Friday 1 March 2019

New Films Round Up #13 - Reviews of All Light Will End (USA 2018), Monster Party (USA 2019), Primal Rage (USA 2018), American Nightmares (USA 2018), The Witch in the Window (USA 2018) and Look Away (Canada 2018)

All Light Will End (USA 2018: Dir Chris Blake) When we first meet Savannah she's just a little girl afraid of the dark, the nonexistent monsters in her closet and the ones (not) lurking under the bed.When we next meet her twenty years later she's all grown up, a successful writer whose novel 'All Light Will End,' which gave voice to her childhood fears, is the toast of America. But Savannah's world isn't a happy one; as a child she found her mother's hanged body, and the memory lingers. She's seeing a shrink, who warns her that the current medication for her continuing night terrors may make it difficult to work out what's real and what's fantasy. Uh oh!

Her father, a local sheriff with a drink problem, has also clearly not got over the death of his wife, and has the added problem of finding a series of dismembered limbs - the sure fire hallmark of a serial killer - a crime that he must solve with his comedic sidekick police colleagues.

On a whim, Savannah, her boyfriend and two other mates decide to hot foot it over to Savannnah's brother's graduation (he still lives in the house where she grew up), while our heroine starts having visions of herself as a young girl and seeing a strange figure with an animal skull for a face. And then the killings start.

Chris Blake's debut feature looks like a first outing - it's that fatal combination of too many ideas, too little coherence and a dull interchangeable cast. It takes quite a leap of faith to believe that the Denise Richards-a-like Ashley Pereira as Savannah is a successful writer (or indeed a writer at all - and there's a clue in there), and the insistence on cutting the action up into a series of fractured flashbacks which only resolves itself in the last few minutes makes for an infuriating watch. Attempts at conveying drama are created via a deafening portentous score by Waylen Thomas Hardy and Dave Moody which at times mercifully drowns out the dialogue. All pretty terrible.

Monster Party (USA 2019: Dir Chris von Hoffman) Casper, Iris and Dodge are three young housebreakers who see the opportunity for a big haul when Iris gets a gig as a catering assistant serving a party at a swanky house in Malibu. Casper in particular needs some cash to help his compulsive gambler dad out of a tight spot.

The party, organised by Roxanne Dawson (Robin Tunney) and her husband Patrick (Julian McMahon), is a strange collection of people who seem to have little in common with each other. But it transpires that the party is actually a support group of reformed psychopaths, with the enigmatic Milo as their leader.

The three housebreakers get ready to raid the home, until Dodge gets the worst end of the deal when one of the party, shall we say, falls off the wagon. Soon the remaining interlopers must fight for their life as the psychos all revert to their murderous ways to protect their secret getting out.

I haven't seen a movie with so many nutjobs under one roof since, well when did Rob Zombie last make a movie? Anyhow, despite its dodgy title this is a well made, exciting flick that keeps things simple; it's probably a testament to von Hoffman's background in short film making that a lot of the storytelling is done very economically; it's tightly scripted if a little too camp to be truly scary. But where it really succeeds, much as the early Purge movies did, is in its thinly veiled pop at contemporary American society, and about how the rich and privileged get to treat others (it's no coincidence that at one point Patrick says to Roxanne "It's time to make the Dawsons great again."). Recommended. 

Primal Rage aka Primal Rage: The Legend of Konga (USA 2017: Dir Patrick Magee) Primal Rage played at Glasgow's FrightFest last year and hasn't been seen since in the UK, which is a great shame. It's not by any means a perfect film; it's way too long for a start, and there's a whole middle section which drags, but it has lots of interesting things going on, and the gore effects (executed by the director) are stunning.

So Max has just got out of prison. He's picked up by his wife Ashley and between them they try and put their life back together. Things turn awkward when they run into some Deliverance types at a service station, and then, worse still, run over a guy who steps out in front of their car. Surveying the accident, it's clear that the bloke was in a rather dismembered state before they hit him. An accidental stumble lands the pair in a fast flowing river, and as if they're not in trouble enough the backwoods boys are out in force, preventing their return to their car, which in any event has been pulled off the road by a large, hairy...something.

I'm not a big fan of bigfoot movies, but Primal Rage does the sensible thing and doesn't make the whole movie about a monstrous primate. Being a small budget film, it can't get around the fact that a large part of it involves Max and Ashley trudging through the undergrowth - scenes which could easily have been trimmed to reduce the movie from its one hour and forty five minute running time. But the beast itself is an impressive (and incredibly resourceful) monster, and the body count rises quickly and messily; the final reel fight to the death is pretty thrilling stuff. There's some sub plotting about Indian mysticism which serves only to explain the beast's origins, but on the whole this is an exciting movie with a great score from Ceiri Torjussen. Still not sure what The Legend of Konga suffix means though.

American Nightmares aka Mr Malevolent (USA 2018: Dir Rusty Cundieff and Darin Scott) Ah a portmanteau movie! A sort of follow up to Cundieff and Scott's earlier Tales From the Hood films, this also features a largely black/Hispanic cast and is equally fun and inventive. Against a framing device of two internet blackmailers looking to net money from spy cam operations (who of course get theirs at the film's close), their own feeds are hacked by Mr Malevolent (Danny Trejo) and a mystic woman (Nichelle Nicholls) who broadcasts seven broadly left of centre EC/Twilight Zone style stories.

The first, 'Mates,' is about a woman, disappointed with men, who signs up to a dating agency that offers the perfect guy - who just happens to be a robot; 'The Prosecutor' has a corrupt would be Governor whose overzealous desire for death sentence prosecutions goes awry when he's involved in revenge from beyond the grave; in 'White Flight' a white racist bites off more than he can chew when he buys a time machine that transports him and his family back to an idyllic 1950s America. A sign at the entrance to the seemingly perfect town in which they they find themselves reads 'No blacks allowed. Ever.' but they find that this does not refer to skin colour; in 'The Samaritan' a prostitute is saved from certain death by a clown obsessed killer courtesy of the spirit of one of his previous victims; 'Hate Radio' sees a woman-hating bigoted talk radio host literally turned into a woman and experiencing the attentions of a serial killer; 'The Healer' has a snake oil preacher who makes money peddling false miracles abducted and turned into a real healer who physically takes on the ailments of all those he touches; and in 'Thy Will be Done' a pregnant girl is abducted by a pro life group just before she is due to have an abortion, only for the kidnappers to realise that the baby she's carrying isn't actually human.

Each of these stories is well done and, unusually for a portmanteau movie, none is a dud. It's not a movie you'd rush to see again, but it had me laughing out loud a few times and it's definitely worth a watch.

The Witch in the Window (USA 2018: Dir Andy Mitton) This isn't the first time that Andy Mitton's independent movie has been reviewed in these pages. Guest reviewer Satu Sarkas-Bosman's account of the film in her write up of the Mayhem Film Festival was spot on - it's a small movie with big themes, expertly acted, witty and quietly tragic. It's reminiscent of  David Lowery's 2017 film A Ghost Story although for this viewer Mitton's film had more emotional heft.

Simon is a dad, separated from his wife Beverley, with a young son Finn who divides his time between parents. Simon does up houses for quick resale and profit (or 'flipping' as it's somewhat disparagingly referred to in the film). Simon has found a house to flip in Vermont, and he invites Finn for an extended stay while he carries out building work. Only two problems with the setup; one, he has no intentions on selling the house - he has designs on it being the place that heals the rift between his family; and the second, it's got a witch living in it.

Unlike other genre films where the witch lurks in the shadows, Lydia, for that is her name, is on show for all to see, staring out of the window (hence the title) or sitting in a chair. Lydia is long dead but her very visible spirit lives on, and she wants the house for herself. Simon's in a tight spot - does he work through his intense fear of the spectre and finish the housebuild, or abandon the project and get the hell out of Vermont?

As well as A Ghost Story, the witch-in-broad-daylight look also brings to mind Sam Raimi's 2009 film Drag Me to Hell, but apart from some light hearted (and very believable) banter between father and son, laughs are rather thin on the ground. The final reel is surprisingly moving though, and at around an hour and a half, The Witch in the Window doesn't outstay its welcome. it's a worthy successor to Mitton's previous film, the equally intriguing 2016 movie We Go On.

Look Away (Canada 2018: Dir Assaf Bernstein) Some great wintry shots of Manitoba, Canada can't save this dull and by the numbers switched personality romp, essentially a straightforward thriller with an added weird element.

Maria is a young girl who lives with her loveless parents in a designer house from which every last bit of emotion has been drained. Dad is a plastic surgeon, the kind of guy whose birthday present to his seemingly flawless daughter is the offer of a bit of nip/tuck. Mum Amy has clearly had the life sucked out of her by a domineering husband, and as a result of all this Maria is basically wasting away, virtually friendless and borderline anorexic.

But a chance meeting one day in the bathroom with her reflection (work with me here) gives her a glimmer of hope. For her reflection is a separate entity called Airam - Maria backwards, geddit? Oh please yerselves - who promises Maria that she can help her get her life back on track. One mirror kiss later and Airam is on the other side of the mirror, with Maria trapped behind it. And of course Airam's agenda is a more extreme version of Maria's bucket list; kill the school bully, make out with her best friend's boyfriend, get back at her parents.

I know I bang on about film time duration a lot, but at an hour and forty five minutes Look Away is far longer than it needed to be. It's mainly shots of Airam being a bit evil, and there's way too much ice skating thrown in too. The duality of Maria/Airam is sort of explained, if rather unclearly, but I wouldn't be surprised if the story started out as a good/evil twin vehicle. India Eisley (Olivia Hussey's daughter, trivia fans) does reasonably well as the Maria/Airam character, and Mira Sorvino looks suitably bombed as mum Amy. But this is all terribly silly stuff, a PG horror with some interesting ideas but decidedly dull in execution.

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