of one family. Those uneffected race to find the truth about what’s causing their loved ones’ strange behavior before it’s too late.

I can firmly say one of my favorite films at Fantasia International Film Festival is The Block Island Sound. Written and directed by Kevin and Matthew McManus (Funeral Kings, American Vandal), the film combines elements of aquatic and cosmic horror to create something truly wonderful. The film first introduces us to Tom Lynch, a father and grandfather who has been acting strangely recently. Shortly after his daughter and granddaughter come to the island to investigate strange occurrences with the local wildlife, he disappears. When the same strange behaviors start to happen to Tom’s son, it becomes clear there is some outside force making this happen. The McManus brothers do a brilliant job of subverting expectations and creating suspense out of the unknown. It creates a wonderful and frightening mystery with many twists and turns.

There is a lot to love about this film. The Block Island Sound has elements of both aquatic horror and cosmic horror, which seems to be increasingly popular recently. This combination works very well and allows for the McManus brothers to keep the audience guessing. The film also focuses a lot on the various members of the Lynch family. Great care is taken to properly develop these characters and show the various dynamics of the family unit. It makes viewers care a great deal more about what will happen to the Lynches, which only adds to the suspense.

With how important the family members are to the plot, it’s no wonder The Block Island Sound has such a fantastic cast. Neville Archambault (13 Cameras, Solomon Grundy) plays Tom Lynch. Archambault delivers quite a disturbing performance that at first makes Tom appear to be losing his sanity, but quickly veers into a more disturbing realm. Chris Sheffield (The Maze Runner, The Last Ship) plays Tom’s son, Harry. Harry has a bit of a temper, but he clearly loves his family. When the strange occurrences begin to change Harry, Sheffield delivers a wonderful, gut-wrenching performance. Michaela McManus (Law & Order: SVU, Into the Grizzly Maze) plays Harry’s sister, Audry. McManus conveys how practical and level-headed Audry is. Even when things take a turn for the worse, her calm and maternal instincts make her the most capable person to handle whatever comes her way. Sheffield and McManus also act very well together, perfectly portraying siblings who have a love-hate relationship with each other.

There is a balance of what is shown and what is hidden that is beautiful in The Block Island Sound. For the most part, we only see the environmental effects of whatever is happening on Block Island. Bodies of dead fish and birds that have mysteriously died on the shores of the island make up most of the physical presence of the strange happenings. Subtle makeup also creates a haunting look on both Tom and Harry to show how they are physically affected by whatever is causing their strange behavior. The source of the strange happenings is kept hidden, allowing the audience’s imagination to run wild. Instead, the source is made known by a strange sound that clearly triggers Tom and Harry to act strangely (hence the title, The Block Island Sound). Gorgeous cinematography helps to emphasize the beauty and strangeness of Block Island. It all harmonizes to incite anxiety and fear in the audience.

The Block Island Sound brings together the best parts of cosmic and aquatic horror to deliver a hauntingly wonderful film. The McManus brothers created a film that brings depth to the plot by focusing on the family as much as it focuses on the more frightening elements. The entire cast delivers brilliant performances that only add to the well-written characters. The Block Island Sound is definitely one of my favorite films of the year, so far, and it’s a film that will haunt you long after it’s over.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

Fantasia Review: Fried Barry

Barry is a piece of shit. He’s a drug addict, he’s violent, and he’s a horrible husband and father. After a bender, he’s abducted by aliens. They return his body back to Earth, but it’s being controlled by an alien who explores human life through human eyes.

When you think of strange films you might discover at Fantasia International Film Festival, Fried Barry perfectly fits the bill. While he has created dozens of short films, this is the feature film debut for South African writer and director Ryan Kruger. Inspired by his short film of the same name, Fried Barry is a strange sci-fi/horror/comedy mash-up. Kruger makes sure the audience immediately dislikes Barry, which makes his eventual abduction and probing (yes, I said probing) simultaneously disturbing and humorous. It’s when the alien goes back down to Earth using Barry’s body that things really get strange. The alien gets a front row seat to the underbelly of human civilization as Barry goes from one misadventure to the next, often resulting in violence, sex, and psychedelic drug-induced insanity.

Fried Barry is the kind of film that will likely be polarizing. Audiences will either love it or hate it. The one main plot is simply the alien navigating through South Africa and learning about humans. Yet again and again alien Barry finds himself in increasingly strange and dangerous predicaments. It results in multiple subplots that make the film, at times, seem like an anthology with Barry as the connecting thread. Many of these misadventures show the seedy underbelly of South Africa. Part of me wishes there had been a bit more to the plot, such as a clearer motivation for the alien controlling Barry or something else driving the film forward, but it is still a film that sticks with you.

While Fried Barry has a rather sizable cast, there is one performance that takes over the film. Gary Green (Escape Room, Three Suspects) plays the titular character, Barry. As Barry, Green does a great job of making the character unlikeable. It’s when Barry is controlled by the alien that Green’s performances truly shines. Green already kind of has an alien appearance to him. He’s quite gaunt and skeletal, has penetrating eyes, and has an intensity about him. Alien Barry doesn’t talk much, so Green has to rely on his physicality to convey what the character is thinking and feeling at any given moment. It’s really a phenomenal performance and a large part of why I enjoy the film.

From start to finish, this film assaults the senses. Fried Barry has a general griminess to it. Each scene feels dirty enough to make your skin crawl, which fits the overall tone of the plot. Yet this griminess is broken up by scenes of vibrant, hallucinatory colors and images to convey Barry’s more drug-fueled moments and the abduction itself. Then there is the musical score by Haezer (The Experimental Witch, Nobody Dies). Much like the visuals, the music is gritty and vibrantly synth in turn, fitting perfectly with each image on the screen.

Fried Berry takes audiences on a strange journey that will make you laugh while also making you feel like you need a shower. This film is an incredibly strong feature film debut from Kruger that truly shows his filmmaking prowess. Green’s portrayal of Berry definitely helps to make the film a standout at Fantasia International Film Festival. While it won’t appeal to every viewer, it is guaranteed to be a memorable viewing experience that makes audiences laugh and cringe in turn.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

The Beach House

A college-age couple drives to a family beach house for a romantic getaway. Shortly after their arrival, they discover an older couple are already guests at the house. The two couples decide to spend an evening together, but the weekend soon turns into a nightmare of catastrophic proportions as the world around them crumbles.

The Beach House is an incredibly strong feature-film debut for writer and director Jeffrey A. Brown. The film begins when the young couple, Emily and Randall, go to Randall’s family beach house. Brown takes his time with the plot, establishing these two characters and their relationship before introducing the older couple already staying in the house, Mitch and Jane. From there the plot takes on a slow burn approach to build the sense of tension and dread. It begins with awkward moments between the two couples over dinner, then escalates as the situation reaches an apocalyptic level. Brown also excels at leaving breadcrumbs throughout the beginning of the film to hint at what’s to come. The first half of the film does move at a slower pace, which may alienate some audience members, but it is vital to the way Brown builds the plot. It’s a very effective method of storytelling because it not only generates a feeling of unease right from the beginning, but it also allows Brown to essentially switch horror subgenres halfway through the film from a taut thriller to full-blown body horror. The film has an edge-of-your seat story that delivers surprise after surprise.

The cast of The Beach House, for the most part, is top notch. Liana Liberato (If I Stay, Light as a Feather) stars as Emily. At first, Emily comes across as a very soft and reserved young woman. Yet Liberato quickly asserts that Emily is also highly intelligent and capable of great things. Noah Le Gros (Depraved, A Score to Settle) plays Emily’s boyfriend, Randall. As first, Le Gros’s performance feels a bit stiff. Yet, as he gets his stride, he really becomes Randall and delivers a strong portrayal, especially in the second half of the film. Jake Weber (Dawn of the Dead, Meet Joe Black) plays Mitch, half of the couple who is already staying at the beach house. Weber is very skilled at presenting a calm persona, even in the face of terrifying circumstances. This is true even in his portrayal of Mitch, although his sense of calm actually adds to the fear and tension in this film. Maryann Nagel makes her debut as Mitch’s wife, Jane. Nagel is fantastic in this role starting out as a sweet, sickly woman and then transforming into something much more frightening. Each actor helps to bring this story to life and they have great on-screen chemistry, but it is Liberato who audiences will likely remember most from this film.

On top of having a fascinating plot and great performances, The Beach House is simply stunning to look at. Despite the many houses around the one Emily and Randall visit, there are virtually no other human beings around. This and the slightly monochromatic color palette helps to give the film a sense of emptiness. Then, during the first night, the filmmakers bring vibrant colors and lights that almost make it feel as though you’ve been transported to another planet. The colors and sets are enhanced by gorgeous cinematography, which also often heightens the suspense of the film. Then there is the horror-fan’s bread and butter, practical effects. There is some marvelous goo, fabricated monstrosities, and terrifying creature design. It is all incredibly well done and adds to the disturbing climax of the film.

The Beach House seamlessly transitions between horror subgenres and creates a gruesome story that feels hauntingly real. Brown takes a concept rooted in reality and throws it into a horror context making the audience ask the question, “What if?” The opening of the film might be a bit slow and off-putting for some horror fans, but the payoff at the end is well worth it. The strong performances from the entire cast, especially Liberato, ground the film by making us care about the fate of each character. Not only will viewers get a compelling tale with interesting characters, but they also get a visually stunning film that brings shock and awe.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

The Invisible Man

MV5BZjFhM2I4ZDYtZWMwNC00NTYzLWE3MDgtNjgxYmM3ZWMxYmVmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTkxNjUyNQ@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,631,1000_AL_

Cecilia finally left her abusive ex. Shortly after, she gets word he’s killed himself. Cecilia believes her nightmare is finally over. Then strange things begin to happen, making her think she could be losing her mind. Her nightmare is only just beginning.

Horror favorite writer and director Leigh Whannell (Saw, Upgrade) brings an updated take on the classic Universal monster film with The Invisible Man. This iteration of the film focuses on Cecilia as she finally escapes the clutches of her emotionally and physically abusive boyfriend. She then learns that her ex killed himself and left his fortune to Cecilia. Her life finally starts to be going on the right track, until things take a turn. What starts out as small accidents, such as misplacing something, quickly escalates. Cecilia knows her ex is alive and trying to continue to ruin her life. The problem is, no one believes her. It gives the film a great updated edge, while also updating the source of the invisibility. This time it’s a purposeful, technological advancement that makes sense without the need for over-explanation. There may be a twist or two that seasoned horror fans will see coming, but it doesn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the film.

There are so many aspects of The Invisible Man that not only make a great feminist film, but it’s also just a fantastic thriller. Cecilia is a battered woman. She stayed with her ex for far too long out of fear of what he would do and because he convinced her she couldn’t escape him. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he uses his brilliance to pull off the most invasive and traumatizing gaslighting I have ever seen on film. Cecilia has to fight to be believed by everyone from the police to her best friend to her own sister. At times, even the audience may question Cecilia’s sanity, even though we know the truth behind it all. Her struggle to break free of the cycle and to be believed is one many women can relate to all to easily. Inserting this into an updated monster movie creates heightened suspense that will keep the audience white-knuckled and on the edge of their seats. This ex is not only a terrifying monster, but he’s also a very real monster (despite the invisibility aspect). That almost makes The Invisible Man more terrifying than any other Universal monster.

While this film as a fantastic ensemble cast, we need to talk about the unstoppable talent that is Elizabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale, The Kitchen) as Cecilia. At the start of The Invisible Man, Cecilia is a terrified, battered woman trying desperately to escape. Moss is truly haunting as she portrays this woman evolve from someone debilitated by fear to a strong heroine who knows she can only rely on herself for survival. What is especially mesmerizing about Moss’s performance is how she eventually gets to an almost primal state of being as she fights tooth and nail for that survival. Moss clearly carries the weight of the film, but it important to also note Oliver Jackson-Cohen (The Haunting of Hill House, Emerald City) as Adrian. We might not see much of Adrian in the film, but Jackson-Cohen’s portrayal of this all-to-human monster is sure to chill audiences to their core. Other great performances come from Aldis Hodge (Hidden Figures, Straight Outta Compton) as James, Storm Reid (A Wrinkle in Time, Sleight) as Sydney, and Harriet Dyer (Killing Ground, No Activity) as Emily.

Because the film is called The Invisible Man, naturally the attacker is unseen throughout a majority of the film. The filmmakers still manage to make his presence known with very simple and subtle techniques. Probably the most simplistic method is drawing focus to a specific spot on camera. It may appear there is nothing there, but by focusing on a single spot, potentially even slowly zooming in on that area, we know he’s there. Often times the audience is just barely able to see something move when Cecilia has left the room. When we do finally see Adrian in his suit that allows him to become invisible, it is a basic design achieved with a combination of practical and CGI effects that is sleek, modern, and function. It is a perfect look for this modern age tale. Be sure to also keep an eye out for lots of Easter eggs hidden throughout the film from homage to the original Invisible Man to nods to some of Whannell’s past films.

The Invisible Man expertly brings the classic Universal monster flick into the modern age. It is an enthralling tale of resilience and survival against a familiar evil. Whannell truly knocks it out of the part with his variation on the classic tale. He took a much simpler approach while making this film than past Universal monster updates, and that likely is a large part of why The Invisible Man is a hit. Even those who don’t like horror films should see this film for the compelling message it sends and to see Moss’s visceral performance. This is sure to end up on many “top 10 of 2020” film lists.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Transference

MV5BOTIxMTNmOWYtM2IyYi00OGFmLWIwYWEtNjg1M2MxMDM1MDczXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTMzOTMzMTg@._V1_SY1000_SX675_AL_

Orphaned twins Joshua and Emma are in hiding. Emma has strong supernatural abilities, but she isn’t able to control them. Joshua does his best to protect his sister and keep her hidden from the outside world. Yet they will both soon learn some things can never be contained.

Transference is the latest pseudo-superhero film trying to bring something different to the subgenre. Director Matthew Ninaber (Extraction Day, Last Run) co-wrote the film along with Jennifer Lloyd (Extraction Day) and Aaron Tomlin, the latter making his feature film debut as a writer. The film starts at a very intense, stressful point for the twins. From there, we see Emma being held in captivity by Joshua as he tries to find a way to make her better. The film deals with a lot of different themes and some new ideas. Some areas the film glosses over are the death of their father, being adopted by a priest, others with abilities, those who wish to control Emma, and the connection between twins and how it relates to Emma’s abilities. Unfortunately, many of these themes are never fully realized. There is a lot of information that is lightly touched on, but by the time the film ends it doesn’t seem as though any of the mysteries set up are ever resolved. I can understand wanting to maintain an air of mystery, but these go to an extreme and the film doesn’t appear complete.

While the writing of Transference leaves a bit to be desired, the actors do their best with the material to deliver compelling performances. Jeremy Ninaber (Extraction Day, Forest Fairies) stars as Joshua. While I don’t feel like audiences really get to know Joshua, aside from his love for his sister and anger issues, Ninaber does his best to try to convey the inner feelings and turmoil of this character. Melissa Joy Boerger makes her debut in this film as twin sister Emma. Much like Joshua, we don’t get a lot of information about who this character is beyond her abilities. We know she is powerful and we know she has issues with drugs and depression, but there isn’t any clear reasoning behind her actions. Boerger does a good job of playing the different sides of Emma, but without knowing why she does the things she does the character ends up coming across as disjointed. Aaron Tomlin (Extraction Day, Last Run) plays Malcolm, a man who Joshua brings to try and help his sister. Tomlin’s performance is interesting because his intentions are never really clear, giving him a somewhat sinister aura that comes through the screen. It would be interesting to see the actors in these roles if the characters were better developed, but they do a fine job with what they are given.

Since this, at its core, is a superhero film, it is important to have some great fight scenes and effects to show the supernatural abilities. Emma is able to do different things, but one major ability is that she can move things with her mind. The filmmakers chose to have this visually manifest as what looks like sound waves moving through the air. This is a wise decision because it is a simple CGI effect that makes a striking visual impact. Joshua, on the other hand, likes to use his fists. There are some nicely choreographed fight scenes that are entertaining to watch and at times are almost dance-like. These artistic elements help hold the viewers’ interest.

Transference throws a lot of interesting ideas at the audience, but these ideas never stick or have a coherent resolution. This makes the film just okay; there isn’t necessarily anything I dislike about it, but there also isn’t anything to truly keep me engaged. This may be an issue of too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to writing the script, however, this film shows potential. It has nice visuals and the performances are strong in light of the material the actors are given. Transference might not be a hit, but it’s intriguing enough to make me interested in what these filmmakers will do next.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10

Jessica Forever

MV5BOTgzZGFhMmItNDM2Mi00YzE5LWEyMWYtMjcyM2Q4MmU2YWUxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODIyOTEyMzY@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,734,1000_AL_

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

The Fare

MV5BYWZjOWE1NTctNjk4MS00NDRlLTkxNmYtNGVlYzM1OTE3ZmJiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDQzMjI2OTU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,673,1000_AL_

A taxi driver finds himself on a remote road at night to pick up a fare. A mysterious woman ends up in his cab, but before they reach their destination she vanishes. Unbeknownst to the taxi driver, he will meet the woman again as soon as he switches the meter back to vacant.

D.C. Hamilton (The Midnight Man) brings audiences his sophomore film as the director of The Fare. Written by Brinna Kelly (The Midnight Man), who also stars in the film, The Fare tells the story of a taxi driver named Harris. When he is sent out to the remote location at night to pick up a fare, he half expects it to be a prank call. That is until he finds a beautiful and mysterious woman named Penny there waiting for him. They have normal polite conversation until they approach an oncoming storm, then the woman suddenly vanishes. Harris, confused, resets his meter back to vacant and ends up right back where he started. The only problem is, he doesn’t seem to know he’s been reset. The audience watches as Harris and Penny go through the same time loop, that is until Harris finally starts to remember.

The entire premise of The Fare is far more interesting and unique than I expected. In the past few years there have been a number of time-loop films. Each one has its own distinctive flare and reasons for the time loop. This film manages to stand out from the crowd by delivering a compelling story and an unexpected reason for Harris and Penny being stuck in that loop. The filmmakers do a fantastic job of keeping the audience guessing. At times the film hints at aliens, gods, and other potential reasons. The truth is revealed in layers, only divulging small pieces of the puzzle at a time and ultimately making the big reveal incredibly satisfying. More importantly, it makes sense! Often times the plots of time-loop films can get convoluted, but The Fare delivers something audiences will understand and enjoy.

When you strip The Fare down to its core, it is much more of a love story than it is a time-loop film. Once Harris becomes aware of his situation and remembers more, we see his relationship with Penny grow. It’s especially interesting to watch because they are at such different stages of coming to terms with their situation. Penny’s memory goes much further back, so she’s already gone through the various stages of grief such as anger and bargaining, but she’s now accepted her situation. Since Harris is starting from the beginning, he has a harder time coming to terms with his situation. Yet it all brings them closer together, which only strengthens Harris’s quest to escape the loop with Penny and find the truth.

Both leads in The Fare deliver great performances. Gino Anthony Pesi (Shades of Blue, Battle Los Angeles) stars as Harris the taxi driver. While more handsome than people might expect of a stereotypical taxi driver, Pesi still fits the role well. There is a roughness to him, but he is still a very personable individual. What I especially enjoy about Pesi and his portrayal of Harris is his gradual change. Throughout his character arc, the audience sees Harris go through a wide range of emotions. When Harris and Penny become closer, Pesi even conveys a soft and caring side that is unexpected. Writer Brinna Kelly stars as Penny. Kelly brings a certain amount of poise and elegance to Penny that is very fitting for the character. Yet it’s when her barriers are broken down and her affection for Harris grows that Kelly really creates memorable moments for Penny. Pesi and Kelly have great on-screen chemistry throughout the film and will hold the attention of audiences.

Overall, the look and feel of the film reminds me a lot of an episode of The Twilight Zone and old noir films. At first, The Fare is in black and white. As Harris’s memory comes back, more and more of the film is in color. It creates a great visual cue for the audience to designate when Harris knows he is in the loop or not. The filmmakers also wisely chose to have the film set almost entirely within the taxi. Not only does this create a very intimate setting for the two leads, but it also allows for a lot of possibilities when it comes to the “why” behind the time loop. This decision likely gave the filmmakers the opportunity to spend the budget in more valuable areas instead of building elaborate sets or paying to use various locations.

The Fare is an unexpected gem that delivers something new to the time-loop subgenre of film. Hamilton and Kelly prove to be an effective filmmaking duo as they take audiences on a journey that goes to strange new places. Kelly also shows her acting prowess along with Pesi. Both actors deliver stunning performances and create dynamic characters. My only truly negative criticism of The Fare is at times the small budget is quite apparent. Yet the plot is novel enough and creates a mythos that is sure to bewitch audiences.

OVERLL RATING: 8.5/10

In the Tall Grass

MV5BN2M0NTJmMDAtNWI0ZC00MjdlLTlmYWEtMjNiMmJmOGRiNTEwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUxMTY3ODM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,675,1000_AL_

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

 

 

Freaks

freaks

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