Cynthia

cynthia

Robin and Michael are the perfect couple. The only problem is, they can’t seem to get pregnant. The couple resorts to fertility injections mailed in from over seas. After months of trying they finally get pregnant, but along with the baby there seems to be a large cyst. The baby is born healthy, and the doctor removes the cyst. Everything seems fine, but the cyst isn’t just a cyst, and it will do whatever it takes to get back to mommy.

This is a very unexpected film. This is the first film written by Robert Rhine (Road Lawyers and Other Briefs) in almost twenty years. His recent focus has been on his magazine, Girls and Corpses, and this film is a great way for him to make his return. His plot is equal parts ridiculous, hysterical, and gory. Rhine’s script is combined with the directing powers of Devon Downs (Anarchy Parlor) and Kenny Gage (Anarchy Parlor). Fertility issues are something that many women go through, so creating a fun horror film around it not only makes the film relatable, but it also makes it more fun. It is almost as if some of the pressure of trying to get pregnant is taken away by being able to laugh about it in this film. There is an extra layer of hilarity when it comes to seeing such a perfect couple unravel after they get the baby they have always wanted, and seeing how a mother will care for her child no matter what. The film is definitely filled with campiness and dark humor that won’t be for everyone, but horror fans that enjoy a healthy dose of comedy with their gore will likely love this flick.

Cynthia has a cast filled with horror royalty doing what they do best, as well as giving us a few surprises. The leading lady of this film is Scout Taylor-Compton (Halloween, Halloween II) as Robin. There isn’t anything Robin wouldn’t do to have the family she’s always wanted. Taylor-Compton perfectly shows the change in Robin when her family unit doesn’t turn out quite like she planned. Another standout performance of this star-studded film is Sig Haig (The Devil’s Rejects, Razor) as Detective Edwards. This was a very different role for Haig, since fans are used to seeing him as the bad guy, yet he plays a detective very well. Despite his good-guy performance being different than what fans are used to, he still manages to inject a little bit of the classic Haig we know and love. Other noteworthy performances come from Bill Moseley (The Devil’s Rejects), Robert LaSardo (Anarchy Parlor), Kyle Jones (The Boonies), and Rebecca Marshall (Raze). Each and every one of these actors is guaranteed to make you laugh.

The best part of this film is Cynthia herself. The creature design is absolutely brilliant because the filmmakers managed to create something that is both disgusting and cute at the same time. They make you love Cynthia, despite her appearance and the horrific things she does. This design feels slightly reminiscent of the evil baby from Dead Alive, except it is somehow more grotesque and lovable. She was created entirely with practical effects and puppeteers, which makes her all the more endearing. The filmmakers wisely were slow to reveal Cynthia. It is just the right amount of delayed gratification for the audience, because when the full reveal finally happens we are already emotionally invested in this character. The audience becomes attached to her sweet little baby sounds and farts, bringing out our paternal instincts, before seeing how horrific looking she truly is. After seeing this film I can only imagine fans will want their own Cynthia to cuddle with at night.

Cynthia is a campy delight with the most hideously adorably creature ever made. It is really a perfect storm of different horror elements. The film has a fantastic cast, superb creature design, and it is hilarious. The only downside to the film is some of the medical scenes and terminology are off, but since the rest of the film involves a strange baby-creature these inaccuracies are easy to overlook. This film isn’t for everyone, and there are many who will not appreciate the camp or the gore. Still, the comedic approach to telling a story about a couple struggling with fertility will delight audiences everywhere. If this film is coming to a film festival near you, then be sure to check it out.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

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Downrange

downrange

A group of friends, acquaintances, and strangers carpool together on a road trip. While in the middle of nowhere they get a flat tire. The group soon realizes the tire was shot. There is someone hidden nearby, and he wants to take them out one by one. With no other people in the area, and no cell reception, the group is stranded. They will have to fight and do whatever it takes to survive.

This film has a simple and effective premise. It also feels very timely considering recent events happening in the United States. A lone shooter is well hidden from a vantage point, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. This is something that has been in the news a lot lately; the idea that there could be a shooter anywhere at any time is a fear many people experience these days. The realism of the premise makes the plot all the more intense to watch. However, there is one thing that takes away from the realism of this film: the gun. This is an issue in many films, but there is a lot of inconsistency when it comes to the gun used and how many bullets it can shoot. The gun is described as an antique, and when shown up close it appears that only a single round can be loaded at a time. Yet, there are scenes where multiple shots are fired without the man reloading his gun. This is a common flaw in film, especially action films. It is a detail many viewers will likely be able to ignore, but it took me out of the otherwise realistic plot.

What makes this premise stand out from similar plots is that the group aren’t necessarily friends. There is a couple in the mix, but everyone else just met in order to do a group carpool. We don’t know where each person is going, and no one knows anyone else’s background. That anonymity makes the dynamics between the group very interesting. It also adds an extra layer of intensity because each character doesn’t know how the other will react, especially in a situation like this where anxiety is at an all time high. In films where a group of friends are attacked, one can assume the friends will do whatever they can to save each other; when it is strangers, you never know what will happen.

The performances in this film start out a bit rough, but each character seems to get their groove as the film continues. Kelly Connaire (For Art’s Sake) plays the timid Jodi. In the beginning Jodi seems like a weak side character, but as the film progresses Connaire makes Jodi stronger and more interesting. Stephanie Pearson (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Insidious: Chapter 2) plays the most industrious of the group, Keren. Pearson gives the strongest and most consistent performance of the group, and she often is the one keeping the plot exciting. The dynamic between these two characters is also interesting because they are two opposite personalities. Witnessing how they react with each new horrific situation makes for a compelling juxtaposition.

There are a few aspects of the film that don’t quite translate. One of those things is the humor. There are scenes where half the audience will laugh, and the other half will find those scenes to be quite serious. Without speaking to writer Joey O’Bryan (Fulltime Killer) and writer/director Ryûhei Kitamura (The Midnight Meat Train), there is no way to know if parts of the film were meant to be humorous or not. Another aspect of the film that doesn’t translate, and could potentially relate to humor as well, is the practical effects. The gore is fun and brightly colored, which many horror gore fans will love. Unfortunately, there is one practical effects gimmick used twice in the film that doesn’t quite fit. First, it seems odd to use such a specific gimmick twice in a short amount of time. Second, the effect looks cool, but it doesn’t seem very anatomically realistic with how the injury happened. Luckily this happens earlier in the film, and likely has a hand in why the film gets better the further into the plot it goes.

Downrange is a thrill ride playing into audiences’ fears over current events. The film takes a while to to get into a rhythm, but once it does it is exciting, gory, and filled with a couple fun twists and turns. There are parts where the potential for humor is a bit muddled, and many people will likely not find the film humorous at all. This film will likely be viewed very differently depending on who watches the film, but that may also be one of its charms. This may not be Kitamura’s best work, but it is still highly entertaining.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

A Quiet Place

quiet

In 2020 the world is taken over by strange and dangerous beings. While the creatures are completely blind, they have a heightened sense of hearing. The human race has been almost entirely wiped out. One family struggles to survive this new world where a single sound could mean death. They have the advantage of knowing sign language, but it might not be enough to remain silent.

There are so many things to love about this film. John Krasinksi (The Office, Away We Go) made sure to have his hand in nearly every aspect of the filmmaking process. He directed the film, co-wrote the script with Bryan Woods (Nightlight) and Scott Beck (Nightlight), and he also stars in the film. The plot focuses more on the family unit rather than the creatures, yet the creatures are quite terrifying. We know generally when they appeared, we know the creatures are blind and hunt using sound, but that’s about it. The filmmakers smartly avoid showing the creatures in full view until fairly far into the film. Many horror films try to over explain the origin of the monsters, but this film allows you to make your own deductions.

Since the monsters hunt with sound, much of the film is in near silence. This makes every sound all the more terrifying, and the entire film has an edge-of-your-seat tension. This also means the words that are spoken have much more impact. Speaking is dangerous, so if anyone in the family says something out loud it is something they find important. The only daughter in the family is deaf. While normally this would be considered an impairment, it actually ends up being a benefit for the family because they could already communicate with sign language before the creatures appeared. This form of communication is likely a large part of what has kept the group alive. The dynamic between the family members and how they live their daily lives in this new world are the driving forces behind the plot. It is a monster movie, but the plot goes much deeper by having compelling characters.

Acting in a film with such a small amount of dialogue takes a lot of talent. An actor has to be able to convey emotions with their face and body language because they are unable to use words. Krasinski is one of the stars of this film playing the father, Lee. A striking aspect of his performance is his ability to convey emotion with his eyes. Krasinski has a very expressive face that serves his portrayal of Lee very well. His real life wife, Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, Edge of Tomorrow), plays his wife in the film, Evelyn. Blunt is a very talented actress who shines in every role she does. Her performance in this film really shines when she’s protecting her children. The physical and emotional struggle of trying to remain silent in tense situations is something Blunt portrays very well. The breakout star of the film is Millicent Simmonds (Wonderstruck) as Regan. Simmonds is deaf in real life, just like her character in the film. Not only is it great that the filmmakers opted to hire a young deaf actress in the role, but Simmonds acts her heart out. She shows that being hearing impaired does not mean you aren’t as strong and capable as anyone else. The entire family feels real and authentic, making the characters ones fans will truly care about.

The creature design in this film is stunning. While the look of the creatures may remind audiences of other creatures from Stranger Things and Cloverfield, there are certain aspects that make them unique. We know the creatures hunt using sound, so naturally there are certain physical aspects to show they have enhanced hearing. These physical features look anatomically plausible, which always makes for a more compelling monster. The creature is masterfully created using CGI effects. The effects look startlingly realistic and include intricate details which would be difficult to achieve without CGI. While the origins and motives for the creatures remain a mystery, they are frightening and fun to watch.

A Quiet Place perfectly uses silence to generate high intensity into this monster flick. While it is suspenseful and exciting, it is also a film about the dynamics between family members in a post-apocalyptic world. The film has strong performances, fantastic creature design, and a unique story. This may be a bit nit-picky, but the biggest fault I find with this film is the very last shot of the film. Something about it feels somewhat out of place with the rest of the film and almost cheapens the previous events a bit. That issue aside, this film is one that every horror fan should see, and it is one that you could even bring your non-horror loving friends to enjoy.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

Veronica

veronica

In Madrid, Spain in 1991 a teenage girl helps her mother raise her brother and sisters after her dad died. One day she experiments with a Ouija board with two school friends. From that moment on, she is plagued by an evil presence. Things only get worse when that evil starts to go after her younger siblings. She has to find a way to stop the malevolent presence, before it kills the ones she loves.

Director Paco Plaza has been known as a filmmaking force in the horror genre with his [REC] film franchise. Veronica was an obvious choice for him after finishing that franchise, as there are similar themes between the films. The biggest similarities are the common themes of demons, the devil, and possession. Plaza always does a somewhat unique spin with these themes, which are fairly common in the horror genre, keeping things interesting and exciting for fans. Another similarity is the focus on a female protagonist. In this film, that is the title character, Veronica.

The combination of jump scares and more subtle atmospheric scares allows audiences to experience near-constant fright. What makes this film uniquely scary from Plaza’s previous work is that it is based on a true story. Not only are many of the details of the film based on truth, but they come from a police report that is the only one in Spain’s history to note witnessing paranormal activity on an official report. Knowing the background for the film makes the events all the more terrifying. That being said, this is one of many recent films that was advertised as being the scariest film ever. The film has many frightening moments, but I would not go into the film expecting to experience the most intense fear of your life.

Considering all the leads in this film are children, every single one of them give great performances. Sandra Escacena plays Veronica in her very first acting role. Being in the titular role means Escacena has to give the character her all. Considering this is her first acting job, and as the lead character, Escacena truly shines and commands your attention. Her performances is not only haunting, but she plays the balance between being the unofficial parent to her siblings and being a normal teenage girl very well. I hope to see her in many more films in the future. The younger siblings, played by Bruna González, Claudia Placer, and Iván Chavero, also prove they are young new talents who will likely continue to do great things.

The filmmakers use primarily more subtle scares throughout the film. This means the effects are also very subtle. Many of them are small practical effects. When it comes to the climax of the film, there is a combination of practical effects and CGI. While much of it is well done, and the climax is intense and terrifying, this is also where the film loses me a bit. The climax suffers from a common horror-genre issue where the filmmakers show too much of the evil presence that is after the protagonist. In some cases it works, but in this film it seems like showing less would have been more effective and eerie.

Veronica brings strong scares to this film based on a true story. The plot isn’t entirely original, including common horror tropes such as a Ouija board leading to demonic happenings, but the fact that it is based on a true story makes it more interesting. The filmmakers opted to use a lot of young actors who had never been in a film before. This ended up being the strongest aspect of the film, especially when it comes to Escacena’s performance. Plaza made a lot of smart decisions with this film, especially when it comes to how he crafted the scares. Most of the scares are very effective, but there is a bit too much of the evil entity shown in the climax of the film, which takes away some of the terror. The key to enjoying this film will be avoiding a lot of the hype. No film can ever live up to that amount of hype, but if audiences can ignore it, then this film will be all the more thrilling to watch.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Annihilation

annihilation

Several months ago a biologist’s husband went on a top secret mission. He suddenly returns, only to fall deathly ill; then, both of them are taken in by the military. The biologist learns her husband was investigating an environmental disaster zone, and no one is sure how he got out. She volunteers, along with four other women, to be the next team to enter what is known as the “Shimmer.” Once inside, they realize the very laws of nature are being rewritten.

Alex Garland (Ex Machina, 28 Days Later) directed this film and wrote the screenplay based on Jeff VanderMeer’s novel. This is only the second film directed by Garland, but it is clear that he is the next great filmmaker. The plot of this film stands out for several reasons. One is that the film follows a group of five strong, intelligent women. The team consists of a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, a physicist, and a paramedic. Not only are these women physically strong, but they are some of the best in their field. It is great to see this added to the list of recent films focusing on female role models. Another aspect of this film that makes it unique is all the strange and beautiful horrors the team encounters once they enter the Shimmer. Everything we know as natural is altered within the Shimmer, and it results in insane hybrids that shouldn’t be scientifically possible. Some of these hybrids are hypnotically beautiful, others are monstrous and deadly. Finally, the alien threat that caused the Shimmer is another aspect that makes this film stand out. The reason for the alien arrival, and the resulting events, is something rarely seen in sci-fi films. I won’t get too specific, because this is a film you have to see to believe.

While this film is clearly a huge cinematic achievement, it is also not for every viewer. Some of the more abstract scientific themes of the film may not appeal to all audiences. However, this alone shouldn’t ruin the film for viewers. Even if the concepts are a bit complex, it is still a thrilling, often terrifying, and sometimes beautiful film. The excitement alone will hold the attention of most audiences. The other drawback, to certain viewers, will likely be the ending. The film leaves certain questions unanswered, allowing the audience to make their own conclusions. I enjoyed both the strange science of the film and the way Garland chose to end the film, but there will be many people who will not feel this way.

The entire cast is absolutely superb in this film. While each member of the expedition team has stand out moments, there are two who stand out to me as having the strongest performances. Natalie Portman (Black Swan, Jackie) takes over the leading role as biologist and soldier Lena. Portman has always been a talented actress. She brings something a bit different to this performance because not only is her character brilliant, but she was also a soldier. It makes her character uniquely suited for this expedition, and Portman portrays a soldier-like strength that I haven’t seen from her before. Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok, Creed) also shines as the physicist, Josie. Josie is the least mentally stable of the group, and likely should never have been allowed to join the team. Thompson stands out in this role because she gives one of the most unexpected performances, and she reacts to being inside the Shimmer in a very interesting way. It was difficult to pick only two performances, but I would imagine every viewer will have different performances that stand out to them.

This is one of the most visually fantastic films of the year – if not the past several years. The things that happen inside the Shimmer, created in the mind of author VanderMeer, are so bizarre and original. Bringing this to the screen takes an equal amount of imagination and some brilliant CGI. Inside the Shimmer all species, even across different kingdoms, combine to create horrifying hybrids that are often as deadly as they are stunning. CGI is the only way to properly achieve these hybrids, and the work done in this film is positively spectacular. This film is an example of the right way to utilize CGI.

Annihilation is a visionary film that pushes the boundaries of the human imagination. Garland has yet again proven that he is not only a talented screenwriter, but an even more talented director. His talents are perfectly complemented by an extraordinarily talented cast. On top of everything, this film is filled to the brim with the most imaginative imagery, all of it perfectly executed through CGI. While some of the themes will polarize audiences, it is clear that this film is a near-perfect cinematic gem.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

Before I Wake

before i wake

A young couple lost their son in a tragic accident. As a way to cope with their loss they decide to adopt an orphaned young boy. Little does the couple know that this is no ordinary child. Everything he dreams becomes real while he sleeps. It can be beautiful, but his nightmares become just as real as his dreams. The couple must discover the boy’s mysterious past in order to save his life, and their own.

This film built a lot of anticipation for horror fans. It was meant to be released back in 2015, and there were even trailers out as far back as four years ago. Unfortunately, the filmmakers had troubles with the distribution company, and this led to the film being held in legal red tape for far too long. Finally, Netflix was able to get their hands on the film and release it for streaming this year. Between the years of delays and writer/director Mike Flanagan’s previous success with Occulus, people were understandably excited to finally see Before I Wake.

Flanagan created a very interesting and unique story with this film. So many people wish their dreams could come true, but this is a very unique take. The boy doesn’t get to reap the benefits of his dreams coming true, as they only come true while he sleeps. Also, many people don’t take into consideration that, by having their dreams come true, this likely means their nightmares will come true as well. While this is a very interesting, and often frightening concept, what brings the plot to another level is how the couple reacts to the boy’s ability. Losing a child is difficult. When the boy dreams of their son and they are able to hold him again, it’s only natural that the mother would want the boy to dream more about her deceased child. It isn’t until they finally see what happens during the nightmares that the mother realizes she needs to find out how or why this is happening. It makes for a frightening and emotional film. While the emotional side of the film makes the story quite compelling, there are times where it comes across as overly sentimental. That sentimentality also leaves a few loose ends by the time the film ends.

With this being such an emotionally driven film, it is important for it to be well cast with strong actors. Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush, Straw Dogs) plays Jessie. What makes her performance so powerful is how Bosworth shows the struggle a mother goes through after losing a child. She clearly wants to be a good mother to her adoptive son, but the pull to see her dead child in the boy’s dreams is too seductive to ignore. Initially it makes you dislike Jessie, but Bosworth manages to make her a sympathetic character as the plot progresses. Another equally strong performance comes from Jacob Tremblay (Room, Wonder) as the adopted son, Cody. Tremblay yet again proves he is a fantastic actor, despite his very young age. He portrays a very complex character who knows the effects of his own dreams and fears what his strange ability will do to others. These two actors together make for some exceptional and emotional scenes.

A film like this would be nearly impossible to create without the use of CGI. For the most part, the CGI is beautifully done. There is one specific scene where the butterflies that Cody typically dreams about combine with Christmas lights to create fantastical and stunningly gorgeous imagery. It is when the nightmares come out that the CGI doesn’t hold up quite as well. Cody’s main nightmare is a terrifying creature who eats people. For this, the filmmakers layered CGI over an actor. While in the dark this figure is frightening, in the light it doesn’t have quite the same impact. It is the kind of creature that would be more frightening left in the shadows. However, when the origin of this creature is discovered it ends up making sense why the filmmakers chose to show it in the light.

Before I Wake is a victim of circumstance. It had a lot of buzz when the trailers were first released, but the continued delays likely made fans forget about the film over time. The film has a unique premise with beautiful imagery and strong performances. The plot can be a bit over-sentimental, leading to a few glaring plot holes in the final act, but it is still fascinating to watch. It would be interesting to see if the film would have been received differently if it had been released as planned back in 2015. While it isn’t Flanagan’s strongest work, it is definitely worth a watch.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

Mayhem

mayhem

Derek Cho is having a bad day. After another employee framed him for a mistake, his bosses fired him. Before they could get him out of the building the entire office becomes infected with the “Red Eye” virus. This virus strips away all impulse control leading to violent outbursts and other heinous acts. Derek knows that legally no one can be held liable for their actions while infected, even if they commit murder. The CDC places the building under quarantine, giving Derek eight hours to reach his boss on the top floor and kill him. Little does he know that he will face several floors of obstacles along the way.

Director Joe Lynch (Everly, Chillerama) is known for movies filled with carnage and insanity. Mayhem is no different. Lynch wastes no time getting into the action, giving just enough time to establish the characters and their relationships before the virus takes over the building. Once the action starts, the plot flows like a video game. Derek teams up with a woman who also wants to get to the bosses. Each time they get to a higher floor they face a more deadly foe, many of them with nicknames like “The Siren” and “The Boss.” The floors are like levels of a video game where each level presents a villain who is more difficult to defeat than the last, until they reach the big boss. This is actually fairly similar to Lynch’s film, Everly, except in that film the video game villains came to the hero.

Along with the similarity to another of Lynch’s films, horror fans may find this film to be somewhat similar to the events of The Belko Experiment. While the reason for the violence is different, both films center around a closed-off building filled with employees trying to kill each other. This may mean that Mayhem doesn’t have the most original plot, but it doesn’t take away from how much fun the film is. Every person in the building is infected by the virus, which means you never know what a person is going to do without their impulse control. It leads to some unexpected and highly entertaining events. There is also a lot of humor in this plot, which nicely offsets the hyper-violence throughout the film. The biggest issue with the plot is that the ending is telegraphed right from the beginning. Before the building is put under quarantine, we learn about a case Derek worked on. An infected man was found not liable for murdering someone because of the effects of the virus. It isn’t difficult to figure out where the film goes from there, but at least the journey is delightfully fun to watch.

The two heroes of this film are incredibly entertaining to watch and have great on-screen chemistry. Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead, Okja) plays the leading man, Derek. Yeun plays Derek as a man almost every working person can relate to. He works hard, does what he can to please the bosses, and tries to avoid confrontation in the workplace. When the virus makes Derek free to do and say everything he has always wanted, Yeun plays it so he is always walking the line between rationality and insanity. Samara Weaving (The Babysitter, Three Bilboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) plays Derek’s new sidekick, Melanie. Melanie wanted an extension on her loan and was turned down, so she wants to get to the bosses as badly as Derek. Weaving has recently been popping up in more and more prominent roles, many of them in the horror genre. The way she plays Melanie shows that the character was probably always a bit unstable, so in the quarantine she seems right at home. Together they make quite the sexy and dysfunctional Mario and Luigi team.

Mayhem has the classic Lynch insanity that fans love. The plot might not be the most original, and it will likely remind you of other recent films, but it has some aspects that make it stand out from the crowd. The video game-like format involving more difficult enemies as our heroes go up each floor of the building adds a certain level of geeky fun. Combine that with the unexpected dynamic duo of Yeun and Weaving, and the result is a film that is thrilling, violent, and darkly humorous. You will come out of the film wanting to see future work from everyone including Lynch, Yeun, and Weaving.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10