movie

The Night

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An Iranian couple living in the US is driving home one night after a gathering with friends. They decide to take their baby and stay the night in a hotel instead of making the drive home so late. In this dark and quiet hotel, the couple is forced to face the demons of their past or else this bizarre night may never end.

Writer and director Kourosh Ahari (Generations, The Yellow Wallpaper) and co-writer Milad Jarmooz (Maybe There) create an eerie tale with The Night. The film opens with our two protagonists, Babak and Neda, at a gathering with friends. We get to know who they are by how they interact with the people who know them best before we really see them interact much with each other. It is clear there is some subconscious strain between the married couple, and it only escalates after they leave the gathering with their baby girl. When they decide to stop and stay the night in a hotel, things go from strained to a complete nightmare. Strange sounds and ghostly visions plague them all through the night. The couple gradually realizes the secrets of their past are coming back to haunt them, threatening to destroy the life they’ve built together in the States. The fact that their baby is with them only makes the situation more dire and frightening.

For the most part, The Night creates a haunting and tense mythos. The increasingly strange and intense visions seem to be connected to matching tattoos the married couple chose at random to get together the very day the film begins. Whatever this symbol is, it has managed to manifests itself as Babak and Neda’s innermost secrets and forces them to face their past. It’s an interesting concept that definitely results in delightful frights, but this is also where the mythos gets a bit muddy. The tattoos look almost like an Aztec or Mayan coin, spilt in half between the pair. Then, before any ghostly apparitions appear, the couple repeatedly encounter a creepy black cat. This automatically makes me think of ancient Egyptian folklore. While I appreciate keeping the origin and the reasoning for the events of this one night being left to the imagination of the viewers, having a stronger cultural origin at the very least would have been wise.

Both leads deliver striking performances in The Night. Shahab Hosseini (The Salesman, A Separation) stars as Babak. Babak is a very closed off man who appears to cope with his feelings with alcohol rather than talking with his wife or friends. Niouhsa Jafarian, who I couldn’t find on IMDb, plays Neda. Neda is the more grounded of the two, yet she keeps things bottled up just as much as her husband. Jafarian and Hosseini play off of each other very well. There are subtleties to their dynamic shown through curt remarks and body language that expertly show the strain between them. It’s obvious Neda carries resentment towards Babak and Babak doesn’t seem to be able to be around Neda without drinking. This bizarre night shows how similar the two are, especially with the secrets they keep, yet it’s how they react when confronted by those secrets that will decide who survives.

The Night brings audiences a chilling tale of past secrets breaking into the present in a truly haunting way. Ahari once again shows he has a knack for creating frightening ambience. Together Ahari and Jarmooz deliver a tense plot, although the mythos leaves a bit to be desired. Luckily the focus is more on the secrets and ghostly manifestations of those secrets, which makes it easier to overlook some of the flaws. The suspenseful film is helped by great performances from Hosseini and Jafarian, as well as the creepy hotel setting. The Night is sure the send chills down your spine while also making you take a hard look at the secrets you keep.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Camp Calypso (Short)

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It’s the 1970’s and a group of kids are arriving at a summer camp on its last legs. It’s a typical camp complete with misogyny, cabins, camp counselors on drugs, and a seedy new camp director. It seems like just another summer at camp, until the legend of the lake siren proves to be a little too real.

Camp Calypso is the sophomore short film by directing duo Hannah May Cumming (Fanatico), who also wrote the short, and Karlee Boon (Fanatico). This short begins much like the classic slashers of the 1980’s. We meet a small group of campers and the counselors who will watch over them for a fun-filled summer. On the first night while gathered around the campfire, the campers learn about an the legend of a siren who lives in the lake and a young woman who drowned at the camp in the 1960’s. Cumming and Boon do a fantastic job of creating a complete story in less than 20 minutes. They gradually reveal more details for the audience, slowly unravelling the mysteries of the past and connecting them to what is happening at the camp with the latest batch of counselors and campers. It veers from a typical summer camp horror flick to something much more intricate and interesting.

While the only other short film I’ve seen by Cumming and Boon is Fanatico, from what I have seen it is clear this duo has something to say. A common theme in their work, which is clearly evident in Camp Calypso, is feminism, the battle against misogyny, and challenging traditional female roles. The only characters in this short that could be considered stereotypes are the men. They are chauvinistic womanizers who care more about getting laid than doing their job, even when that means being forceful with women. The female characters, on the other hand, are more dynamic. Cumming and Boon also flipped the classic idea of a siren. Most people know the legend of how sirens dwell in bodies of water and use their song to lure men to their deaths. While that is true in Camp Calypso, there is more to the siren’s origin than the legend suggests.

The entire cast of Camp Calypso delivers compelling performances from the camp counselors, to the campers, to the camp director. While everyone is great, I’m going to focus on the female performances. Ruby Cumming stars as Margot, the shy young camper. Margot is the more reserved and observant type, so she is the first to really notice something is wrong at Camp Calypso, and Ruby Cumming adds a sincerity to the role. Misha Kemp plays camp counselor Heather. She is kind and in charge, but also willing to sneak off for a little weed. Kemp excels in the role with how she is able to be gentle and nurturing, yet she takes no shit when a male counselor tries to feel her up. Then there is the other female camp counselor, Cherry, played by Savannah Rae Jones (The Halo). At first glance, Cherry looks like the stereotypical slutty camp counselor. Yet Jones shows there is much more to Cherry than meets the eye. This is evident from her first interaction with the male counselors when she blows them off, to the way she remains cool under pressure. While the women are the clear stars, I will give honorable mention to the men including Derek Sweet, Dawson Redmond, Erik Norseth, and Nathaniel Owens.

A lot of artistic work went into Camp Calypso to make it feel like it could come from the late 1970’s while also making it a fun creature feature. For a low-budget short film, they managed to get a really great location for the camp that helps transport the audience. The wardrobe also helps quite a bit in this area, each outfit looking like it could easily have come from the late 70’s or early 80’s. Camp Calypso also has a vibrant color palette that catches the eye. What is especially surprising is the delightful creature effects for the siren. The practical prosthetics are subtle, but very well done and effective. Plus there is some delightful gore thrown in for good measure. Plus the short boasts a fantastic score by Rudy Klobas, Carlo Mery ft. Nick Mcclurg that perfectly embodies the time period. The only visual aspect I didn’t like is more of a film pet peeve of mine: the use of blue filter to make turn day into night. I realize it’s the simplest and most cost effective method for filmmakers, but it never looks right.

Camp Calypso is a delightful short monster movie that takes a bite out of misogyny. Cumming and Boon make a unique short film that creates it’s own complete story, yet it has a mythos that could easily be added to in order to make a feature-length film. The short has beautiful visuals and practical effects, although the use of the blue filter during the climax of the film cheapens the look a bit. With strong performances and an even stronger message, it’s impossible not to enjoy this short film. Between Camp Calypso and Fanatico, I can’t wait to see what Cumming and Boon do next.

OVERALL RATING: 4/5

Darling, Darling, Wendy (Short)

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We all know the story of Wendy Darling and Peter Pan and their adventures in Neverland. But what happened after Wendy came back? It’s been 15 years, and Wendy is obsessed with Peter, Neverland, and finding her way back. Yet when she finally meets Peter again, things don’t go quite as planned.

Darling, Darling, Wendy is a short film directed by Elise Robertson (Donner Pass) and written by Katherine Sainte Marie (Wicked Mirrors). The short offers a unique look at what happens after the beloved story we all know and love. It is quickly established that Wendy, now married with a daughter of her own, has been a bit unhinged since her return from Neverland. She tries to spend most of her time in the nursery, and for some reason she is not allowed to be left alone with her own daughter. In hopes Wendy will leave these childish thoughts behind, her husband allows her to spend one final night in the nursery.

The plot weaves together various mysteries to keep the viewer intrigued. Was Neverland real? Why can’t Wendy be alone with her daughter? Will Peter come back? Darling, Darling, Wendy grips the viewers’ attention and makes us want to know what happens next. The filmmakers also do a great job of bringing something new to the familiar, while also giving it a very dark twist. One thing that caught my eye as being a bit odd was how a drug bottle was labeled. While this short film takes place in a different time, to my knowledge the drug shouldn’t have been labeled that way even back then. It may be a minor detail, but in a 13 minute short it stands out.

Darling, Darling, Wendy is filled with enjoyable performances. The small cast all perform well, but there are two particular performances that stand out. The first memorable performance is from the short film’s writer, Katherine Sainte Marie (Diaries From Wonderland), as Wendy. The Mexican-American actress does a fair job of portraying an English woman from a different time. There is a properness about Wendy that Marie conveys quite well, but there is also an underlying mania and obsession that constantly threatens to break through. The other memorable performance comes from Ty Shelton (First Kill) as Peter Pan. Since Peter is perpetually young, he has a childlike lack of filter when speaking to others that allows him to speak whatever truth he wants. He also has a wisdom from living many lifetimes, and this allows him to see the truth others might not. Shelton does a great job of maintaining that balance in his performance.

The visuals of Darling, Darling, Wendy are a bit of a mixed bag. The set and costume designs are the clear highlights. These aspects work quite well to transport the viewers to a different place and time. The visuals made the short film feel like something from Masterpiece Theater. At the end of the short the filmmakers utilize a bit of CGI or greenscreen effects. It is just a quick little scene at the climax, but it ends up looking a bit cheap like something out of a children’s TV show. While there are obviously financial constraints to work around when making a short film, these effects simply don’t come across as in keeping with the overall look and feel of the rest of the short film.

Darling, Darling, Wendy brings something new and dark to the fairy tale we all know and love. The filmmakers do a great job of creating a believable follow up telling viewers what happened to Wendy after she returned from Neverland. The plot is helped by strong performances and a great gradual reveal of surprises. There are some small missteps, such as the effects at the climax of the film, but it is still a compelling watch. Viewers who enjoy dark twists on classic stories will enjoy this short film.

OVERALL RATING: 3/5

The Last Ones

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A deadly virus has wiped out most of the population. John and Michael have been surviving together since the beginning, finding food and avoiding the creatures that come at night. After months with no sign of another living human, the appearance of a young woman tests their friendship. It soon becomes clear not everything is as it seems.

The Last Ones (previously titled Last Days) is the feature-film debut of writer and director Andrew Jara. At first glance, this film seems like just another zombie apocalypse film. The film opens with John desperately trying to find his family with very unfortunate results. He is left alone in this post-pandemic world with his friend, Michael. The eventually find a daily routine as the months go by with no other living humans to be seen. Yet at night Michael guard their home from the living dead who sometimes stalk the area. Then John runs into a mysterious woman, Karina. Her presence changes the course of the film, bringing some interesting  and unexpected elements into the plot.

In general, the plot is a very interesting one. There are some various twists and turns that deliver something audiences might not expect. Watching The Last Ones, horror fans will likely feel an influence of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. It is a slow burn of a film that gradually builds tension. Like Romero’s work, the plot also focuses much more on the tumultuous relationships between people rather than the undead threat outside. This shows a lot of promise for Jara’s future work.

Yet there are some elements of the film that don’t work quite as well. The beginning of The Last Ones is a bit rough at times. Some of the dialogue is a bit clunky and forced as it attempts to give the audience a bit of exposition. This feeling of clunkiness unfortunately isn’t help much by the performances. Mark Ocegueda plays John in his feature-film debut. His delivery of the dialogue is a bit awkward and void of emotion, but the dialogue and his delivery gradually improves as the film progresses. Marcelle Bowman (The Virus, Refuge) plays Karina. Her performance is adequate and also seems to improve throughout the film. The highlight performance in the film comes from Algernon D’Ammassa (Doc, The Cellar Door) as Michael. Some of his dialogue also feels a bit forced, but D’Ammassa does a great job of conveying an underlying menacing feeling about him.

Along with the overall plot of The Last Ones, the look of the film also appears to be an homage to Night of the Living Dead. The most obvious visual choice that hints to that is the fact that the film is entirely in black and white. This nod to Romero is also a wise decision as a micro-budget horror film. It allows the filmmaker to create the illusion of blood and gore without having to spend too much on practical or CGI effects. There is some minimal prosthetic makeup for the undead that realistically might not be that visually appealing, but the black and white masks it and makes the effects passable. One aspect that surprised me is the well-crafted musical score by Jordon Schranz.

The Last Ones is a classic zombie film with a twist that has its shortcomings, but still shows promise. Considering it is a micro-budget horror film and the first feature film by Jara, it is surprisingly well done. The film gets off to a rough start, from the dialogue to the performances, but gradually improve as the tension build. D’Ammassa is sure to stand out in viewers’ minds as a memorable performance. From the unique take on the zombie subgenre of horror to the homage to Romero, this imperfect film is still worth a watch. It holds my interest enough to make me curious what Jara will do next.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10

The Invisible Man

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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

The Room

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A couple leave their old jobs and home behind to start a new life in a rural fixer upper. Soon after moving in, they find a hidden room. What makes this room special is it will grant you any physical desire. After many wishes, the couple wishes for something most wouldn’t dare. Yet they soon discover that everything has a cost.

Written and directed by Christian Volckman (Renaissance) and co-written by Eric Forestier (La troisième partie du monde), The Room spins an interesting yarn. We meet this couple as they arrive at their new home, having left their jobs and life in the city behind. While working on various repairs to the house, they discover a hidden room. Any physical thing you could want, the room will provide. Money? Clothes? Furniture? It will conjure it for you. Yet we all know everything has a price and a consequence. When the wife impulsively wishes for a baby, it not only puts a strain on their relationship, but it threatens to ruin every aspect of the life they’ve built together.

This film takes a unique yet simple concept and runs with it. It forces the audience to wonder what they would wish for and what they would be willing sacrifice. The plot is very effective, and the filmmakers don’t spend too much time trying to explain how or why the room works this way. There are some minor hints, but for the most part the audience is just made to accept it as the way things are. When the couple wishes for a baby, after the wife has suffered miscarriages, it leads to some very unexpected twists and turns. This is when the plot loses me a bit. It veers into very strange territory that, while very thrilling and suspenseful, is also quite uncomfortable to watch. I would wager that this is the goal of the filmmakers, but it seemed like an unnecessary direction to take.

The two leads in The Room are both fantastic. Olga Kurylenko (Mara, Quantum of Solace) stars as Kate. Kurylenko brings an emotionally charged performance. As Kate we see her go from wariness about the wish-granting room to emotional duress as she tries to hold the frayed pieces of her life together with ill-advised wishes. Her husband, Matt, is played by Kevin Janssens (Revenge, The Ardennes). Matt is a loving husband who wants to provide anything and everything his wife desires. Yet her desires lead to an unexpected place that Matt doesn’t quite know how to handle. Janssens plays a surprisingly warm character who has fits of rage, but his love for his wife is always evident. The pair have amazing on-screen chemistry and convey the subtleties of a committed relationship.

Most of the artistry of The Room involves the production design. The house where the film takes place is stunning. As the couple accumulates more things from their wishes, each room in the house takes on a variety of themes. The entire inside of the house turns into something out of a fairy tale. At one point another world is created within the wish room, which creates a very striking image that plays with the eye a bit. It is the kind of house some might never want to leave.

The Room is a simplistic morality tale that makes audiences wonder what they would do if they could wish for anything physical they desired and what they would be willing to sacrifice to keep it. The filmmakers do a great job of slowly building up the wishes until they become out of control. The house, in a way, is a character itself that drives a wedge between the family unit as it gives them whatever their hearts desire. The performances from both Kurylenko and Janssens are phenomenal and only reaffirm how talented they are. The film veers into a direction that might put off some viewers, but overall it is a well crafted and suspenseful story.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Transference

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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