Monday 14 June 2021

Supermarket Sweep #22: Reviews of Shortcut (Italy/Germany 2020), Central Park (USA 2017), Ten Minutes to Midnight (USA 2020), The Resort (USA 2021), No Such Thing As Monsters (Australia 2019) and The Curse of Dracula (Slovenia 2019)

Shortcut (Italy/Germany 2020: Dir Alessio Liguori) Director Alessio Liguori’s follow up to 2019’s overwrought In the Trap is a YA monster movie in all but rating (it secured an ‘R’ in the US because of language, and slightly less troubled the BBFC, who have given it a ‘15’ certificate).

Anyhow, a small group of English schoolkids are on a bus travelling across the Italian countryside (they're the only passengers, which seems weird), the driver being avuncular Joe (American actor Terence Anderson). The kids include the usual stereotypes: bookish Queenie, or IQ to her friends (Molly Dew); hard nut but probably not really Reg (Zak Sutcliffe); pretty boy Nolan (Jack Kane); and fat kid Karl (Zander Emlano).

A blocked road forces the bus onto a side route, and vehicular failure forces them to stop, at which point escaped prisoner Pedro Minghella (David Keyes) bursts onto the scene and holds the bus occupants at gunpoint. But there’s a bigger threat out there: a large beast roams the tunnels of a nearby disused military facility, and after taking out both Joe and Pedro (the two adults) it looks like the kids are next!

As mentioned, apart from odd F-bomb and some mild gore, this is basically a movie aimed at teenagers; it’s bookended by some thoughts voiced by Nolan along the lines of “Little did we know about what was to come… and this is what we learned as a group,” which aims to give the story more heft than actually exists. There is the obligatory third reel ‘finding out’ sequences so beloved of YA targeted movies, which only serves to make the adults involved look like a bunch of bunglers; it’s the kids who know how to vanquish the beast!

Praise should be given for the practical effects rather than the CGI usually found in films like this, but that’s a rare positive in a movie which doesn’t make a lot of sense and, while well photographed, squanders its slim running time with faintly drawn characters and much WTFery. Not very good.

This review was originally published in 

Central Park (USA 2017: Dir Justin Reinsilber) As the rather unimaginative title of Reinsilber's debut feature suggests, a killer stalks New York City's biggest outdoor space. We're introduced to a group of high school kids, central among them being Harold Smith (Justin A. Davis), whose father has just been arrested for a Madoff style Ponzi scheme, and whose mother has taken her life, connected with the crime. There's also feisty Felix (Guillermo Arribas) and Mikey (Deema Aitken), a bright boy with a difficult home life who's failing at school and smoking way too much. In their spare time the group hang out in the Park with their girlfriends, playing Truth or Dare, while a psycho with a disguise created out of a face from a magazine and sellotape sneaks around watching them and picking them off one by one.

In terms of red herrings as to the killer's identity, Mr Shaw the English teacher (Michael Lombardi) is about the only fish in the park; but although he suspiciously decides to go for a late night bike ride, putting him in the danger zone, he then becomes an early victim. But it's assumed that the killer is linked to the Ponzi scheme otherwise it would be rather odd to include it in the narrative.

The movie's well acted (I really liked Aitken as the awkward Mikey) and photographed, but utterly pointless, and after establishing its first half competently it descends into a formulaic stalk and slash movie, which the world doesn't need now, and arguably didn't in 2017 when the thing was made. Look, I like Central Park; why I was only there a few years ago, it's a beautiful spot and seeing it made me feel a bit wistful. But I didn't like Central Park. Next!

Ten Minutes to Midnight (USA 2020: Dir Erik Bloomquist) While a storm rages outside, inside radio DJ Amy Marlowe (scream queen Caroline Williams), arriving for her show 'Ten Minutes to Midnight', is similarly seething: first she was bitten by a bat on the way into work, and secondly she quickly realises that she's being replaced by a younger model, Sienna Walker (Naomi Kang) courtesy of her sleazy boss Robert (William Youmans) who invites Sienna to sit in on Amy's broadcast.

As Amy realises that this might be the last edition of her show, she has a meltdown, bites Sienna's hand and, after retiring to the bathroom, chows down on a used tampon. 

But just when you think this is going to go the way of vampire movies, with Sienna and Amy both infected and causing chaos, Bloomquist turns his movie into something far less obvious; Amy's infection causes temporal and identity shifts, her colleagues swapping personas; and the 'ten minutes to midnight' now serves as both the show title and a point in time that Amy gets to live over and over again.

The central performance here is that of Williams who, at 64, is still building up an impressive CV, quite in contrast to her character DJ Amy, who everyone is queuing up to add to the scrapheap (and indeed Amy is a knowing update of Williams' role as DJ 'Stretch' in 1986's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2). I wasn't expecting, in a movie that starts and finishes with vampiric themes, to find in the middle such an unusual meditation on age and the value of life. Ten Minutes to Midnight packs a lot of emotional punch into its 70 minutes and Williams turns in an angry, physical performance that has her grappling with fate and her own advancing years. Some great turns too from the late Nicholas Tucci as know all security guard Ernie and Kang as Sienna. A very good film, aand all the better for being quite unexpectedly so.

The Resort (USA 2021: Dir Taylor Chien)
Lex (Bianca Haase) is a writer and researcher of the supernatural, who has been given a birthday present of a trip to a Hawaiian island, for a part fun, part literary break, and to provide material for her latest book. Their destination is Kilahuna island and its massive, now abandoned tourist resort complex, which has been shut down for two years following a spate of hauntings, including sightings of a mythical 'half faced girl'; all the activity seems to be focused on Room 306 within the resort. Once on the island, Lex and her friends, beefy Chris (Brock O'Hurn), Istagram obssessed Bree (Michelle Randolph) and goofball Sam (Michael Vlamis), witter on about religion, ghosts and sleep paralysis to build up atmosphere.

It's no surpise that things don't go well: horror films about and for the social media generation usually end with a nasty fate for the cast; plus in this case the group's plight is signposted by intercutting with scenes of a hospitalised Lex, rescued from the island and supposedly the only one of the four to return. 

In its favour the first part of the film looks lovely, with some spectacular aerial shots of coastline and forest. However it soon turns into a "quick! Come on! Run!" style chase movie with some murky supernatural stuff, shoddy effects and the usual dumb ending trotted out by filmmakers who think that if it's scary it won't matter if it doesn't makes sense; well it isn't and it doesn't. Terrible nonsense.

No Such Thing as Monsters (Australia 2019: Dir Stuart Stanton)
There's something uniquely nasty about the Australian depiction of its backwoods underclass in film, and Stanton's movie is certainly no exception; and you just know that the title is a play on the old 'the-real-monsters-are-human' truism.

Young couple David (Matthew Clarke) and his American girlfriend Mary (Angel Giuffria), who is hoping to get pregnant, embark on a long weekend camping trip, although Mary, with her fear of confined spaces (and a lot more besides) slightly blanches at the thought of a weekend in a tiny caravan.

After they've set up camp, they're slightly concerned when another party pitch tent next to them. Turns out the group are all related; their number includes Amy (Georgia Crisfield Smith), decked out in a white dress, mask and carrying a doll, who apparently suffers from a skin condition (Amy, not the doll)..

Accepting an invitation to join the second party for drinks, David and Mary become separated. When Mary wakes up the following morning, David is missing and she's been chained up inside the caravan. Her captors are, of course, the group who camped next to them, led by the seriously unhinged Becca (Rebecca Fortuna); and the family have mayhem on their mind.

The creepy and rather nihilistic feel of Stanton's film is enhanced by the fact that the attackers have no motive apart from mayhem and, in the case of party member Elmer (Jacob Fyfe) to procreate, irrespective of whether the recipient of his seed is within or without his family. No Such Thing as Monsters is bleak, relentless and bloody, but it's also rather pointless. The mad, bad and dangerous to know shtick has been done much better before (the two movies quoted on the DVD cover for a start); perhaps its only interesting point is that the film doesn't hugely concentrate on Guiffra's disability (she was born without the lower half of one of her arms) preferring to make her issues mental rather than physical; it's definitely a positive step for actors with disabilities, although she deserved better than this luke warm Aussie number.

The Curse of Dracula aka The Curse of Valburga (Slovenia 2019: Dir Tomaz Gorkic)
Meet Marjan (Jurij Drevensek) and his brother Bojan (Marko Mandic), down on their luck and looking for ways to make money without them slipping back into their old drug dealing ways. With the help of their friend Ferdo (Ziga Födransperg) they come up with a cash generating scheme: Ferdo provides security services for an empty chateau, castle Valburga, previously a psychiatric institution. Using their friend's exclusive access to the facility, Marjan and Bojan concoct a fake legend - of a previous occupant of the castle, the evil Count Valburga, supposed cousin of Count Dracula, who still lurks within - and proceed to organise cash upfront tours. 

Their first tour group includes a sleazy photographer with a pair of attention seeking models, some goths looking to raise the devil, and a drunk husband and wife with a seemingly endless supply of beer. Oh and thuggish Sven (Niklas Kvarforth), who knows a bit about castle Valburga, and has his own reasons for being there. 

The Curse of Dracula is as broad as you like, fitfully funny, and sweary as hell. There's some glorious bits of comedic violence, and a lot of crass characterisation. The film's approach to women combines ball busting barflies and self absorbed wannabe porn stars who think that saying 'anal' over and over again will just get funnier and funnier. It's pretty inventive stuff and zips along but it's without one iota of subtlety, which gets wearing after a while. But there's a final scene that suggests that a sequel may be on the cards. You're welcome.

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