thriller

The Furies

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A woman and her friend are kidnapped during the night. She wakes up the next day and finds herself in a box alone in the Australian wilderness. Soon she realizes not only are there other women trapped here, but there are also hulking men wearing terrifying masks out to kill the young women. It’s a fight for survival and no one can be trusted.

Writer and director Tony D’Aquino makes his feature film debut with the Australian thriller, The Furies. From the opening shot D’Aquino makes it clear this is going to be a feminist take on slashers as two of the female characters are shown spray painting “FUCK PATRIARCHY” on a wall. This moment between the two women is very brief, but still manages to establish who the characters are before throwing them into peril. From there the filmmakers waste no time in delivering high-octane thrills. Once the women are thrown into the remote Australian setting they have to battle masked madmen, those who have trapped them all here, and each other. It’s a relatively simple plot that relies heavily on the bloodshed and mayhem, but D’Aquino manages to make it feel fun and different.

There are many aspects of this plot that make it interesting and unique. One obvious difference from other similar films is how these women and killers ended up in this remote location together. The women were obviously kidnapped and brought to this place, but the surprise is that the killers appear to have arrived the same way. The boxes the women arrived in are all marked “beauty” and the boxes the men arrived in are marked “beast.” The people who brought everyone to this place are clearly very organized and use advanced technology which creates an odd dynamic between all the captives and interesting sets of rules they must follow. Another interesting aspect is how the female lead, Kayla, not only acts as a feminist icon, but she also shows how women with physical or mental illnesses are as capable as anyone else. Kayla has epilepsy. She has always seen this as a hindrance to her being an independent woman, yet it gives her a strange advantage when she is thrown into the twisted cat and mouse game. It allows her to see that she is capable of being a self-reliant warrior woman. All of the other woman are also quite compelling characters because none of them fit into any stereotype often seen in horror films.

Since the vicious men in the film don’t speak a single word, the women of The Furies carry the performances. Airlie Dodds (Killing Ground, Ready for This) stars as Kayla. She starts out in the film as very meek and she is convinced her illness keeps her from being able to take care of herself and live life to the fullest. Dodds does a fantastic job of showing Kayla evolve throughout the film as she is thrown one curveball after another. Linda Ngo (Mako Mermaids, Top of the Lake) plays another captive in this deranged game, Rose. Rose is an interesting character because she is slightly odd and innocent, but there is also something hidden just beneath the surface that is waiting to be released. Ngo is quite memorable in her portrayal of Rose and how easily she straddles the line between naive and creepy.

This film doesn’t hold back on the gore and luckily the practical effects are fantastic. The first thing viewers will notice is the truly disturbing masks worn by the killers. Each one is very distinct, unique, and terrifying. The practical effects of the various wounds and kills are so well done. They look incredibly realistic to the point where some viewers might have to turn away. In addition to the effects, the way the film is shot also gives it a unique look. As soon as Kayla emerges from the box, the entire film has a white-washed look to it. The filtering and color palette are clearly meant to add to the barren and sun-scorched Australian landscape. This appearance not only adds to the idea that the setting is exceedingly hot, but it also makes the blood and gore stand out as the most vibrant colors.

The Furies delivers a unique slasher dripping with girl-power and gore. This is a very strong feature film debut for D’Aquino. He manages to deliver a film that is familiar, yet injects intricacies that make the plot still feel fresh. Each performance is great from the dynamic women to the physical acting of the killer men. All of the gore hounds out there will have a ball watching this film with it’s fantastic practical effects and others, who like a bit more depth to their slashers, will enjoy the fascinating rules the film puts into place. Not only is this film sure to be on many must-watch lists this October, but it also has the potential to spawn a new horror franchise.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Harpoon

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Three friends go out for a day pleasure cruise. While out at sea, tensions flare and horrible choices are made. The group is left adrift in the middle of the ocean with no food, no water, no radio, and no working engine. As the yacht endlessly floats, sexual tension and deep dark secrets are forced to the surface with disastrous consequences.

Writer and director Rob Grant (Desolate, Alive) brings the darkest of dark horror comedies with his latest film, Harpoon. A narrator sets the tone for the film with sarcastic and cynical monologues introducing viewers to the three main characters. Then, when the characters are finally brought together for the first time, an explosive burst of violence perfectly shows the tumultuous and deranged relationship these people have. How quickly they go from a physical altercation to going for a day cruise on a yacht makes it very clear that there are a lot of deep rooted issues with these three friends just waiting to bubble up to the surface. It leads to some truly gruesome and hilarious hijinks as things go from bad, to worse, to complete and utter disaster. All the while, the narrator continues to describe the disturbing events in ways that are sure to make the viewer laugh at the most inappropriate times. There are also some great long-running jokes throughout the film. Even the name of the film is a joke because there is in fact not one harpoon in the entire film.

One of the most interesting things about Harpoon is that it does something I usually hate in horror films, yet Grant makes it work. Typically, it bothers me when none of the characters have any redeeming qualities because then I don’t care about their fates and it kills the suspense. All three people trapped on the yacht are really despicable people in various ways and to differing degrees, yet it works exceedingly well in this context. We aren’t meant to really feel for these people. We are meant to be shocked by what happens while also cracking up at the unfortunate events that befall the group. It is the perfect combination of horror and humor that doesn’t make the viewer feel ashamed for laughing at their misfortune.

The entire small cast delivers memorable performances. Budding horror film star Munro Chambers (Riot Girls, Turbo Kid) plays Jonah. Chambers has been making his mark in genre films over the past couple years and his performance as the tragic Jonah is another great success. Jonah’s intentions sometimes appear to be good, but there are many layers hidden within that really allow Chambers to show off his acting prowess. One of the surprises of the film is Emily Tyra (Flesh and Bone, Ring Ring) as Sasha. Of all the characters, Sasha comes across as the most levelheaded. It is her knowledge and resolve that help keep the group alive and Tyra shines in the role. Christopher Gray (The Mist, The Society) plays Sasha’s boyfriend and the owner of the yacht, Richard. Richard is the epitome of the rich, white, privileged guy you can’t help but hate, yet Gray also manages to make him the most hilarious character in the film. Between his great dialogue and his anger issues, Gray is sure to give the audience a good laugh. All three actors play off of each other incredibly well and their on-screen chemistry truly makes it feel like they have known each other for years.

The sets, practical effects, and filming techniques allow for a lot of visual interest throughout Harpoon. Really there is one set for 90% of the film – the yacht. It is a fairly spacious boat, but when three people are stranded on it with nothing but open water as far as the eye can see it definitely becomes claustrophobic. There is something about being adrift in the vast abyss of the ocean that is truly terrifying. That terror is intensified by the surprising amount of gore. There are bruises, cuts, infections, and copious amounts of blood and all of it looks disgustingly real. With the film taking place on a yacht at sea, there are some great opportunities for interesting cinematography. Yet what stands out are a couple flashback scenes that connect the events of the film to events of the past in a way that adds to the plot while also giving the viewer something fun to look at.

Harpoon abandons a group of dysfunctional friends adrift on a yacht and lets the insanity unfold in this dark horror comedy. It is a relatively simple plot that Grant manages to inject with memorable moments and humor. While the characters are all horrible people, it makes it much more entertaining to watch them deteriorate and turn against each other and the performances from all three actors are fantastic. This film definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is exactly the kind of deranged humor I can’t get enough of.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

In the Tall Grass

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A brother and sister on a cross-country drive pull over in a remote part of middle America. While stopped, they hear a young boy calling for help in a field of very tall grass. The siblings decide they have to go into the field to help the boy. It doesn’t take long for the two to become separated and soon they realize there is something sinister about the grass.

Based on the novella by Stephen King and Joe Hill, writer and director Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice) brings In the Tall Grass from the page to the screen. This sci-fi horror mash-up begins with the brother and sister. They are lured into the field of grass, which appears to be at least 8 feet tall, and quickly find themselves separated and lost in the abyss of green. There also seems to be a family separated and lost in the grass, but their intentions aren’t very clear. It isn’t until the sister’s ex-boyfriend comes looking for her that the mystery slowly begins to unravel. The film plays with some ideas that will feel familiar to fans of this particular type of horror, while also managing to create something thrilling and unique. The plot takes the very simple idea of being lost in a virtual sea of grass that rises high above the average person’s head and expertly turns it into something much more complex.

The tension of In the Tall Grass can be felt almost immediately. Each part of the plot builds this tension from the young boy calling the siblings into the grass, to the siblings immediately getting separated, to the simple fact that the sister is pregnant, and to the various people in the grass not being trustworthy. Even the grass itself adds to the suspense. It is so tall and it seems to go on forever, generating an extremely claustrophobic feel as the audience sees from the point of view of those trapped in the grass. From there the suspense and the plot become much more complex. Whatever entity or energy exists within the grass, it has the ability to play with all the laws of physics humans have come to know. Time and space mean nothing in the tall grass. Being in the grass creates a sort of time loop, which is a popular concept in many recent horror films, yet In the Tall Grass still manages to make it feel unique. There is also a great element of the unknown. The film hints at the ancient power within the field and other specific elements, but nothing is overtly explained. There is just enough shown to create a mythos, but a majority of why these horrible things are happening is left a mystery. There is one aspect of the mythos in the climax that is rather horrifying. It is the one aspect that is not explained that really should have been as it leaves a gaping whole where the answer should be.

The cast of the film is primarily made up of lesser-known actors, with the exception of one name horror fans are sure to recognize. Laysla De Oliveira (Guest of Honour, Locke & Key) stars as the pregnant Becky. Oliveira does a fantastic job of conveying Becky’s vulnerability in her pregnant state, yet that pregnancy is also what makes her more determined to survive and escape the grass. Equally determined is her ex-boyfriend, Travis, played by Harrison Gilbertson (Need for Speed, Upgrade). Travis’s determination comes from wanting to save his unborn baby and the woman he loves. Gilbertson also delivers a compelling performance in this role. The surprise performance of the film comes from the most famous of the actors, Patrick Wilson (Insidious, The Conjuring). Wilson plays Ross, a man already trapped in the grass. He manages to portray a character that is far more sinister than anything we have seen from him before. Additional strong performances come from Avery Whitted (The Vanishing of Sidney Hall) and Will Buie Jr. (Bunk’d).

Most of the horror and suspense in the film rests entirely on the setting. Many horror films take place in fields of corn, but the field of grass that goes far above your head in this film is far more menacing. The grass doesn’t grow in a uniform way like corn does, which makes it much easier to get lost in the endless green. The grass is also very tightly packed, making it difficult to know where you are or if there is anything lurking just beyond those blades. It’s quite effective and beautiful. The filmmakers include gorgeous aerial shots of the grass that truly make the field appear as if it goes on forever. At the center of the field lies something large and ominous that lends to the mythos created throughout the film. It is a simple setting that has a striking look. The only other visual aspects are a few practical effects. These are also well done. They come in the form of minor wounds, a few corpses, and some very intriguing masks worn by beings in the grass.

In the Tall Grass is a twisting, cyclical journey of mysticism and madness from the minds of Stephen King and Joe Hill. Natali does a superb job of bringing the story to life. The resulting film is mysterious, thrilling, and gives the viewer something unique. The filmmakers were smart in making much of the mechanics behind the field of grass a mystery, yet there is one aspect of the climax that needs a bit of explanation. As is, it comes across as simply being in the film for shock value. While this plot stands apart from similar films, it may fall to the wayside with the many successful time-loop films that have been released in the past few years. Luckily the film has strong performances and an eerie setting to really build the suspense. This is a Netflix original film fans of Stephen King, Joe Hill, horror, and time-loop films will definitely want to see.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

 

 

3 From Hell

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The Devil’s Rejects survived the shootout with Ruggsville police. After being found guilty of heinous crimes, the Firefly family has been locked away in prison awaiting death row. When Otis Firefly is able to make a bloody escape, he comes up with a plan to free Baby. Then it’s time for this deranged family to wreak havoc on all those who cross their path.

Ever since the film was first announced, fans have been chomping at the bit to see 3 From Hell. Written and directed by Rob Zombie (House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects), this is the third film chronicling the murderous adventures of the Firefly clan. The film begins by giving a brief update of the family surviving the shootout from the end of the previous film and a bit about the trial that took place after. From there, we see Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding nearly 10 years later as they await their death sentence. Eventually the family is able to escape, with the help of a new face. We see as these psychopaths balance trying to stay hidden from the law while still following their murderous nature. The film is as violent as one would expect from a Zombie film, while also incorporating dangerously dark humor fans will love.

The Devil’s Rejects is a much loved film, and it has one of my favorite film endings of all time. With the way that film ended, there was no real need for a sequel. Audiences watched as their favorite murderers went down in a blaze of gunfire, being shot so many times they should have died. When 3 From Hell was announced I wrote an article for The Coda Films discussing different ways the family could be brought back for a third film (you can read that article here). Unfortunately, Zombie went with what I believe is the laziest option by having them simply survive. I do appreciate that there is a joke made about it in the beginning of the film, but there was a missed opportunity to either bring back the Doctor Satan character from House of 1000 Corpses or even connect this film to The Lords of Salem and have the witches bring the family back. That being said, Zombie clearly wanted the second and third films in this trilogy to be more firmly rooted in reality than the first film, which could explain this storytelling choice.

While it’s not a necessary sequel, 3 From Hell still manages to come very close to the magic of its predecessor. Fans get to see more of their favorite psychopaths, Otis and Baby Firefly, while also getting to meet another member of the family. Zombie is eerily successful at writing despicable characters who do horrific things, yet there is something about them that makes you root for them. There are also some very compelling moments of humanity mixed in with all the chaos, especially between Baby and a new character named Sebastian. I believe what holds the film back a bit from reaching the same level as The Devil’s Rejects, aside from the way the family survived, is the lack of a truly formidable opponent. In the previous film the Firefly clan was up against Sheriff Wydell, who was just as sinister and deadly as the Fireflys themselves. In this film there are a few different opponents, but none of them have quite the same presence as Wydell. Without that opposing force, the Fireflys not only don’t have an worthy adversary to go up against, but it also doesn’t give the audience as much of a reason to sympathize with them.

Between the familiar and new characters, the entire cast is pure magic. The highlight is definitely Sheri Moon Zombie (The Lord of Salem, The Devil’s Reject) as Baby Firefly. Fans are familiar with Baby’s playfully homicidal antics. This time around, years in solitary confinement have turned that playfulness into insanity. Moon Zombie gives a stunning portrayal of the character in those moments of insanity, but she also brings a deeper emotional level to Baby, especially during her interactions with Sebastian. Bill Moseley (House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects) also returns as the most brutal of the family, Otis Firefly. Moseley brings much of the same ferociousness to the character of Otis in this film, but the years in prison have changed Otis as well. It may not be as obvious as with Baby, but he has become a bit more cautious as he tries to keep himself and his family out of police hands. A new member of the Firefly clan is Richard Brake (31, Doom) as Winslow Foxworth Coltrane, half-brother to Baby and Otis. This is the first time we have met Winslow, but he clearly has the same extracurricular interests as the rest of the family. Brake’s chemistry with both Moon Zombie and Moseley is a delight to watch, and watching him on screen feels like he’s been part of this franchise from the beginning. Other fantastic performances come from Dee Wallace (The Howling, The Lords of Salem) as Greta the prison guard, Pancho Moler (Candy Corn, 31) as Sebastian, and Jeff Daniel Phillips (The Lords of Salem, 31) as warden Virgil Dallas Harper.

As with every Zombie film, 3 From Hell is both stunning to look at and has great music. The sets, cars, wardrobe, and filming style all transport the viewer back to the films of the 70’s and 80’s. Zombie has always had a great eye for creating that vintage aesthetic, and this film is no different. He also curates an amazing soundtrack of rock classics combined with the gorgeous film score by Zeuss, who also did the score for 31. 3 From Hell also incorporates very realistic practical effects for the various wounds the Firefly family inflicts on their victims, as well as ones inflicted upon them.

3 From Hell is an unnecessary, yet delightful third film in the saga of the savage Firefly clan. The film has it’s flaws, mostly in the way the family is brought back for this film and the lack of a worthy adversary for them to fight against. That being said, Zombie comes so dangerously close to catching the same magic of The Devil’s Rejects that most of his fans will likely be delighted with this film. It has great visuals, fantastic acting, and it’s a bloody good time. Much like every film Zombie has ever made, 3 From Hell is sure to polarize audiences. One thing is for sure, I had a smile on my face during this film from start to finish.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Candy Corn

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It’s almost Halloween. A group of local punks decide to honor their longtime tradition of pranking the local outcast while he’s at work at the visiting freak show. When the guys take things too far, a ritual is used to bring him back to life. Now he will take his revenge on this sleepy little town.

For me, Candy Corn has been one of my most anticipated horror films of the year.  The film was written, directed, edited, and produced by Josh Hasty (Honeyspider, In Hell Everybody Loves Popcorn: The Making of 31).  Immediately we are introduced to the group of young adults who just love hazing the local outcast, Jacob. The three young men are your typical small-town jerks who get pleasure out of other people’s misery. When they accidentally kill Jacob, it is Jacob’s employer, Dr. Death, who comes up with a plan to bring him back. This introduction to the various characters automatically makes the audience despise the locals and sympathize with Jacob and the freaks. It also plays well to those in the audience who have ever been bullied. When it comes down to it, that’s all those who tormented Jacob really are; a bunch of bullies. Watching them get torn apart is incredibly satisfying.

The film is one part supernatural and one part slasher resulting in a thrilling and bloody ride. This blend of horror subgenres helps to make Candy Corn the perfect fall film. It captures the essence of what horror fans love about this time of year. Part of that Halloween feel also comes from the filmmakers who clearly influenced Hasty in this film. The most obvious influences are John Carpenter and Rob Zombie. From the filming style to the sets to the characters and the music, Hasty shows his passion for the great filmmakers who came before him while still creating a film that is entirely his own. Even though those influences are clearly felt, Hasty still creates a really entertaining and unique mythos around the freak show and the ritual Dr. Death. Hasty wisely leaves some of the mythology vague, yet gives the audience enough to follow what’s happening, which leaves the film open to sequels that expand on that mythos.

It is clear that each artistic decision made by Hasty was chosen to make Candy Corn a new Halloween classic. From the first frames the look of the film transports the audience back to the 70’s. While it isn’t explicitly stated, it is clear from the wardrobe, the cars, and the technology used in the film. Even the somewhat gritty look of the film and the slightly washed-out colors harken back to that era of filmmaking. This time period and look also feel very reminiscent of Carpenter’s and Zombie’s films. One thing that doesn’t work quite as well is the use of freeze frames and removing audio, except for the music, in scenes where people are killed. This is similar to some of Zombie’s filming methods. It looked interesting in a couple scenes, but it is a bit overused throughout the film.

Other artistic elements help to make the film exciting, gory, and fun. The mask worn by Jacob when he returns to exact his revenge is absolutely terrifying. It almost looks as if a jack o’lantern was combined with the Michael Myers mask to create something out of a nightmare. Candy Corn also primarily sticks to gruesome practical effects for the kills. Each kill has a high level of brutality created with the practical effects and minor CGI enhancement, mostly utilized to add extra blood spatter. Then of course there is a fantastic score composed by both Hasty and Michael Booker. It is ominous, yet has a lightness to it that helps to build both suspense and excitement. Much like the plot, the score simply feels like the Halloween season.

This indie film has several faces horror fans know and love. Courtney Gains (Children of the Corn, The Funhouse Massacre) stars as the local sheriff, Sam Bramford. The sheriff tries his best to keep the peace between the local punks and the visiting freak show, but when the bodies start piling up he’s left with no choice. Acting opposite him is Pancho Moler (31, American Fright Fest) as Dr. Death, leader of the freak show. While on the surface he seems stern and mistrusting of outsiders, it is also clear that he cares deeply for his freaks and is sick of seeing them treated like second-class citizens. These two characters play off each other quite well because neither of them is purely good or bad, they simply want to protect the ones they care for. Unfortunately, they care for people on opposing sides. Other notable horror favorites are Tony Todd (Candyman, Final Destination), PJ Soles (Halloween [1978], Carrie), and Sky Elobar (The Greasy Strangler, The Rocker).

When it comes to the group of punks who attack Jacob, the performances are well done, but the casting is a bit confusing. The group is played by Cy Creamer in his feature film debut as Steve, Madison Russ (Junkie) as Carol, Caleb Thomas (The Terror of Hallow’s Eve) as Bobby, and Jimothy Beckholt (Corky and Bob Get a Job!) as Mike. They all do a great job of making the audience dislike their characters, which in turn makes it more fun to watch them die. The issue is it is difficult to figure out what age these kids are supposed to be. Most of the actors could pass for teenagers or very early 20’s, yet Beckholt appears to be older than the rest of the group. It may be a small detail, but in a genre where it’s typically either teens or college kids being slaughtered, that missing piece stood out.

Candy Corn is a love letter to Halloween and classic slashers of the 70’s and 80’s that is sure to be a holiday favorite for horror fans. Hasty’s passion for filmmaking and his influences are clearly felt. It perfectly balances the line between homage and originality resulting in a violent thrill ride with a unique mythology. The cast of horror fan favorites and newcomers all do a fantastic job. Then of course the film looks like it came straight from the 70’s, has gory practical effects, and the score is so fantastic that I can’t wait to buy it. You’ll want to watch the film now and then again for Halloween.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Artik

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A group of young boys live on a remote farm with their mother and father. The eldest boy helps his father with some strange tasks, including finding individuals to torture and murder. When the boy meets a man named Holton, who shows him kindness, the life the bizarre family has built is threatened.

Writer and director Tom Botchii Skowronski creates a very unique and strange debut feature film with Artik. The genre bender includes elements of a thriller, sci-fi, and even a bit of superhero flair. The plot follows Boy Adam, a young boy who is seemingly being groomed by his father figure, Artik, to continue his work. Artik is obsessed with comic books and is clearly on some kind of quest to find a certain type of person, yet in most cases he simply ends up brutally murdering these people. Then Boy Adam meets Holton. Holton is a straight-edge man who is likely the first to show the boy any true kindness. That moment is the catalyst that sets the rest of the film in motion as the boy realizes there could be another way of life and Holton attempts to help him. After the disturbing opening, the film takes on more of a gradual build of suspense leading up to the bloody, violent climax.

Artik at first feels like it takes place in an alternate reality. The way the world looks from the boy’s point of view on the farm leads the viewer to believe the world is a dangerous and desolate place. It’s when Holton is introduced that the world of Artik comes back to reality. It’s a very effective bit of filmmaking because it shows how Artik’s delusions influence the boy’s point of view. To him the world is a dark and dangerous place, until Holton shows him the world outside the farm is very different from what he has been lead to believe.

The film is very unique and builds suspense well, but it also leaves a bit too many unanswered questions. For one, Artik’s comic book obsession is almost a bit too subtle. There are some great visual cues including a target with Loki’s face in the center, comic book style drawings of Artik committing his crimes, and even the outfit Artik wears when he commits these crimes makes him look an awful lot like The Winter Soldier. While I don’t mind not knowing where this obsession came from, I wish it was a bit more clear how this obsession dictates his actions. The audience learns early on that Artik is looking for a specific person, or type of person, and that is why he maims and kills. It isn’t until the climax of the film that it is revealed what qualities he is looking for in these people, but it is never fully explained why he wants them. It is also unclear if the boys on the farm are truly Artik’s children or if they were kidnapped and raised on the farm, but the mystery around this doesn’t necessarily detract from the plot.

One of the high points of Artik is the performances. Indie horror fans will likely recognize many of these faces. Chase Williamson (Beyond the Gates, Sequence Break) stars as Holton. He is an interesting character because on the outside he is covered in tattoos, dresses tough, works in a metal shop, and generally looks rough around the edges. Yet his character doesn’t do any drugs or alcohol and immediately shows kindness to a strange boy spray-painting the side of the shop. He is obviously a purely good person. Artik is played by Jerry G. Angelo (American Warfighter, Color of Souls). Angelo is an imposing figure and his portrayal of Artik is incredible to watch as you see him force his decisions on those around him and manipulate the boy to do his bidding. Other great performances from horror fan favorites come from Lauren Ashley Carter (Imitation Girl, Jug Face) as Artik’s wife, Flin Brays, Matt Mercer (Contracted: Phase 2, Beyond the Gates) as addiction counselor Kar, and Gavin White (14 Cameras) as Boy Adam.

The artistic elements, from the score to the practical effects, are all stunning. The film’s score, by Corey Wallace, matches the dark and gritty look of the film and adds to the suspense perfectly. The practical effects in Artik are very well done. There is a fair amount of blood and gore in this film, so the practical effects are a vital part of the storytelling. Each wound and kill are executed quite well, especially one rather gruesome scene involving a fork. Even the set design and wardrobe help with the storytelling of Artik. The most notable of these is the outfit Artik wears when he kills, which I mentioned before as looking similar to The Winter Soldier, aka Bucky Barnes. Fans who know more about that character know he has a sordid past, yet as a whole the character is typically seen as a hero. This likely indicates that is how Artik sees himself. It is the attention to detail like this that really add to the overall appeal of the film.

Artik is a tense film that will appeal to those who love gritty horror and comic books. Skowronski proves he knows how to create compelling characters and build tension within the plot. That being said, there are aspects of the film that remain too vague and unexplained. There are also aspects of the film viewers might not understand as well if they aren’t familiar with the comic book references. Yet the film still combines stunning artistry and a cast filled with indie favorites to bring in a wider horror audience. Between the music, gore, and performances, this film is definitely worth checking out.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

They’re Inside

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An aspiring filmmaker and her estranged sister travel to a remote cabin with a small film crew. The plan is to make an emotional film about an experience the filmmaker had with her husband. Not long after settling in, strange things begin to happen. What starts as noises during the night quickly escalates as two deranged killers have other plans for the film crew.

They’re Inside is directed by John-Paul Panelli, making his feature film debut with this film. Panelli also co-wrote the film with Schuyler Brumley, also in his feature-film debut. The film begins with a delightful cold opening. It shows a man on New Years Eve attempting to record what the audience can assume is his YouTube channel. As he goes through different takes trying to film the perfect video, unexpected visitors crash his video. Honestly, this opening is my favorite part of the film. It not only gives an interesting look behind the scenes at recording the perfect video, but it also uses some great framing to build tension.

From there the film goes to the two sisters reconnecting as they attempt to film a movie in a remote cabin with a small group of actors and crew. As small happenings lead to larger scares and growing paranoia, the group eventually realizes they are being watched by people with murderous intentions. To add some interest and mystery to the plot, the filmmakers interspersed clips of animals on the hunt and of the lead actress. It is unclear when or where these clips of the actress take place and it makes the viewer question her level of involvement in all that is happening. These elements make it unclear what is truly happening and keeps the audience guessing right up to the fairly unique climax of the film.

While They’re Inside has a great cold opening and interesting plot points that are unexpected, the film feels like many films that came before it. Home invasion films featuring creepy mask-wearing psychopaths are quite common. While this idea has been done time and time again with varying degrees of success, this film falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. The crew behind They’re Inside do make an attempt to bring something different with the various surprises thrown into the mix. This makes an otherwise forgettable film stand out in the viewers’ mind, especially with how the filmmakers chose to end the film.

In general, the performances in They’re Inside are very well done. Karli Hall (Being Charlie, The Hollow Point) stars as the aspiring director, Robin. What makes her performance stand out is the uncertainty she builds around her character. Along with the small scenes cut into the film, Hall’s performance forces the audience to question whether or not Robin is somehow involved with the horror inflicted on her friends. Amanda Kathleen Ward (Fate) plays Robin’s estranged sister, Cody. Ward’s performance becomes more compelling as the plot progresses and Cody’s paranoia intensifies. As the events intensify, it seems as though Cody’s sanity might completely unravel. The rest of the cast also deliver great performances including Sascha Ghafoor (Rift, The Wedding Invitation), Chelsea D. Miller (Big Time Rush, Spaceman), and Jake Ferree (The Baxters, Loop).

They’re Inside makes attempts at creating a unique home invasion and found footage mash-up, but it doesn’t have quite enough to truly stand out. Panelli and Brumley create compelling and complex characters while also adding interesting elements to their film I haven’t seen before. On top of that, the film is helped by compelling performances from the cast. The opening of the film and the end are the standout moments, but what happens in-between doesn’t do enough to break away from other successful films in the subgenre. There are moments that will be memorable, but as a whole They’re Inside is a film that will fade from peoples’ minds by the end of the year.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10