Shudder

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.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

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.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Impetigore

After a deadly encounter with a stranger, Maya decides to learn more about the parents she never knew. With her best friend Dini in tow, they travel to a small village where Maya might be from. They soon regret ever trying to uncover the secrets of Maya’s past.

Beloved Indonesian writer and director, Joko Anwar (Satan’s Slaves, Folklore) brings audiences around the world new terror. Impetigore wastes no time in bringing suspense to the screen. The protagonist, Maya, has a frightening encounter at work that leaves her shaken and questions her past. She was raised by her aunt and knows almost nothing about her parents or where she comes from. From there, the tension continues to build as the two friends arrive at the remote village and get a chilly reception from the locals. Anwar takes his time with the plot, allowing the audience to connect with the two female leads. He also takes his time in revealing shocking revelation after shocking revelation leading to the explosive finale. There are so many secrets to unpack throughout the film and each one manages to be more surprising than the last. This focus on building suspense and minor scares over bigger jump scares and horror leads to an edge-of-your-seat viewing experience. It also results in a film that stands apart from others like it and an ending you won’t see coming.

One of the things I love about watching foreign horror films, and Impetigore specifically, is learning about different cultures. Every culture has its own legends, customs, and ghosts. Impetigore offers a fascinating glimpse into the customs of a rural Indonesian village and their unique view of curses. While the legends are incredibly interesting, the integration of traditional Indonesian puppetry is not only stunning, but it adds another captivating cultural aspect. As an anthropology major, I greatly appreciate when a horror film can be eerie as well as a learning experience.

Impetigore has a wonderful cast who all deliver haunting performances. Tara Basro (A Copy of My Mind, Gundala) stars as Maya. Basro gives off an air of innocence, which works well for her character. She is unaware of her past and deals with new information as best she can throughout her hellish journey. Marissa Anita (Gundala, Folklore) plays Maya’s best friend, Dini. Dini is a much more outspoken character and Anita perfectly shows how she is Maya’s protector and does what she can to be a supportive friend. Ario Bayu (Java Heat, Soekarno) plays the village elder, Ki Saptadi. Bayu’s portrayal of this character is memorable because he comes across as a very calm, stately man, but he also manages to convey a sinister nature in his eyes. Honorable mention goes to Christine Hakim (Eat Pray Love, The Golden Cane Warrior) and Asmara Abigail (Gundala, Satan’s Slaves). Together these two women offer two differing points of view of the superstitions of the small village.

Every scene in Impetigore is gorgeous and atmospheric. The film opens in the big city, but as soon as Maya and Dini travel to the village it’s as if they have been transported to another time. The set and production design are truly stunning to behold from the smaller huts to the grand house Maya’s parents once owned. The puppetry scenes are also quite beautiful. It is a traditional Indonesian form of puppetry that utilizes light to project the shadows of the puppets onto a screen. The use of light and dark, like with the puppets, is a common theme throughout Impetigore. In the village there is no electricity, so many of the night scenes are lit by candlelight. It creates an unsettling ambiance while also making each scene captivating. On top of that, there is even a surprising amount of disturbing and realistic practical effects that result in rather shocking scenes.

Impetigore is a bewitching Indonesian horror film that drips with atmosphere and spins an intricate web of magic and deception. Joko Anwar proves yet again that he is a talented storyteller. His handle on Indonesian folklore allows the rest of the world to be exposed to his frightening tales. The performances from the entire cast are delightful, especially Basro’s portrayal of Maya. Through the slow unravelling of the mystery of Maya’s family, audiences will not be able to look away at the truly fantastic visuals. And, because I unfortunately still have to do this for some people, I will warn audiences that the film is subtitled. Yet I hope that won’t deter anyone from feasting upon all Impetigore has to offer.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

The Beach House

A college-age couple drives to a family beach house for a romantic getaway. Shortly after their arrival, they discover an older couple are already guests at the house. The two couples decide to spend an evening together, but the weekend soon turns into a nightmare of catastrophic proportions as the world around them crumbles.

The Beach House is an incredibly strong feature-film debut for writer and director Jeffrey A. Brown. The film begins when the young couple, Emily and Randall, go to Randall’s family beach house. Brown takes his time with the plot, establishing these two characters and their relationship before introducing the older couple already staying in the house, Mitch and Jane. From there the plot takes on a slow burn approach to build the sense of tension and dread. It begins with awkward moments between the two couples over dinner, then escalates as the situation reaches an apocalyptic level. Brown also excels at leaving breadcrumbs throughout the beginning of the film to hint at what’s to come. The first half of the film does move at a slower pace, which may alienate some audience members, but it is vital to the way Brown builds the plot. It’s a very effective method of storytelling because it not only generates a feeling of unease right from the beginning, but it also allows Brown to essentially switch horror subgenres halfway through the film from a taut thriller to full-blown body horror. The film has an edge-of-your seat story that delivers surprise after surprise.

The cast of The Beach House, for the most part, is top notch. Liana Liberato (If I Stay, Light as a Feather) stars as Emily. At first, Emily comes across as a very soft and reserved young woman. Yet Liberato quickly asserts that Emily is also highly intelligent and capable of great things. Noah Le Gros (Depraved, A Score to Settle) plays Emily’s boyfriend, Randall. As first, Le Gros’s performance feels a bit stiff. Yet, as he gets his stride, he really becomes Randall and delivers a strong portrayal, especially in the second half of the film. Jake Weber (Dawn of the Dead, Meet Joe Black) plays Mitch, half of the couple who is already staying at the beach house. Weber is very skilled at presenting a calm persona, even in the face of terrifying circumstances. This is true even in his portrayal of Mitch, although his sense of calm actually adds to the fear and tension in this film. Maryann Nagel makes her debut as Mitch’s wife, Jane. Nagel is fantastic in this role starting out as a sweet, sickly woman and then transforming into something much more frightening. Each actor helps to bring this story to life and they have great on-screen chemistry, but it is Liberato who audiences will likely remember most from this film.

On top of having a fascinating plot and great performances, The Beach House is simply stunning to look at. Despite the many houses around the one Emily and Randall visit, there are virtually no other human beings around. This and the slightly monochromatic color palette helps to give the film a sense of emptiness. Then, during the first night, the filmmakers bring vibrant colors and lights that almost make it feel as though you’ve been transported to another planet. The colors and sets are enhanced by gorgeous cinematography, which also often heightens the suspense of the film. Then there is the horror-fan’s bread and butter, practical effects. There is some marvelous goo, fabricated monstrosities, and terrifying creature design. It is all incredibly well done and adds to the disturbing climax of the film.

The Beach House seamlessly transitions between horror subgenres and creates a gruesome story that feels hauntingly real. Brown takes a concept rooted in reality and throws it into a horror context making the audience ask the question, “What if?” The opening of the film might be a bit slow and off-putting for some horror fans, but the payoff at the end is well worth it. The strong performances from the entire cast, especially Liberato, ground the film by making us care about the fate of each character. Not only will viewers get a compelling tale with interesting characters, but they also get a visually stunning film that brings shock and awe.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Metamorphosis

After a failed exorcism, a Korean priest is questioning his faith and if he should remain in the priesthood. Shortly after, his brother’s family begins to experience strange happenings that become increasingly violent. It soon becomes clear that the vengeful demon is back to destroy the ones the priest loves.

Director Hong-seon Kim (Traffickers, The Chase) brings horror fans a frightening new possession film with Metamorphosis. The Korean horror film opens on the priest conducting an exorcism. It does not end well, and the demon makes it clear it wants to destroy his family. The focus then shifts to the brother’s family. Kim does a beautiful job of building the tension within the family unit, planting various seeds of doubt. There is a sense of paranoia for the viewer as we have to try and determine which family member is possessed and if what we are seeing is real or an illusion created by the demon. It conveys how easy it is for the devil and demons to play with the human mind and eventually take control. Many of the themes and images will be familiar to horror fans who have seen a fair amount of demonic possession films, but Metamorphosis still manages to pack a few surprises in there as well.

For the most part, the storytelling in Metamorphosis flows beautifully. The audience is given just enough information to understand what’s going on, but then shocking revelations are made to keep things interesting. That being said, there are some tangents, superfluous scenes, and extraneous characters. These scenes don’t necessarily take away from the plot, but they don’t really add anything to the film and could easily be cut. The tangents could be a hallmark difference between Korean and American films, as this is something I have noticed in other great Korean horror films. There is also a sequence of events that takes place in which audiences might wonder why the parents aren’t more concerned about the whereabouts of one of their children. Despite the distractions taking place to keep the parents occupied, it still seems a bit odd.

I was blown away by the performances in this film. Sung-Woo Bae (The King, The Swinders) plays the young exorcist, Joong-soo. Not only is Bae the driving force of this film, but he perfectly conveys how tortured Joong-soo is and his lack of confidence in his ability to save his family. Dong-il Sung (Take Off, The Cursed) plays Joong-soo’s brother, Gang-goo. Not only does Sung play Gang-goo, the loving father and husband, but he also plays a demonic version of himself. The moments where he plays his sinister doppelgänger are absolutely chilling to watch. Then there are the rest of the family members who all give equally fantastic performances. This includes Young-nam Jang (A Werewolf Boy) as Myung-joo, Hye-Jun Kim (Kingdom) as Sun-woo, Yi-Hyun Cho (Hospital Playlist) as Hyun-joo, and Kang-Hoon Kim (Lucid Dream) as Woo-jong.

There is a surprising amount of great practical effects throughout Metamorphosis. The most obvious is the transformation of individuals who are possessed. They all have prosthetics added to their face to give them a subtle, demonic look that is consistent with each individual. What is most shocking is the practical effects for all the horrific injuries. They are gory and realistic in a way I don’t typically expect from a possession film. There is a bit of CGI throughout the film as well, but for the most part it is minimal. The only exception is an excessive amount of crows throughout the film that act as a symbol for the demon, but they aren’t quite as well done as the rest of the effects. Between the practical effects, the cinematography, and the atmosphere created, there are a few different scenes that manage to make me jump out of my seat.

Metamorphosis is an achievement in atmospheric terror that results in one of the best possession films I’ve seen in years. It’s a perfect blend of the Catholic traditions we know from possession horror films and more uniquely Korean horror. Despite some of the scenes that seem unnecessary for the plot, Kim still proves he can tell a masterful tale dripping with suspense. Enhanced by the dynamic performances and gruesome practical effects, this is one film even those who hate subtitles won’t want to miss.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Yummy

In a secluded Eastern European hospital, a woman goes to get breast reduction surgery while her mother is getting more work done to look younger. While they are prepped for surgery, the woman’s boyfriend accidentally stumbles upon something he shouldn’t have, unleashing a nightmarish zombie outbreak inside the hospital walls.

This zombie gore-fest hails all the way from Belgium. Lars Damoiseaux (10 jaar leuven kort, Undercover) directed and co-wrote the film along with Eveline Hagenbeek (Undercover, Rokjesdag). Yummy takes humorous jabs at plastic surgery and the lengths people will go to feel young and beautiful, while also delivering copious amounts of blood and guts. When we are introduced to the young woman, her mother, and her boyfriend, it creates an interesting dynamic. This is especially evident with mother and daughter. The daughter has the “God given gift” of very large natural breasts, but she hates the attention they bring her so she wants breast reduction. The mother, on the other hand, has already had multiple procedures to look younger and comes to the hospital wanting more. While both sides represent being unhappy with who you are and the way you look, the mother is the more traditional view of plastic surgery most viewers will think of. The film creates a kind of “be careful what you wish for” scenario as the doctors accidentally created the zombie virus in their quest to unlock the secrets of eternal youth. It sends a strong message, but it also allows the filmmakers to inject quite a few laugh-out-loud moments.

While for the most part Yummy delivers lots of fun along with the carnage, there are some drawbacks. There are one or two scenes that lean a bit too far into the realm of distasteful humor. It’s clear they want to push the envelope, especially with some of the effects, but it ends up bordering on offensive. That being said, most of the practical effects throughout Yummy are very well done. There are a lot of terrifying and gruesome zombies in this film and each one looks fantastic. In a few scenes there are practical effects to replicate cosmetic surgery or other aspects of the human body and those are also quite realistic. The film even has a great score, although during one scene it sounds very similar to the score from 28 Days Later.

There are many great performances in Yummy, but three stand out. The first is Maaike Neuville (De Dag, Clan) as Alison. What really stands out about Neuville’s performance is how she conveys being uncomfortable with her own body. Alison doesn’t want the attention her breasts give her, and the attention most women at the clinic desire, and Neuville excels at showing us that. Bart Hollander (Salamander, Callboys) plays Alison’s boyfriend, Michael. Michael is like a big, maybe slightly pathetic puppy dog; he’s goofy and hates the sight of blood, but he clearly adores Alison. Hollander plays this role well, especially when his many attempts to be the hero don’t quite work out. Then there is Benjamin Ramon (Carnival, Toxic Anyway) as hospital employee Daniel. Ramon does a fantastic job of being incredibly sleazy in one moment, then completely sweet in the next, depending on who he’s interacting with. These three actors also play off of each other very well.

Yummy is a zombie cautionary tale about the consequences of trying to look young forever. Damoiseaux and Hagenbeek definitely create a film that is as funny as it is grotesque. Gore hounds will be delighted with how drenched in blood and guts Yummy is from start to finish. There may be a couple of distasteful moments and a mildly lackluster ending, but it is sure to entertain viewers. The performances and cosmetic surgery hospital backdrop help to make this zombie film stand alongside others of its kind, even if it doesn’t stand above them. And because in this day and age some people still refuse to watch a film with subtitles, I will let potential viewers know that it’s about 50/50 English vs subtitles. If you’re looking for mindless fun, then this is definitely a great choice.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

Etheria Film Night 2020

We all have experienced the major changes the COVID-19 pandemic has caused. Everything from daily life to events we looked forward to has drastically changed.

Etheria Film Night would normally have played its short films in Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre, but this year they had to come up with a new plan. Lucky for all of us who don’t live in the LA area, Etheria Film Night 2020 instead is showing nine short films made by women exclusively on Shudder. The horror-focused streaming service has made quite a name for itself with the amazing Shudder exclusive films and even Shudder original shows. It is the perfect place for Etheria to showcase these short films.

Etheria’s co-founder and director of programming, Heidi Honeycutt, kicks things off with a lovely intro. She addresses how they are doing things differently this year due to the pandemic. Honeycutt also gives everyone a nice reminder to wear your mask! From there the block dives into the nine short films, all of them unique and fun in their own way.

WAFFLE

Directed by Carlyn Hudson and written by Kerry Barker and Katie Marovitch, who also star in the film, Waffle follows two women having a sleepover. What seems normal quickly becomes strange when the audience learns the women having the sleepover are a bizarre orphaned heiress (Marovitch) and a “best friend” (Barker) she is renting. What I love about this one is how awkward and uncomfortable it gets as the heiress becomes increasingly unhinged. It is hilarious, weird, and even offers a social commentary on how we live in an isolated society of artificial relationships. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

MAGGIE MAY (Jury Award Winner)

Writer and director Mia Kate Russell delivers a truly disturbing tale with her short film, Maggie May. After the death of her mother, a woman takes her infant twins to stay with her sister, but her sister takes doing nothing to a shocking extreme. This short film has some great moments that will make you gasp, as well as stunning practical effects. It also has a truly brilliant and haunting performance by Lulu McClatchy as the titular character, Maggie May. Of all the short films in this block, Maggie May is sure to disturb audiences and stick with them long after. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

BASIC WITCH

I immediately loved this short because it began with a disclaimer about consent and hexing the patriarchy. Basic Witch is directed by Yoko Okumura and written by Lauren Kurek Sweeney Cannon. The short film follows a young women the night after an unfortunate sexual encounter with her date. Feeling conflicted about the night’s events, she hexes a pumpkin spice latte for her date to drink so he can feel everything she felt, both physically and emotionally. Olivia Castanho perfectly plays Lily, the young witch, and Chris O’Brien does a great job as her date, Brian. This short film really excels at conveying the mixed emotions women go through when they are forced to do something sexual they didn’t want to do, but they don’t necessarily feel was rape. It even touches on the ethics of Lily forcing these same things onto Brian. The message of Basic Witch is important, well done, and something everyone should watch. OVERALL RATING: 5/5

CONVERSION THERAPIST

In this short film, written and directed by Bear Rebecca Fonté, a pansexual, polyamorous trio kidnap a religious anti-LGBTQ+ fundamentalist and conversion therapist to torture him. The short includes some great performances, especially from Sara Fletcher, Evelyn Jake, and Jordan Morgan as the kidnapping trio. Conversion Therapist, in a way, has the same cathartic viewing experience as a rape-revenge film. This is a short about the LBGTQ+ community getting back at those who have wronged us, and it’s quite satisfying to watch. The one drawback to the short is the frequent use of the word “f*ggot” by the lead kidnapper. I understand the reason for using it in the context, but it is still jarring to hear and used a bit too much. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

OFFBEAT

Set in a future with horribly polluted air, director Myrte Ouwerkerk and writer Chiara Aerts tell the story of a young drummer named Olly trying to earn his way into the clean air dome, where only the best of the best get to live. This film comes all the way from the Netherlands and is very well done. The story stands out because it shows, almost immediately, how the testing to get into the dome is incredibly biased and clearly is made so certain demographics can’t get in, including artists and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Christopher van der Meer is completely lovable as Olly and does a great job of taking us through this strange new world. Offbeat is fun and has great production value and effects, but more importantly it shows the inherent bias in testing that exists even today. OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5

THE FINAL GIRL RETURNS (Audience Award Winner)

This short film by Alexandria Perez takes on a strange journey with a young man seemingly stuck in a loop where he encounters final girl after final girl. This short captures the look and feel of classic 80’s slashers, including a fantastic 80’s inspired musical score, but from there it brings something new to the subgenre of horror. One of my favorite aspects of the short is that we see many final girls of all shapes, sizes, and colors, which is not very common in the slasher subgenre. The plot leaves a lot of the “why” to the unknown, but it does a great job of showing how we have to take our destiny into our own hands. It’s a slick update to a tired concept with a huge cast that absolutely nails it. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

LIVE

Taryn O’Neill writes, directs, and stars in this short film about a livecaster whose online persona is getting to be too much for her. There are two main aspects of modern social media and technology at play in this short. First, the personas we play online and how they differ from who we are in reality. Second, the increasing dilemma of how much a person should be willing to share with the world in order to make a buck. Perhaps it’s not quite nuanced enough at times, but still a compelling story that makes the audience think. It’s an interesting concept shown with futuristic technology to convey ideas that are very relevant in today’s social-media hungry society. OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

MAN IN THE CORNER

Written and directed by Kelli Breslin and co-written by Daniel Ross Noble, Man in the Corner follows a young guy hooking up with what appears to be a perfect guy, but things go downhill when he realizes they’re not alone. Part of what makes it so unsettling is the performance by Matt Pascua as Daniel. The audience experiences the encounter through his POV. It makes many of the unanswered questions and the strange events work because we only know as much as Daniel knows. There is some striking imagery and a few specific moments that will likely be seared into the viewers’ brains. This is an eerie, unsettling short film that is beautifully shot and makes great use of lighting and color. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

AVA IN THE END

After an unfortunate accident leads to a young woman’s death, her consciousness is uploaded to the cloud until her new body arrives, leaving her to wait with an AI. Written by Addison Heimann and directed by Ursula Ellis, Ava in the End tackles some very deep ideas. In a future where your consciousness can just go to another body when you die, it is easy to take your life for granted. This short uses this futuristic setting and technology in order to show the consequences of that and encourage individuals to use the time they have to seek out their dreams. The filmmakers wisely use a single set for the physical representation of the cloud and Elsa Gay is fantastic as the recently deceased Ava. It’s a strong short film to end on, hopefully inspiring viewers to go out and try to achieve their goals. OVERALL RATING: 4/5

Scare Package

What’s better than seven tales of horror wrapped in one package? Seven meta tales of horror filled with laughs, gore, up-and-coming filmmakers, and familiar faces wrapped in one package. This and more awaits viewers in the new horror anthology, Scare Package.

Scare Package brings together a host of talented writers and directors. They all used their individual segments to hone in on various horror tropes and either subvert them or highlight those tropes. Viewers will no doubt watch the seven short films and see numerous nods to classic horror films, some more obvious than others. Sometimes the plots take a back seat to the visual aspects, but these aspects often tell a story of their own for the trained horror fan’s eye. Through all the meta filmmaking and Easter eggs, the filmmakers still manage to tell stories that are as funny as they are unique.

“Cold Open” hilariously honors the characters in horror films that are briefly seen and don’t get enough credit for setting up the film, while also honoring one of the most popular horror films of all time. “Rad Chad’s Horror Emporium” is not only a place I wish I worked, but it’s also the overarching story that ties everything together as each segment is presented like a rental at Rad Chad’s. “One Time in the Woods” is probably the goriest segment that also throws as many horror subgenres at you as it can. “M.I.S.T.E.R.” is likely going to piss off a few male viewers, but I mean that in the best way possible because it perfectly plays with the idea of what makes a real man. “Girls’ Night Out of Body” can be found in the post modern feminist slasher revenge body horror section at Rad Chad’s, and that honestly sums it up perfectly. “The Night He Came Back Again! Part IV: The Final Kill” plays into the classic horror trope of the masked killer that somehow always comes back, no matter how you kill him! “So Much to Do” exemplifies how important shows are to some people and the dangers of revealing spoilers. And finally, “Horror Hypothesis” takes everything you know about slashers and puts it to the test.

The performances in Scare Package are all fantastic, many of them being highly satirical and sure to make viewers laugh. Because many of the segments are meant to a mockery of horror tropes, some of the performances come across as intentionally cheesy. That might not appeal to all viewers, but definitely made me laugh. A clear standout performance from the beginning is Jeremy King (The Pale Door, Sinister Seduction) as none other than Rad Chad himself. King perfectly embodies all the good and bad aspects of hardcore horror lovers. His portrayal will make you love Chad as much as you also can’t help but roll your eyes at him. Another great performance comes from none other than Noah Segan (Knives Out, Mohawk) who stars as the husband in the segment he also co-wrote and directed, “M.I.S.T.E.R.” Segan does a fantastic job of acting as a typical nice guy with an underlying creepiness. Toni Trucks (Grimm, Franklin & Bash) stars in the “So Much To Do” segment as Franchesca. Trucks really shines in this role mostly because she kicks some serious ass. She has one of the most physical roles of all the segments, and she definitely delivers. Really all the performances are delightful and horror fans are sure to see more than a few familiar faces.

One thing I can promise viewers is that there is a lot of gore in Scare Package. The film relies on practical effects to create creative kills, gruesome monsters, and devious killers. There is definitely no shortage of blood, guts, and goo. While all of these segments utilize great practical effects, the most memorable in that regard is definitely “One Time in the Woods.” Not only does it have a high body count and unique kills, but it also has a fantastic melting character that looks absolutely amazing. If lots and lots of blood is more your speed, then “The Night He Came Back Again! Part IV: The Final Kill” is definitely the segment for you. The effects have a little something for everything horror fan.

Scare Package hilariously highlights the good, the bad, and the ugly of horror films. It’s clear this anthology was put together by horror fans for horror fans. Each segment is a hilarious take on various horror tropes, but there are still delightfully unique stories to be seen. At times it might be a bit too meta and tongue-and-cheek for some viewers. I for one scared my pets multiple times by bursting into laughter. Scare Package showcases the beginnings of promising careers for these writer and directors. Fans will also be laughing along with the fresh new actors and cheering for the horror favorites that pop-up. It might be a bit goofy at times, gory horror anthology that viewers are sure to adore.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Monstrum

MV5BNjBjNDJiYTgtZmYwYS00OTI4LWE3OTUtMWExNmVjNDJhMzFmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjkxOTM4ODY@._V1_

It’s an unstable time for Joseon, a kingdom of Korea. Between threats of plague, political unrest, and rumors of a vicious monster stalking the countryside, King Jung Jong’s reign is threatened. He sends the exiled Yoon Gyeom to investigate claims of the monster, but along the way he unlocks dark secrets and a conspiracy to dethrone the king.

Monstrum is a thrilling Korean film blending martial arts, history, and a giant monster directed by Jong-ho Huh (The Advocate: A Missing Body, Countdown). Huh co-wrote the screenplay along with first time screenwriter Heo-dam. I personally have always been a fan of Korean horror films. To date I haven’t seen one that I didn’t love, and Monstrum is no different. The plot combines multiple different genres and subgenres of film to create something beautiful. It is a period piece, showing a bit of 16th century Korean history intertwined with fiction. It is a political thriller, revealing sinister conspiracies to dethrone the king. It is a martial arts film, complete with fantastic fight choreography. Then, of course, it is a creature feature with a quite unique monster called Monstrum. Huh and Heo-dam seamlessly bring these elements together. The resulting film has a little something for everyone to enjoy.

The film builds suspense by gradually revealing information to the viewers. At first the rumors of the monster are just that, rumors. The filmmakers play with the audience by initially making it unclear if Monstrum is a real beast threatening the kingdom or if it’s a figment created by those wanting to overthrow the king. That makes the reveal of the monster even more exciting. There are many messages thrown around throughout the film, but what stands out as the prevailing theme is how those who suffer the most from coups are the common folk. Time and time again we see how the poor people in the kingdom are slaughtered, sacrificed, and left to starve or exposed to plague while those in power stay safe within their palaces. It’s a theme that stands out not only because it tells a thrilling story, but also because it is something that still happens today. In the world today, I think many of us can relate to the fear of plague and feeling as though those in power couldn’t care less whether we die or not.

Monstrum has a huge cast of characters and all of them are a delight to watch. Myung-Min Kim (Six Flying Dragons, Closer to Heaven) stars as the once exiled Yoon Gyeom. We we first meet Yoon, he’s kind of dopey and lives in the countryside with his daughter and brother. When he is called upon by the king to help the investigation into Monstrum, Myung-Min Kim completely changes the character to a respectable and formidable man, yet it still feels natural. In-kwon Kim (My Way, Tidal Wave) plays the lovable Sung Han. Living with Yoon and his daughter, Sung is definitely the goofy uncle. While he can clearly kick some butt as well, In-kwon Kim makes sure to keep that goofiness throughout the film. Hyeri Lee (Reply 1988, My Punch-Drunk Boxer) plays Yoon’s daughter, Myung. She is smart, skilled, and takes everything in stride. Lee shows how Myung’s strong will allows her to easily go from being a simple country girl to warrior fighting alongside her father. Honorable mention goes to Woo-sik Choi as royal guard member Heo, whom many will likely recognize from the Oscar-winning hit film Parasite. This motley band of heroes makes the film even more enjoyable because you have someone to really root for.

There are so many stunning visual elements that make Monstrum an artistic feat. The most obvious things viewers will notice are the fantastic costume and set design. It’s clear a lot of care was taken to not only make the costumes and sets visually appealing, but also true to the period of the film. Of course, the film also includes glorious fight choreography as well. Surprisingly, the film has some shockingly realistic and very well done practical effects. This is evident in various wounds and the physical effects of the plague. What I’m sure everyone is really wondering about is Monstrum himself. The beast is done with CGI and somehow manages to look both menacing and adorable. I may be alone on this, but I think Monstrum is cute. While the CGI itself isn’t necessarily the best, the actual creature has a stylish and distinct look. The design of the creature is stunning and feels reminiscent of the beasts one would find carved around ancient temples and palaces of Asia. There is just so much to look at, which may be discouraging for viewers who take issue with subtitled films, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

Monstrum is a gorgeous film brimming with action, beauty, suspense, and of course a giant monster. Jong-ho Huh and Heo-dam expertly put all these different elements and genres together in a way that tells a memorable story. It not only has great performances, but it also is one of the most visually appealing films I’ve seen so far this year. There is a lot for people to look at on screen while also reading subtitles so it can be difficult at times to take everything in, but don’t let that discourage you. Even if it takes multiple watches to catch all the details, it is one you won’t want to miss. Monstrum is sure to be on many “best of 2020” lists at the end of the year.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Z

MV5BYTA5ZjkxNDgtYzdkMC00ZWY3LWExZGUtNWVhZDI1ZmI0ZTYxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTY0NzUxNA@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,708,1000_AL_

An 8-year-old boy gets an imaginary friend. What begins as a simple childhood fantasy quickly turns sinister. The boy is acting out and blaming his imaginary friend. As the family’s life is turned upside down as they are terrorized by this invisible force, they will have to turn to the past in order to survive the present.

Z is the sophomore feature film of director Brandon Christensen (Still/Born), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Colin Minihan (Grave Encounters, What Keeps You Alive). Christensen and Minihan’s combined efforts manage to bring viewers a bit of the familiar along with some thrilling new bits. These days, horror films about imaginary friends seem to be increasingly common. The filmmakers take a bit of time introducing this imaginary friend, allowing time to establish the family unit and their dynamics first. When we do finally meet Z, the imaginary friend, it is just whispers and mentions of him as the son plays. Yet it doesn’t take very long for those whispers to turn to behavior issues and then full-blown terror. This gradual increase in suspense allows for some brilliant and terrifying scenes that are sure to haunt viewers. Z even takes the time to tackle many issues including the horrors of parenting, emotionally and physically abusive relationships, and suicide (take this also as a trigger warning for anyone who has difficulty watching these topics on screen). For the most part these aspects of the film are very well done, but certain parts feel a little derivative of other films, especially the climax. Z ends with a fair amount of closure, but the filmmakers wisely left some questions in the dark. I could definitely imagine a sequel to Z in the future.

One of the things about Z that surprised me was how it almost feels like two films. The first half of the film is very much a story of a mother and the love she feels for her son. When she first learns of her son’s behavioral problems, and feels the consequences of this in their social circle, she is completely in denial. Every mother wants to believe the best of their child, and it’s more difficult to see the truth with those blinders on. When the mother finally realizes the real danger, she has to battle a sinister imaginary friend, her disbelieving husband, and even her own son in order to try and save those she loves. At one point there is a scene I believed to be the end of Z, but to my surprise the film continues for another 20 minutes. This second section of the film feels much more like watching an abusive, controlling relationship. It is truly disturbing to see the woman’s life upended and left to the mercy of a male figure. Every moment of every day of her life is controlled by this entity, forcing her to distance herself from the outside world for fear its jealousy will lead to their harm. This is very powerful and disturbing in how it’s conveyed, but at the same time it makes the film feel a bit disjointed. The two halves work very well on their own, but I don’t know if they necessarily work together.

Every performance in Z is truly stunning. Keegan Connor Tracy (The Magicians, Final Destination 2) plays Elizabeth. While Tracy is fantastic through the entire film, she truly shines in the last half of the film. Elizabeth goes from questioning her own sanity to being willing to do anything it takes to save her son. Tracy absolutely shines in this role and brings heart-wrenching emotion to the horror of what’s happening. Jett Klyne (The Boy, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) plays Elizabeth’s son, Joshua. The way Klyne shows Joshua’s gradual transformation from normal, sweet boy to a very disturbed child is a performance I won’t soon forget. While these two actors carry most of the film, Sean Rogerson (Grave Encounters) is great as husband and father, Kevin, while Luke Moore (Sex, Lies & Murder) frightens viewers as Z himself.

The filmmakers behind Z were very wise with their scares. Much of the terror is from the building of tension, including some long, drawn out images where you are at the edge of your seat waiting to see what will happen. Yet that tension is punctuated with some perfectly crafted jump scares. These are definitely earned jump scares that will still have an impact, if not necessarily the scare, upon subsequent viewings. Most of the bigger scares rely heavily on great camerawork, making sure your eye is drawn to the right place at the right time. But, of course, many of the scares wouldn’t be complete without Z. The single greatest thing the filmmakers did was barely show Z. Viewers will get starling glimpses here and there, giving enough of an impression of his frightening appearance, but for the most part he is invisible and left to the shadows. So many horror films show too much of their evil entities, but by leaving the imaginary friend mostly unseen the viewers are able to project some of there imagination onto the character. Z is also created with a combination of motion actor and CGI, which wouldn’t be quite as effective in full view.

Z brings a menacing imaginary friend to life in a way that tackles dramatic issues while also delivering scares. Christensen and Minihan definitely created a ghoulish tale to haunt horror fans, but they also managed to embed compelling takes on motherhood and trauma. boasts strong performances, especially from Tracy and Klyne, and has what is probably the most terrifying imaginary friend I’ve ever seen. While there is a clear divide that seems to split the film into two disjointed parts, both parts are fascinating in how they deal with certain topics. Despite the flaws in the overall story arc, there are definitive moments that are guaranteed to be embedded in your mind long after watching.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10