serial killer

Summer of 84

84

In a suburban town young boys are disappearing. One paperboy believes his police officer neighbor is behind it. He convinces his friends they should spend their summer vacation spying on him to get proof. Their little investigation leads the friends down a dangerous path. Is their neighbor an innocent man, or is he a serial killer?

One of the unique things about this film is that it has three directors. The directors are Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell, who together also directed the film Turbo Kid. Something this trio is particularly known for is capturing the spirit of the eighties. Summer of 84 is no different. The plot follows along as the boys try to find proof their cop neighbor is the serial killer everyone is talking about in the news. Only one of the boys truly believes he is the killer, while the other three are just going along with their friend. While the film is an intriguing mystery thriller, it is also very much a coming-of-age story. This aspect of the plot is enjoyable, but it also makes certain parts of the film feel a bit slow. That doesn’t mean the plot isn’t very well written. There are just times when the various subplots, like a romance between two of the characters, is developed a bit too much, taking away from the main premise.

First time screenwriters Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith do a great job of getting the right eighties feel, creating a group of friends with a strong bond, and bringing a large dose of suspense. Specifically, in the climax of the film, there is a very well-written monologue that sends chills down the spine. Many of the revelations at the climax of the film are more than the characters ever bargained for. A common theme throughout the film is that people never reveal everything about themselves. While this theme is used to show that you never know who could be a serial killer, the writers also applied it to the people you think you know best. As the plot moves forward the audience learns there are things the friends keep from each other, and these things allow the audience to see a side of the kids no one else does. This layer of the plot adds a lot of depth to the coming-of-age aspect of the film.

For the cast of Summer of 84 the filmmakers primarily chose relatively unknown actors. Graham Verchere (The Good Doctor, Fargo) plays the leader of the group of friends, Davey. Davey is a bit of a conspiracy theorist, which is why when he tells his friends the neighbor might be a serial killer they all think he is just imagining it. Verchere gives a very endearing performance as he balances the line between investigating the cop, finding summer love, and being a good friend. Judah Lewis (The Babysitter) plays Eats, while Caleb Emery (Goosebumps) plays Woody. These two characters, and the actors’ performances, stand out because they act a certain way around people, but when you learn about their troubled home lives it gives the characters more depth. Rich Sommer (GLOW, The Devil Wears Prada) plays Wayne Mackey, the cop and suspected serial killer. Sommer’s portrayal of Mackey stands out because he straddles the line very well between being a typical nice neighbor and a creep. It keeps the audience continually guessing at whether or not he truly is the killer. The entire cast does a great job, delivering especially strong performances in the final act of the film.

This film had a lot of artistic details that make it very authentic and enjoyable. Both the clothing and the music do a great job of transporting the audience to 1984. Even the lighting and color scale used throughout the film lends to the desired time period. Another great artistic detail is the practical effects. The effects are saved until the climax of the film, and for the most part they are shrouded in darkness, but what can be seen looks great. There is a disturbingly gooey quality to the effects that makes them appear even more horrific. Each small bit of artistry adds to the overall appeal of the film.

Summer of 84 is a suspenseful throwback flick that hits close to home. It instills the idea that no one ever truly knows another person, and, in this film, that means anyone could be a serial killer – even your next door neighbor. The plot can meander a bit, but when it sticks to the primary premise it is thrilling and even heartfelt. All of the young actors do a fantastic job, and the suspected serial killer perfectly walks the line between being normal and suspicious. Summer of 84 is the kind of film that has a broad appeal, even for non-horror fans, and it will likely end up with quite the cult following.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

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Strawberry Flavored Plastic

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When two aspiring documentarians find a man who they believe is their perfect subject, they begin making their film. Unfortunately, they discover a little too late that his story wasn’t quite true. Instead of committing a single crime that he was imprisoned for, he has committed numerous murders, and he has yet to be caught. The filmmakers find themselves in an interesting position. By continuing to make their documentary they put themselves at risk in many ways, but it may just be worth the infamy.

Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic surprised me in a number of ways. Going into the film I had certain expectations of what I was about to watch, and for the most part the film managed to subvert those expectations. I assumed a large part of the plot was going to be the beginning of filming the documentary and the eventual discovery that Noel, the subject of the documentary, had not been totally honest. Surprisingly, Bemis chooses to only mention this. Instead the film begins after the documentarians decide to continue filming despite their discovery. Initially, this felt like a missed opportunity for some interesting drama in the film, but it actually works better with the documentary style. The film is about Noel. It would be odd for the “documentary” to spend a lot of time on the drama behind the camera instead of Noel. Although part of me still wants to know how Noel’s true nature was discovered when he has never been caught by the police.

The film feels like a true documentary in the filming style and how it spends a majority of the time diving deeper into Noel’s life, who he is as a person, and why he does the things he does. While the behind the scenes drama in the discovery of Noel’s murderous ways was rightly left out to keep the feel of a true documentary, there are other scenes that do the opposite. While some of the scenes make sense for the storytelling of the film, many of them simply add subplots that are unnecessary. Most of these scenes are there to provide more information about the documentarians. Some of these work well because they relate back to the process of making the documentary and become ultimately important to the story.

When you first hear Noel speak it may seem odd. He speaks in a very formal, polite, and old fashioned way that isn’t what you would expect from a killer. It feels out of place until the audience learns that he grew up watching old movies from the 40’s and how those movies influenced him. This minor detail explains an interesting bit of background for the character that makes him even more complex. The film is shot like a classic documentary, relying on “confessional” style interviews, a single camera following the subject, and strategically placed cameras to catch more candid shots. Since Noel is a killer, the filmmakers choose to take an extra step and give him a body cam to use when he gets the “itch.” The first time we see Noel use the body cam is quite jarring because he goes from being a very polite, soft spoken man to a raving maniac who swears and says things like “sugar tits.” At first it seems out of place, but again when paying attention to the details of Noel’s life the puzzle pieces fit together in a way that is logical for the character.

Aidan Bristow (Black Widows, L.A. Macabre) stars as the complex and troubled Noel. Since the film focuses on Noel’s character, it is important to have a strong leading man to drive the film. Luckily for these filmmakers, Bristow delivers a powerful, fascinating, and sometimes disturbing performance. The film often plays with the idea of nature vs. nurture when it comes to why Noel gets the urge to kill, and the way Bristow portrays Noel convinces audiences he isn’t a bad guy, he just commits a brutal murder every now and again. Nicholas Urda (Audition) plays one of the filmmakers, Errol. This documentary is Errol’s passion project, and Urda does a great job of conveying that. Overall Urda performs well, but there are times where is dialogue comes across a bit awkward or overly formal. It is difficult to say if this is due to his performance or because some of the ways in which Noel speaks bleed into Errol’s dialogue. Andres Montejo also does well in his first film acting roll as the second filmmaker, Ellis. He brings a bit more lightheartedness to the otherwise serious film.

Strawberry Flavored Plastic takes a thought provoking and unexpected look into the mind of a killer. While initial reactions may draw comparisons to other recent found footage films, such as Creep, a closer look reveals something all its own. Bemis creates a film that digs at the psychology behind a sociopath, subtly debating nature vs. nurture, and making audiences question what makes a person good or bad. There are certain scenes that take the film out of the documentary style, but for the most part this is a rare “mockumentary” that feels like an authentic documentary. Bemis’ story and direction coupled with Bristow’s fantastic performance makes for a film with a surprising amount of heart that will keep audiences contemplating what they watched long after the film has ended.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Last Girl Standing

What happens to the last surviving girl after a slasher film? Several years after her friends were brutally murdered by a deranged serial killer, soul survivor Camryn tries to live a reclusive life. Everything changes when a new guy gets hired at her work. Soon after, Camryn believes she is being stalked by the same killer she dealt with years ago. Can she save her friends the second time around?

The entire concept of this film is something I have wondered about myself. After watching your friends get killed, and after almost getting killed yourself, what would life be like after a slasher film ends? Luckily, writer/director Benjamin R. Moody decided to give audiences an idea of what that may be like. The audience is brought into the film during the climax of a slasher film. Then we are brought forward a few years to Camryn’s new life. She is quiet, reclusive, and generally just does her job and spends the rest of her time at home. Fast-forwarding to her new life was very effective because we got to see how devastating the effects of her tragedy were, without having to go through all the trials, investigation, and therapy that likely immediately followed the massacre. We also enter into Camryn’s new life just as she is beginning to make new friends, branching out of the bubble that has kept her safe.

While the first 10 minutes of the film are in the vein of a classic slasher film, the rest of the film reads more like a horror-drama. The characters still somewhat fit into a classic slasher film stereotype, but they have much more dynamic personalities. The audience gets to meet realistic characters doing and saying things that you would expect real people to, as opposed to what you typically see in a slasher film. It makes the story more raw and in many ways more frightening, because it is something that feels likely to happen in the real world. The realism only added to the tension and suspense that built as the film went on.

Another element of the plot I really enjoyed was the Pagan aspect. The serial killer, known as “The Hunter,” is said to have been killing all of those kids in order to perform some kind of ritual. What that ritual was, we don’t know. This made it seem plausible that the killer did in fact come back after we see him killed (it’s not a spoiler, it happens in the first 10 minutes of the film). For all we the audience know, that ritual was meant to make The Hunter immortal. That small addition of mysticism to the story added an extra layer of depth that keeps you guessing as to what is really going on. He also had an awesome “mask” that made The Hunter stand out from other serial killers.

This film had a very talented ensemble cast. While everyone did an amazing job, it is impossible not to feature Akasha Villalobos (Now Hiring) as a clear stand-out. Villalobos was able to show the many different emotional phases of someone who has dealt with extreme tragedy. She shows Camryn as the scared little girl in the beginning, then we see her as a recluse, then we see Camryn begin to come out of her shell, then we see her determination and paranoia when she believes the serial killer has come back. It takes quite a bit of talent to seamlessly portray all those personality traits without it feeling forced.

This being a slasher film, you can’t fully discuss the film without talking about the gore. I won’t lie, the screening that I went to for this film was quite dark. This made it harder to see a lot of the night-time blood and guts. What I did see was phenomenal. There was a ton of blood, some bodies that had been ripped open and gutted, knives and hatchets stuck in people, and even a grotesque decaying body. I can only assume that these practical effects would look even better if it had not been as dark. In the filmmaker’s defense, the screening was not meant to be this dark. The showtime for Last Girl Standing I went to was actually meant to be a different film at the Phoenix Film Festival, but there was a last-minute switch. From what I understand, the screening that I saw was from a DVD. Despite this, I still enjoyed what I saw.

This film combines so many horror sub-genres that it will appeal to many different audiences. Besides the darkness of the film, which was a fluke, there really isn’t much I didn’t enjoy while watching this film. Last Girl Standing takes audiences into the unknown aspects of slasher films and uses it to thoroughly mess with their heads. There are so many times where you find yourself second guessing what you thought was going on. This will happen right up until the climax of the film, which is exciting, fun, and bloody (as any good slasher movie ending is). If you have a chance to see this film on the big screen, I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10