thriller

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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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

Mayhem

mayhem

Derek Cho is having a bad day. After another employee framed him for a mistake, his bosses fired him. Before they could get him out of the building the entire office becomes infected with the “Red Eye” virus. This virus strips away all impulse control leading to violent outbursts and other heinous acts. Derek knows that legally no one can be held liable for their actions while infected, even if they commit murder. The CDC places the building under quarantine, giving Derek eight hours to reach his boss on the top floor and kill him. Little does he know that he will face several floors of obstacles along the way.

Director Joe Lynch (Everly, Chillerama) is known for movies filled with carnage and insanity. Mayhem is no different. Lynch wastes no time getting into the action, giving just enough time to establish the characters and their relationships before the virus takes over the building. Once the action starts, the plot flows like a video game. Derek teams up with a woman who also wants to get to the bosses. Each time they get to a higher floor they face a more deadly foe, many of them with nicknames like “The Siren” and “The Boss.” The floors are like levels of a video game where each level presents a villain who is more difficult to defeat than the last, until they reach the big boss. This is actually fairly similar to Lynch’s film, Everly, except in that film the video game villains came to the hero.

Along with the similarity to another of Lynch’s films, horror fans may find this film to be somewhat similar to the events of The Belko Experiment. While the reason for the violence is different, both films center around a closed-off building filled with employees trying to kill each other. This may mean that Mayhem doesn’t have the most original plot, but it doesn’t take away from how much fun the film is. Every person in the building is infected by the virus, which means you never know what a person is going to do without their impulse control. It leads to some unexpected and highly entertaining events. There is also a lot of humor in this plot, which nicely offsets the hyper-violence throughout the film. The biggest issue with the plot is that the ending is telegraphed right from the beginning. Before the building is put under quarantine, we learn about a case Derek worked on. An infected man was found not liable for murdering someone because of the effects of the virus. It isn’t difficult to figure out where the film goes from there, but at least the journey is delightfully fun to watch.

The two heroes of this film are incredibly entertaining to watch and have great on-screen chemistry. Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead, Okja) plays the leading man, Derek. Yeun plays Derek as a man almost every working person can relate to. He works hard, does what he can to please the bosses, and tries to avoid confrontation in the workplace. When the virus makes Derek free to do and say everything he has always wanted, Yeun plays it so he is always walking the line between rationality and insanity. Samara Weaving (The Babysitter, Three Bilboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) plays Derek’s new sidekick, Melanie. Melanie wanted an extension on her loan and was turned down, so she wants to get to the bosses as badly as Derek. Weaving has recently been popping up in more and more prominent roles, many of them in the horror genre. The way she plays Melanie shows that the character was probably always a bit unstable, so in the quarantine she seems right at home. Together they make quite the sexy and dysfunctional Mario and Luigi team.

Mayhem has the classic Lynch insanity that fans love. The plot might not be the most original, and it will likely remind you of other recent films, but it has some aspects that make it stand out from the crowd. The video game-like format involving more difficult enemies as our heroes go up each floor of the building adds a certain level of geeky fun. Combine that with the unexpected dynamic duo of Yeun and Weaving, and the result is a film that is thrilling, violent, and darkly humorous. You will come out of the film wanting to see future work from everyone including Lynch, Yeun, and Weaving.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Unsane

unsane

A woman, Sawyer Valentini, is going through a tough time. She had to change her entire life to get away from a stalker, and now it’s taking an emotional toll. When Sawyer seeks the help of a counselor, she gets tricked into admitting herself into a mental hospital. To make things worse, the man she believes to be her stalker gets a job at the hospital. The longer Sawyer stays there, the less clear her sanity becomes. Is her story real? Or is she insane?

This film had quite a bit of buzz when it was announced for two main reasons. The first being that it is directed by Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Erin Brockovich). This is the second film directed by Soderbergh since announcing his retirement. While this doesn’t necessarily mean he is “back” from retirement, it does seem that he is willing to work on a film if he finds it compelling enough. The second piece of buzz came from the fact that Soderbergh chose to film Unsane entirely with an iPhone. Honestly, there doesn’t seem to be that much benefit to this filming choice other than it being a gimmick to draw in audiences. An argument could be made that the filming style added a heightened sense of reality to the plot, but generally speaking the use of an iPhone doesn’t really affect the film in any real positive way. It doesn’t necessarily negatively effect the film either, but audiences going in expecting the filming style to be revolutionary may be disappointed.

The film begins by effectively blurring the lines of reality, both for the main character and for the audience. It creates a battle inside the viewers head similar to what the main character experiences, never knowing what is real. The filmmakers chose to reveal the truth about halfway through the film, if not a bit sooner. While the rest of the film was still quite nerve-wracking and interesting, it probably could have been even more intense if the truth was hidden until the climax of the film. Aside from the intensity of the plot, one of the most compelling parts of this film is how it portrays the flawed mental health system. In many ways this is the most terrifying aspect of the film, because it comes across as the most authentic. If the idea of being stalked or the possibility of losing your mind doesn’t disturb you, then being trapped in a corrupt mental hospital when you don’t belong there will.

It likely comes as no surprise that the breakout performance of this film is Clair Foy (The Crown, Season of the Witch) as Sawyer. Foy is fantastic as she goes through the various emotions and struggles throughout the film. She goes through everything from PTSD after being stalked, rage at being wrongfully committed, uncertainty about her own sanity, and a sheer will to survive. She gives the kind of performance where you almost forget there are other characters in the film. Jay Pharoah (Ride Along, Lola Versus) is also enjoyable as another patient at the mental hospital, Nate. He is the only one to believe Sawyer and try to help her, despite being stuck there as well, and Pharoah comes across as a very trusting character. Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project, If I Stay) plays Sawyer’s alleged stalker. Leonard is undoubtably creepy in the film. My only issue with his performance is at times he comes across as much too meek to be able to do the things Sawyer believes he is doing, although this is likely more due to direction and writing than it is with Leonard’s acting. The whole cast generally performs well in the film, but it will definitely be Foy who people remember.

Unsane manages to make audiences lose their grip on reality right along with Sawyer. Not only does it have edge-of-your-seat tension by making it unclear what is real and what isn’t, but it also highlights the horrific flaws in the mental health system. Combine that with a strong performance from Foy, and it is easy to see why Soderbergh decided to direct this film. Many viewers will likely be drawn to the film because of the use of an iPhone for filming, but it is really more of a marketing ploy than anything that truly enhances the film. If the filmmakers had held out a bit longer for the “big reveal” then the plot may have been a bit more mysterious, but as it is the film is still extremely intense. Audiences will still be thinking about this film long after leaving the theater, and they will likely be watching their backs for their own stalker.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Mom and Dad

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Parents have a natural instinct that makes them willing to do anything to protect their offspring. One day, all that changes. Something is happening to all the parents. Suddenly the parents will stop at nothing to kill their own children. Carly, a teenage girl, must fight to protect her little brother from their own mom and dad, who want nothing more than to murder them.

The premise of this film is very simple. One day, instead of wanting to protect their children, all the parents suddenly want to brutally murder their children. That’s pretty much it. The film never even explains why this sudden change occurs. While not knowing the ‘why’ behind all the carnage is somewhat troublesome, it allows you to focus on the relationships within the main family unit and what it means to be a parent. This aspect is the most interesting part of the film, although some may see it as mean-spirited.

Every parent thinks negative thoughts about their kids, especially when the kids are in their teenage years. Mothers think about how having children ruined their bodies. Fathers think about how they lost their freedom by getting married and having kids. Granted, this isn’t how all parents think, but I’d be willing to bet that a lot of parents occasionally think thoughts along the same lines. While in the real world these are just thoughts, and they don’t take away from how much a parent loves their child, that isn’t the case in this film. A lot of these negative thoughts are the driving force behind the parents killing their kids. Some viewers will likely think this makes the film cruel. I think it adds to the dark, and sometimes overly honest, humor threaded throughout the film.

Another aspect of the film that might make people dislike it is the violence towards children. While for the most part the film focuses on the teenage daughter, the filmmakers do show violence towards younger kids and even infants. Again, this will be off-putting to some viewers. There aren’t many filmmakers willing to show that kind of violence towards kids, but in real life children are not immune to violence. It makes sense that even the youngest children wouldn’t be immune to it in this film, especially since every parent is affected by whatever mysterious force makes them want to kill their children.

While the film is primarily told through the eyes of the teenage daughter, the adults have the standout performances. The role of the father, Brent, seems like it was written for Nicolas Cage (Knowing, Face/Off). Cage is known for his freakout moments in past films, and this film is filled to the brim with classic Cage craziness. Anyone who is a fan of Cage’s over-the-top acting style will want to see him in this. Selma Blair (Cruel Intentions, Hellboy) plays the mother in this psychotic duo, Kendall. Blair typically plays the more shy, awkward characters, but not in this performance. In this film, audiences get to see her go through an interesting transformation. Initially she is the quintessential perfect mom doing anything and everything for her children. Then, as all the other parents become murderous, her change to wanting nothing more than to kill her own kids is even more pronounced. Together they make an insane and often hilarious couple, fitting into various parenting stereotypes.

Mom and Dad is a hyper-violent and darkly funny film that says all the things about parenting that parents aren’t supposed to say. This film takes some risks in how it portrays violence (with children on the receiving end of this violence). As a result, there will be some who undoubtedly will hate this film. In my opinion, the film is an entertaining flick chalked full of mindless violence. Throw in the classic Nic Cage craziness and Selma Blair’s evil charms, and it is easier to overlook the somewhat skimpy plot. This film may be forgotten by the end of the year, but I have a feeling it will develop quite the cult following over the years.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

The Rage (Short)

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A man goes to a bar with a friend. The friend leaves, and the man is left alone. He sits at the bar avoiding calls and texts from his significant other. This triggers strange and violent hallucinations. When a woman at the bar bumps into the man, and they hit it off, the hallucinations only seem to get worse.

At first glance, The Rage appears to be a rather disturbing short film showing violence towards women. Upon closer inspection, the short is more than that. The violence takes place between the main character, Oscar, and his significant other, Kate. Both characters exhibit violence towards each other, so it isn’t one-sided, and all of the violence takes place in Oscar’s head. Initially the film gives the impression that Oscar is a budding psychopath or serial killer, imagining the things he wanted to do to the woman who hurt him. As the plot continues it becomes more clear that the hallucinations are not things Oscar wants to happen. Instead they are a visual representation of his emotions following an unfortunate discovery. While this is a very interesting way to convey the inner thoughts and feelings of Oscar, I almost wish they had been expanded upon a bit. Would these images in Oscar’s head lead to actual physical violence? Does his one night stand, Sylvi, have similar thoughts in her head when she is stood up? Going just a bit deeper would have made the plot that much more compelling.

Director Alrik Bursell made some interesting choices in his storytelling for this film. The most obvious is the use of hallucinations to convey intense emotions. A less obvious one is his choice to have almost no dialogue in the film. Even the bit of dialogue that is in the short is more in the background. This forces the viewer to focus on the visuals of the film, both with the hallucinations and the body language of the actors. It gives the short a more visceral, even primal feel, because the words are not as important as the physical expressions taking place.

The leads in the film do a surprisingly good job considering they don’t have much dialogue to lean on. L. Jeffrey Moore (Toxin) plays the jilted Oscar, while Sophia LaPaglia (Shout it Out!) plays the equally lonely Sylvi. Both actors excel at using their body language to tell the story, from how they feel when hurt by their significant others to how they feel when they first meet. This is vital considering the only speaking either character does is when they first bump into each other at the bar. Without the ability to speak through non-verbal means, the plot would not have flowed quite as well.

The Rage gives a look into the mind of an emotionally tortured man. The performances are strong and focus on the body language between characters. The short film has an interesting premise which relies heavily on visual storytelling more than it does dialogue. While that is one of the most successful aspect of the short, I also can’t help but wish the hallucinations and their implications had been expanded upon. The short is still an entertaining and interesting 6 minutes that will give viewers a unique view of what goes on inside a person’s head.

OVERALL RATING: 3/5

Inoperable

inoperable

Amy awakens in a seemingly abandoned hospital during a hurricane. As she explores the halls of the hospital she discovers the remaining doctors and nurses are doing horrible things to the few patients left. What’s even worse is that Amy’s time in the hospital keeps resetting, making her wake up in the hospital bed over and over. Amy must find a way to escape the hospital before she ends up stuck in her loop forever.

Inoperable is the kind of film that reveals more and more layers as you watch it. At first, nothing seems to entirely make sense. We watch as Amy repeatedly wakes up in a hospital bed, transported from her car stuck in traffic, while she attempts to find out what is happening. Many viewers will likely compare this time loop to films like Groundhog Day and the more recent Happy Death Day. When she’s in the hospital it quickly becomes clear something isn’t right with the staff. The doctors and nurses all seem to want to perform horrific, unnecessary, and painful procedures to torture the few remaining patients, including Amy. The beginning feels a bit slow as Amy wakes up multiple times in the hospital and simply explores the landscape, getting her bearings for this strange place. From there we learn more about what Amy has to do to survive, and possibly escape, right along with her. Once the plot picks up a bit it gets much more interesting, but then the end has quite a significant twist. While the twist made me think more highly of the film, it is still problematic. Throughout the film there are several references to a military base doing experiments, which is a possible explanation for the time loop. Even before the twist this felt like an afterthought to the rest of the plot, but after the twist it makes even less sense. With the twist, you get a better understanding for much of the prior events, but I feel like the mention of the military base ends up being pointless and muddies the plot.

One of the highlights of this film are some of the visual aspects. The most interesting visual is how the filmmakers chose to show the transitions as Amy goes from being in her car during the day to stuck in the hospital during a hurricane. As they begin to show it happen more and more the transitions become much more interesting and clever. Another interesting visual aspect of the film is the practical effects. The surgical procedures performed by the hospital staff are gruesome, gory, and surprisingly well done for a lower budget film. It is clear in many of these scenes that the point is to shock and disturb viewers, and the filmmakers do a decent job of just that.

Many horror fans will likely see this film for one reason, Danielle Harris (Halloween 4, Hatchet II). Harris is horror film royalty at this point, and her sizable fan base will bring quite a few viewers to this film to watch her as the lead, Amy. In the beginning of the film Harris seems a bit off. It isn’t until she has other people to interact with that Harris gets her stride and really brings an attention-grabbing performance. Amy is a survivor, which is a role Harris is very familiar with, and as the film progresses Harris is able to show more of the characters strength and determination. When the twist comes into play Harris truly shines, delivering a memorable performance. Unfortunately, some of the smaller rolls detract from the film. For example, with some of the actors portraying the hospital staff, much of the delivery comes across as someone simply reading lines from the script. Luckily there aren’t many scenes focusing on those characters, instead focusing on Amy and a couple other key characters, who also deliver enjoyable performances.

While Inoperable was interesting enough to hold my attention, it isn’t a film I will likely watch again. The plot has its highs and lows. While the twist is definitely entertaining and unexpected, it only adds to the muddled feeling of the plot. The highlights of the film are the visuals and and Danielle Harris as the lead, but some of the other performances take away from the quality of the acting overall. Harris will definitely be a draw for fans. Looking at the rest of her filmography, it is clear that this isn’t one of her best films, although through no fault of her own. The film is one that many viewers will quickly forget, especially with the similarity to other recent horror films.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10