Nightstream Capsule Review: Boys From County Hell

Bringing my Nighstream coverage to a close is the delightfully bloody Boys from County Hell. Written and directed by Chris Baugh (Tin Star, Bad Day for the Cut), this film injects the audience with a hearty dose of gore, laughs, and suspense. We watch as a young man joins his father’s construction company. When they demolish an ancient cairn rumored to hold an ancient Irish vampire, they discover the legend is all too real.

The filmmakers waste no time in educating viewers on the legend of Abhartach in a way that is as informative as it is hilarious. Once the context is established, it’s time for the bloodshed. Boys from County Hell is a standout vampire flick because it establishes new rules. It also finds ways to create truly disturbing means for the vampire to attack and kill his prey. On top of this, the filmmakers moved away from the typical attractive, sexy, sultry vampire look horror fans see all time time in favor of a dark, gnarly, decrepit creature. The practical effects and creature design are stunning and terrifying all at once. There is a bit of CGI that is not quite as well done, but what it is used for would be nearly impossible to achieve with practical effects.

While the entire cast delivers strong performances, Jack Rowan (Born to Kill, Benjamin) is the clear standout as Eugene. He brings a perfect balance of laughs and heart to the character, making him endearing and lovable despite his flaws. The film takes care to always have balance; humor vs gore, terror vs sentimentality, etc. For the most part, the filmmakers strike the perfect balance between all these elements. Boys from County Hell is a devilishly good time delivering equal parts laughs, bloodshed, and heart.


Nightstream Capsule Review: An Unquiet Grave

The Nightstream Fest films keep coming; this time it’s the supernatural drama, An Unquiet Grave. This film is directed by Terence Krey (Winter Slides), who also co-wrote the film with one of its stars, Christine Nyland (The Garden Left Behind). An Unquiet Grave is the story of a man, one year after his wife died in a car accident, as he seeks the help of his wife’s twin sister to try and bring her back to life. It’s a tale of heartbreak, magic, and morality.

An Unquiet Grave plays out like a much more intimate version of Pet Sematary. The film entirely focuses on two actors, Nyland and Jacob A. Ware (Graves, Boardwalk Empire), who both give strong, emotionally charged performances. At only 72 minutes, the filmmakers stick to the basics of the plot, emphasizing the relationships between characters and the lengths people go to in order to be with their deceased loved ones. The mysticism of the plot is left relatively unexplained, but it is shown in such a simplistic way that the audience can put the pieces together.

At times, An Unquiet Grave might be a bit too bare-bones for some viewers. That being said, it succeeds in conveying the deep emotional turmoil each character experiences. Scattered in that turmoil is eerie suspense, haunting imagery, and even some disturbing practical effects. It all comes together to drive home the point many fail to miss, especially when it comes to the ones they love: be careful what you wish for. An Unquiet Grave pulls back the curtain to take an intimate look at love, loss, and the toll grief takes.


Nightstream Capsule Review: Lucky

One of the most unique films at Nightstream is definitely Lucky. The film is directed by Natasha Kermani (Imitation Girl, Shattered) and written by Brea Grant (12 Hour Shift, Best Friends Forever), who also stars in the film. Lucky tells the story of May, an author who finds herself hunted by a masked man who comes back every night to try and kill her. When the police end up being less than helpful, she has to take matters into her own hands to stop the masked killer. Grant is able to tell a familiar story in a very different way, and Kermani does a beautiful job of bringing it all to life.

This smart and thrilling re-imagining of a slasher film conveys the threat women face every day: men. The mask the killer wears makes him largely featureless. This not only makes him look terrifying, but it also allows him to represent all men who prey on women. Whenever May speaks to someone about what she’s facing, she is constantly told how brave she is, how “lucky” she is she survived, and even that this is just the way things are. Throughout the film, it’s never clear if this is a supernatural situation or something more sci-fi related, but it’s not something that feels like it needs to be explained.

Grant’s performance as May is wonderful. She makes the character feel relatable, but at the same time there is a slight coldness to her, which can even be felt in the title of her book, “Go It Alone.” The musical score by Jeremy Zuckerman (Horse Girl, The Legend of Korra) melds beautifully with every scene. The climax executes some distinctive ideas in a visually stunning way that adds to the overall mystery of the film. Lucky is a suspenseful, magnificently told metaphor for the real-life horrors women face on a daily basis.


Nightstream Capsule Review: Dinner in America

Another smash hit from Nightstream Fest from writer and director Adam Rehmeier (Jonas, The Bunny Game) is Dinner in America. Readers who have followed my reviews might be surprised to see this film on my website as it’s definitely not a horror film. The fact I saw it and felt compelled to write this review should be an indicator of how much I adored it. Dinner in America follows a punk-rocker who unwittingly seeks the help of a young woman, who is obsessed with his band, for help in hiding from the cops.

The entire film is quirky, raunchy, and delightful. Both of the leads, Kyle Gallner (The Haunting in Connecticut, Jennifer’s Body) as Simon and Emily Skeggs (Mile 22, The Miseducation of Cameron Post) as Patty, deliver phenomenal performances and are a joy to watch. It’s impossible not to fall in love with both of them as they fall in love with an “us against the world” attitude. Some of the language may be off-putting to some viewers as there are racial, homophobic, and other slurs used, but for the most part they are said by characters the audience is meant to hate and this only strengthens that hatred. In the beginning of Dinner in America, Gallner’s character uses some of this language as well, but it becomes clear Simon says it to get a rise out of people and distance himself from others. Once those walls are broken down, his language changes.

Since this is a punk rock film, it’s only natural that it would have appropriate visuals and music. The Midwestern, suburban backdrop where it’s almost impossible to tell if it’s 1990 or 2020 emphasizes the fact that Simon and Patty are outsiders in this place. Everyone else is pristine in clean-cut outfits, track suits, and pastels, but the lovers are dressed in uncoordinated and grittier clothes. Then there is the music. Let’s just say, the music is so great that I immediately went online after watching the film to see if I could buy it anywhere (I couldn’t find it yet, in case you were wondering). Between the performances, the plot, and the music, I couldn’t stop smiling during this fantastic film. Dinner in America is charming, hilarious, and the perfect love story for outcasts everywhere.


Nightstream Capsule Review: Reunion

Writer and director Jake Mahaffy (Free in Deed, Wellness) brings his latest film, Reunion, to Nightstream audiences. Pregnant Ellie returns to her family home as her mother is getting it ready to sell. From the moment Ellie arrives, old memories haunt her and unravel her relationship with her family.

While the general concept for the plot is an interesting one, it lacks a bit of finesse in the execution. From beginning to end, Reunion maintains the same level of tension, or lack thereof. There is a lot of information provided right away, but there is a general lack of context for that information. Ellie immediately sees the ghosts of her past, yet at no point does this help to build suspense or fear for the audience. Even as the audience begins to put the pieces together and the big “revelations” are made in the climax, it doesn’t really feel that climactic. The filmmakers make an attempt to play with the idea of time, reality, and even magic, but it only further confuses the story.

Despite the film’s flaws, there are positives as well. The performances by both Emma Draper (This Town, Daffodils) and Julia Ormond (Legends of the Fall, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) are quite good, given the somewhat monotone plot they were given. Between the setting of the old house and some of the practical effects, the visuals of the film are also enjoyable. The house itself is a fantastic set piece because, while it is quite large, the clutter from preparing to move makes it feels incredibly claustrophobic and increases the feeling of insanity. Reunion takes a stab at a complex idea, but it unfortunately ends up falling flat.


Nightstream Capsule Review: The Queen of Black Magic

Indonesian horror fans will not want to miss The Queen of Black Magic at Nightstream Fest. Many of those fans will no doubt recognize the name of this film’s screenwriter, Joko Anwar (Impetigore, Satan’s Slave). Directed by Kimo Stamboel (Killers, Headshot), the film introduces the audience to three friends reuniting at the orphanage where they grew up to pay their respects to the dying owner. With their families in tow, they start to realize this isn’t the happy reunion they thought it would be.

The Queen of Black Magic is an intense watch. It wastes no time in setting up the tension, which quickly spirals into terror. It seems like there is a new shocking twist at every turn, but not to the point the plot becomes convoluted. The main cast is huge, and they are all wonderful to watch. Some of the standouts are Ario Bayu (Impetigore, Java Heat), Hannah Al Rashid (V/H/S 2, Gundala), and Putri Ayudya (Gundala, Homecoming).

In addition to the strong performances and intricate yet frightening plot, there are also plenty of disturbing scenes. Using both CGI and practical effects, the filmmakers create images that are sure to haunt some viewer’s nightmares. Each scene is beautifully done, even when dripping with blood and gore. The Queen of Black Magic is a terrifying film that will keep you guessing until the bitter, violent end.


Nightstream Capsule Review: My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To

Nightstream Fest brings audiences an intimate, emotional horror film, My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To. Making his feature-film debut as both writer and director, Jonathan Cuartas tells the story of three siblings. The youngest brother, Thomas, suffers from an illness, and his older brother, Dwight, and sister, Jessie, have taken on the burden of caring for him. The film is a tight, family drama with horrifying elements woven throughout. It gets to the heart of the lengths people are willing go to for family and the ones they love.

From start to finish the tone of My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is dark and ominous, even in the scenes where the family has a happy moment. The knowledge of Thomas’ illness and what his siblings have to do to keep him alive is a constant weight that even the audience can feel. This feeling is emphasized by the stunning performances by all three leads, Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous, Wristcutters: A Love Story), Ingrid Sophie Schram (Phantom Thread, Electric Slide), and Owen Campbell (Super Dark Times, The Miseducation of Cameron Post).

Not only does the film deliver a slow burn with strong emotional beats, but it also includes plenty of blood and some subtle yet gorgeous practical effects. This is mostly tied to Thomas and his mysterious illness that seems closely tied to vampirism. It’s a very unique take that keeps the film grounded in reality. My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is a haunting family drama that cuts deep.


Nightstream Capsule Review: Bloody Hell

Nightstream is bringing the fun with Bloody Hell, written by Robert Benjamin (Welcome to Acapulco) and directed by Alister Grierson (Sanctum, Tiger). This violent ride follows the misadventures of Rex. He recently got out of prison and is looking to abandon his notoriety in his home town, then decides to flee to Finland. Unfortunately, he only traded one hell for another.

Bloody Hell dives right into the action and sets the tone for the strange, uniqueness of the film. As Rex goes from one bad situation to the next, the audience watches him work things out by talking to himself (no, really, we watch as he talks to another Rex). It’s a really fantastic way to punctuate the violence with some very dark humor. Ben O’Toole (Hacksaw Ridge, Detroit) shines as Rex. He is an endearing, complicated hero and O’Toole brings great physicality to the role.

This unique plot is made more interesting with the help fo Rex’s imaginary double and striking imagery. There is everything from neon pops of color to gruesome and gory practical effects. At times the film can lean a bit towards cheesy, but it generally feels in keeping with the tongue-and-cheek tone of the plot. Bloody Hell is sure to make you laugh at the most inappropriate times and keep you entertained from start to finish.


Nightstream Capsule Review: 32 Malasaña Street

Spanish direct Albert Pintó (RIP, Killing God) brings 32 Malasaña Street to Nightstream Fest audiences. This eerie supernatural film is written by Ramón Campos (High Seas, Cocaine Coast), Gema R. Neira (High Seas, Cocaine Coast), David Orea (Kaan Kun, 45 rpm), and Salvador S. Molin (45 rpm, Domingo). The film follows a family risking it all to move from the country to the big city in 1976 Spain. Their dreams are quickly dashed when they realize something else lives in their new home.

For the first 2/3 of this film, I was in love. It wastes no time in creating well-earned, bone-chilling scares that had me watching from behind my hands. The entire cast is also fantastic, especially Begoña Vargas (High Seas, A Different View) as teenage Amparo. Horror fans will also immediately recognize Javier Botet (Mama, The Conjuring 2) both in and out of his frightening creature makeup. The makeup for Botet’s creature is as gorgeous as it is terrifying.

It’s impossible for me to say what I didn’t like about the last 1/3 of 32 Malasaña Street without being too spoilery and revealing the climax of the film. However, I will say there are two aspects of that climax that I take issue with. It’s truly unfortunate because, up until that point, I thought the film delivered the kind of thrills and story that could allow it to stand next to other recent favorites like The Conjuring and Insidious. 32 Malasaña Street has a promising and terrifying beginning, but falls apart when it matters most.


Fantasia Review: For the Sake of Vicious

A tortured father kidnaps a shady businessman and brings him to a nurse’s house. After the businessman calls for help, the trio become entangled in a violent power grab. They will have to band together to survive the night or die trying.

Directors Gabriel Carrer (The Demolisher, In the House of Flies) and Reese Eveneshen (Defective, Dead Genesis) bring their latest film to Fantasia International Film Festival. With a story by Carrer and screenplay by Eveneshen, For the Sake of Vicious wastes no time throwing the audience into suspense. We watch as the tortured father kidnaps the shady businessman and takes him to the nurse’s house in order to keep him alive. From there the filmmakers gradually reveal how these three very different people ended up in the house together and the way they’re all connected. It’s when the businessman is able to call for help that things really take a dire turn. It quickly throws the characters into chaos and blood. The ensuing fight for survival is action-packed, suspenseful, and will keep the audience on the edge of their seats. It’s a generally straightforward plot with great fight sequences to delight the gore hounds. While the action makes for a lot of excitement, the film still stays emotionally grounded with the relationships between the three main characters.

All three leads in For the Sake of Vicious deliver emotionally-driven performances to offset the physical brutality. Lora Burke (Lifechanger, Poor Agnes) plays Romina, the nurse whose home is invaded. As a nurse, it’s obvious Romina has a strong impulse to help others. Burke does a great job of conveying the conflict Romina feels because she can’t decide which of these two men she should really be helping. Nick Smyth (The Covenant, The Flying Man) plays Chris, the tortured father who brings the chaos into Romina’s home. There are two aspects of Smyth’s performance that truly blow me away. First, Chris’s determination to right a wrong comes through so clearly and powerfully. Second, Smyth has a great physicality to his performance. Between showing his emotions with facial expressions and body language to his physical prowess during the fight scenes, Smyth truly gives it his all. Colin Paradine (Defective, Kingdom Come) plays the shady businessman, Alan. Throughout the course of the film, Paradine keeps the audience guessing as to whether or not Alan is the villain of the story or not. Paradine does a perfect balance and cool and collected with a bit of a sinister edge that makes his intentions unclear. Together, this trio helps ground the film with their stellar performances.

Delightful practical effects, production design, and music add to the appeal of this film. Of all the films at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, For the Sake of Vicious stands out as one of the more gore-filled. In the beginning, there are only minor wounds, but when all hell breaks loose the film becomes a bloody, violent nightmare. The practical effects are shockingly well done and had me gasping and maniacally laughing in turn. From the moment the three main characters come together to the shocking end, the film takes place in Romina’s small rental. The small home is a nice, quiet place for the three characters to work through their issues. Yet when the cavalry arrives, it becomes a claustrophobic nightmare as it fills with murderous bad guys. The very well-choreographed fight scenes become even more exciting with the Carpenter-esque musical score by Carrer and Foxgrndr (If a Tree Falls). Each individual artistic element weaves together to make this film even more exciting.

For the Sake of Vicious is a delightfully violent thrill ride from start to finish. Carrer and Eveneshen make a fantastic team and create a simple yet effective story. To make the film even more suspenseful and shocking, the filmmakers utilized a claustrophobic set, an electrifying musical score, fantastic fight choreography, and jaw-dropping practical effects. Throughout all the thrills and gore, the performances from the three leads manage to keep the film rooted at an emotional core, making the film more than just an action thriller. For the Sake of Vicious ends up being a shot of adrenaline to the system.