Ryuhei Kitamura

Nightmare Cinema

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One by one, people are drawn to a seemingly abandoned movie theater. As they take a seat in the empty rows the lights go down and the projectors starts up. What these people see on screen is their worst nightmares. Each person must face their fears. Then they must face the projectionist.

Horror fan-favorite Mick Garris (Hocus Pocus, Sleepwalkers) brought his latest Masters of Horror-like film, Nightmare Cinema, to the Portland Horror Film Festival. In this film, Garris brought together other well-known horror directors to create an anthology that touches on many different subgenres. The connecting plot is by Garris himself and revolves around characters from each segment being drawn to the old movie theater. Once inside, a creepy projectionist shows them their greatest fears on the big screen. From there the film goes into different segments, each with a very different look, feel, and tone.

The first is written and directed by Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead, ABCs of Death) that starts out as an 80’s style slasher, but quickly turns into something else. Then the audience is shown the more horrific, if not darkly funny, side of plastic surgery directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Howling). From there we get a more traditional demonic possession segment directed by Ryûhei Kitamura (Midnight Meat Train, Versus) that has an epic climax. Writer and director David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night) takes on the fourth segment with a black and white Twilight Zone-like story about a woman who is struggling to keep hold of her sanity as she sees monsters all around her. Finally, Garris returns in the last segment in his heartwarming supernatural thriller about a boy in a hospital who can see the dead.

What makes this anthology work so well is that each chapter feels entirely unique and independent from one another. Yet, at the same time, the overarching story of the projectionist and his empty theater acts as a fantastic connector between each segment. The film also delivers a little something that every horror fan can enjoy. There are parts that are in the realm of horror-comedy, some of it is supernatural and eerie, and there are even some aspects that venture into the sci-fi side of things. I personally enjoyed each chapter of the film, but even if others don’t, there will at least be one segment that tickles their fancy.

There are a wide array of acting styles in Nightmare Cinema, and each of them is incredibly entertaining. Each actor does a great job of molding their performances to fit with the tone of the segment they are acting in. There are a few select performances that stand out. One of the most powerful performances comes from Elizabeth Reaser (The Haunting of Hill House, Ouija: Origin of Evil) in Slade’s chapter, “This Way to Egress.” Reaser plays Helen, a mother struggling to determine if the world she sees around her is real or all in her mind. She acts with her entire body, showing the depth of her tension and anxiety in a powerful way. A surprise performance can be seen in Brugués’ segment, “The Thing in the Woods,” in the form of Sarah Elizabeth Withers in her first feature film role as Samantha. What I love about Withers’ performance is how she perfectly captures the acting style of classic 80’s slasher final girls. While these two performances are my favorite, it is a difficult decision to make because everyone truly does a wonderful job.

With each segment of Nightmare Cinema being completely different, there is a wide variety of effects used. For the most part the various chapters utilize practical effects. This can be seen in everything from corpses, extreme plastic surgery, people with monstrous faces, and more. All of it is beautifully done and enhances the stories being told. CGI effects are used a bit more sparingly, aside from certain scenes in “The Thing in the Woods” segment. The CGI in that story can look a bit cheesy, but it is in keeping with the classic 80’s theme. It is clear that a lot of thought was put into each effect and how they could be used to add visual interest to each chapter.

Nightmare Cinema brings together horror greats to create a variety of chilling tales to appeal to every kind of horror fan. Each chapter is completely unique when compared to the others and each one is highly entertaining. There are shocks, laughs, scares, and everything in between. The various segments are filled with fantastic performances and amazing effects that only help to make each story all the more fun to watch. Mick Garris clearly knows how to gather the best directors to create brilliant works of horror. I hope Nightmare Cinema is just the first in what has the potential to be a fantastic anthology franchise.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

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