Dread Presents

Black Site

site

The Elder Gods once ruled over the human race, until humans found a way to deport them to another world. A secret military base is dedicated to finding, catching, and deporting the few remaining Elder Gods on Earth. When an Elder God who killed one soldier’s parents is caught, the site is thrown into chaos and it is up to her to send it back to where it came from.

When I pressed play to start this film I had fairly low expectations. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up enjoying Black Site. Tom Paton (Redwood) wrote and directed this Lovecraftian sci-fi thriller. The film wisely begins with a bit of text to establish context for the audience, making it much easier to understand what is happening when the film really begins. We are then introduced to a young girl as her parents are killed by an Elder God. Years later that same girl is a young woman working at the Black Site. The plot is interesting because it brings in ideas created by Lovecraft with other worlds and Elder Gods with long tentacles, but it also has a woman going through internal turmoil when the god who killed her parents is captured. Things become even more tension-filled with a group of highly trained humans infiltrate the site. They are clearly trying to get to the Elder God, but why they want to reach him is less clear. This aspect of the plot gives the film an 80’s John Carpenter feel such as Escape From New York. It is one part Lovecraft, one part Carpenter, yet still feels like a fresh take by Patton.

While the general plot and various twists and turns it takes are very well done, there are some parts of the dialogue that are less successful. Specifically, there is something about the two main female characters and how their dialogue is written that comes across as unnatural. These characters are written so they say a lot of witty one-liners and talk tough, but there isn’t a lot to their speech other than that, especially with the young female protagonist. She is written in a way that seems like her only mode is sarcastic one-liners. It almost comes across as if her lines were written for Arnold Schwarzenegger. This was definitely an aspect of the film that stood out and not in a good way. I still think the rest of the plot is well done and the dialogue for the Elder God is fantastic.

The acting in Black Site falters in a few scenes, but as a whole the cast is entertaining to watch. The film stars Samantha Schnitzler (Viking Siege, The Sitter) as Ren Reid. Ren has to be tough because of her work and she uses that toughness to mask the trauma of seeing an Elder God kill her parents. Schnitzler does a great job of occasionally letting Ren’s inner vulnerability break through as she tries to get to the god, but at the same time the writing hinders the performance a bit. She does what she can with the one-liners, but there are many times where they fall a bit flat. The performance that will likely stand out in the minds of audience members is Kris Johnson (Airborne, Who Needs Enemies) as the Elder God Erebus trapped inside a human body. Johnson is lucky to have some of the best dialogue in the film, but his delivery is what sells his portrayal of the god. It truly feels like there is something very powerful trapped inside the man on the screen.

There are many artistic elements that work very well throughout the film. The special effects are surprisingly well done. The CGI is primarily used to create the imagery Ren sees in visions, which includes seeing what the Elder Gods look like in their true form. There are also more subtle ones used to show the high tech security of the site as well as what appears to be electricity that comes off Erebus when he is trapped in the man’s body. Many of the effects also look great because of stunning cinematography and iconic use of lighting. The score for the film is also fantastic. It sounds as if a John Carpenter film and a 1950’s sci-fi film had a musical baby. All of these elements help to enhance the plot while also moving it forward.

Black Site is a modern sci-fi tale with elements of Carpenter and Lovecraft while also having heart. I was pleasantly surprised with the film, especially when it came to the beautiful effects and the excellent score. The plot itself is also quite fascinating as it slowly reveals many secrets, although there are times where the dialogue detracts from the plot a bit. This also affects the acting in some scenes, but as a whole the cast does a great job. Black Site delivers plenty of entertainment to the audience and it makes me interested to see what Paton does next.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Book of Monsters

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When Sophie was little she thought she saw her mom get killed by a monster. Now, on the eve of her 18th birthday, Sophie and her friends are throwing a party. Her mom’s old monster book resurfaces only to be used by a mystery woman to conjure up some terrifying monsters to wreak havoc on the party guests. It’s up to Sophie and her friends to stop the monsters before they are unleashed on the world.

This gory monster comedy feels like a love letter to horror films of the 80’s. Written by Paul Butler (Nothing Man, The Creature Below) and directed by Stewart Sparke (The Creature Below), Book of Monsters brings campy fun with what appear to be nods to The Evil Dead films while also delivering an interesting and unique plot. The cold open of this film introduces the audience to a young Sophie as her mom reads her a bedtime story from a rather odd book filled with drawings of strange monsters. Sophie then witnesses a monster kill her mother, but of course no one believes her. This quickly sets the tone for the film while also establishing the main character, Sophie. As a teen she is a bit of an outsider; she has a couple close friends, is shy and quiet, and it quickly becomes apparent that she is interested in girls. Her birthday party is the catalyst for the carnage which ensues on the unsuspecting guests.

On the surface Book of Monsters is simply a splatterfest where people are killed left and right and the monsters are a bit on the cheesy side. There are also some odd choices in terms of character development, such as a mean girl who is a bit over-the-top in her mean ways and Sophie quickly goes from meek to warrior woman at the drop of a hat. While some of these aspects can take away from the film, I believe they ultimately have a purpose. It all goes back to paying homage to horror films of the 80’s. The book filled with monsters and spells is reminiscent of The Evil Dead, the monsters themselves can be a throwback to many older films, the mean girl reminded me of Judy from Sleepaway Camp, and Sophie herself is like most virginal final girls of that time who fight for survival. Even the cast, who are all supposed to be teenagers, look like they are between the age of 25-30 just like in 80’s films. What makes Book of Monsters stand out from other films that honor the films of the past is the mythology it creates. Not only are the monsters unique, but the filmmakers gradually build on Sophie’s connection to them in an interesting way that moves the plot forward while also giving plenty of opportunity to create a sequel (or even a prequel) with this mythology.

The performances are a bit of a mixed bag, some being very good and others being over the top. That being said, I believe the range of performances as a deliberate choice by the filmmakers to stay in-keeping with the 80’s nostalgia. Lyndsey Craine (The Creature Below) stars as Sophie. While her character arc is a bit abrupt, Craine’s performance as Sophie stays true to the character. She starts out very shy and sweet, but when her friends are in danger she turns into a monster killer. Craine is also the most believable as a teenager. Two actors who are not believable as teenagers are Michaela Longden (The Creature Below, Audax) as Mona and Anna Dawson (1921, The Creature Below) as Arya. Mona is one of Sophie’s best friends and a bit of a rebel. What I enjoy most about Longden’s performance is her ability to play multiple characters and the way she injects humor into her performance. Arya is the bully of the film. She is so over the top in how terrible she is to Sophie, and others, that Dawson’s performance also comes across as out there. This seems intentional as many of the bullies of 80’s films act quite similarly to Arya. No matter where the performances fall on a scale of good to not so great, it is still easy to see that the actors had fun making this film.

Between the monsters and the gore, it is impossible to ignore the effects in Book of Monsters. Remembering that this film is meant to be like a campy 80’s horror flick, the practical effects definitely pay homage to that era. The filmmakers wisely avoided using CGI. The heavy use of blood and severed body parts is both disgusting and humorous at the same time. When it comes to the monsters themselves, there are some interesting choices made. A couple of the creature designs rely heavily on cloaks to mask much of the body, allowing the SFX team to focus more on the faces of the monsters and the weapons or body parts they use to kill the teens. It can be a bit unfortunate looking at the monsters and realizing the bodies are mostly ignored in the design process, but it still fits with the low-budget 80’s aesthetic. There is one creature the team clearly took more time and money to create, and the design is very unique. The only creature design I don’t like is for the “djinn.” Instead of having a true monster look, the djinn looks more like a ghost from a J-horror film. This could potentially be another nod or homage to that subgenre of horror film, but it seems out of place with the rest of the 80’s style.

Book of Monsters certainly delivers on the monsters and gore with a classic 80’s aesthetic, while also giving audiences a fun and compelling story. The plot feels reminiscent of other films while still including new elements. The actors may not all deliver the best performances, but there is obviously a lot of heart and fun that went into the film. Book of Monsters certainly isn’t a film for everyone, but if you appreciate classic 80’s horror films with campy practical effects then this is the film for you. It is definitely a love-letter to the misfits and monster lovers.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10