Wednesday 13 October 2021

Supermarket Sweep #24: Reviews of The Inheritance (USA/Ukraine 2020), Bloodthirsty (Canada 2020), The Nest (USA 2021), A Deadly Legend (USA 2019) and The Headless Horseman (USA 2007)

The Inheritance (USA/Ukraine 2020: Dir Chad Barager, Kevin Speckmaier) Sasha (Natalia Ryumina) and her rather non-committal partner Peter (Nick Wittman) travel from their home in Chicago to Kyiv in the Ukraine, to a sprawling, rather grand house which Sasha has inherited from her late grandfather, Yuri Makarenko."Beautiful place, but it does not like strangers," explains the housekeeper: it's a place where doors close by themselves and the locals do a lot of staring. And I mean a lot.

On their first night Sasha hears what sounds like a violent argument coming from the floor above, which freaks her out, but not enough to want to go along with Peter's insistence that she should sell up and reap the profits. Finding a hidden door that leads through to a different set of rooms, including a cellar, is the trigger for the process of the house beginning to exert a hold on her, gradually revealing its history, through a mixture of visions and her own researches. Peter becomes increasingly absent and it's left to Sasha to work out exactly what the house wants.

While I wouldn't go so far as the reviewer on the cover mentioning Hereditary and Rebecca as comparators (er, it's got a house and some women in it, but that's as far as I'd go), The Inheritance does have a fair amount of atmosphere, helped by a stunning, almost palatial setting which, if anything, kind of dwarfs the drama. Barager and Speckmaier are confident in their handling of the topography of the house, but the script is ponderous and at times awkward, and I didn't think it got the best out of the two leads. 

Bloodthirsty (Canada 2020: Dir Amelia Moses) Troubled singer/model Grey, played by Lauren Beatty, is at one of those crossroads in life; she's having a creative block, something her supportive girlfriend Charlie (Katharine King So) can't really help with, and has dreams about eating the innards of woodland animals, which is weird because she's vegan. She's also on medication to control a mental health issue.

And then along comes deeply creepy producer Vaughn Daniels (Greg Bryk) who invites Grey and Charlie down to his studio to let the singer's musical juices flow once more, but not before Charlie's done a bit of research and found out that one of Vaughn's previous projects, a female singer, was found dead at the producer's home; Daniels escaped prosecution.

Daniels feels that Grey is keeping something back, and encourages her to stop taking her meds and find her inner self, much to the annoyance of Charlie, who feels increasingly cold shouldered by events. And as the singer gradually rediscovers her musical confidence, something else stirs within her, something that she and Daniels have in common.

The first half of Bloodthirsty is genuinely uncomfortable viewing, a 'torn from the headlines' story of an influential older guy preying on a younger, vulnerable woman. Without spoiling anything, there's always a knowledge that the tables will turn against Daniels, but Moses draws it out. By the end of the movie the film will more than have lived up to its title, but it's a deceptive watch, shiny round the edges with a dark heart. Against my expectations I rather liked it.

The Nest (USA 2021: Dir James Suttles) Oh and we were doing so well. And then along comes Suttles' overpolite and inconclusive bug movie and it's all downhill.

Beth (Sarah Navratil), husband Jack (Kevin Patrick Murphy) and their daughter Meg (Maple Suttles, one of a number of the director's family who make an appearance) have had some tough times. Trained teacher Beth hasn't long been out of rehab, and the family have lost their home because of her addictions. As a result Jack is very put upon and Meg has been seeing a school counsellor for her anxiety.

Temporarily residing at a relative's house in the country, the family happen upon a yard sale where one of the vendors is a rheumy old soul who is nice enough to give Meg a teddy bear for free. This guy's family hide behind closed doors, where they are clearly servicing some sort of parasites, with mum as the host.

Back home Meg quickly gets taken over by something that lies within the bear's stuffing and begins to become stroppy; it's not clear at the stage whether this is Meg's actual character or the effects of the parasite in her. Pretty soon we realise it's the latter, and then there's a slow - and I mean slow - process of the parasite in the bear taking over the rest of the family.

I'm not sure if it was the director's intention to use the growth of the parasite as a metaphor for the decline of a family in crisis. Certainly for most of The Nest's 100 slow minutes we are treated to a family who at the start are just about holding it together, and then regress to infighting and accusations, drawing in family friend Marissa (Dee Wallace) who seems to be there as marquee value and little else. I don't mind movies that take their sweet time getting to where they're going, but I need to get a sense of the buildup of the thing. Suttles seems happy to recycle a number of dramatic setups with little thought of the bigger picture, and by the time the gloop arrives, any point has been lost.

Werewolves Within (USA 2021: Dir Josh Ruben) Ruben’s amiable fright flick, based on an Ubisoft video game, has Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) - a ranger who, Mister Rogers style, has the innate ability to see the good in everyone - sent on assignment to the mountain town of Beaverfield. He’s there to enforce the law in a place where there’s almost universal opposition to the attempts of Midland Gas oilman Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall) to build a pipeline through the town.

Wheeler’s unfailing affability bemuses Beaverfield’s quirky set of residents, who include a gay yoga couple, a semi feral trapper, butch garage owner, and spunky mail person Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) with whom the ranger forms an immediate attachment. Unfortunately Wheeler is so nice that he can’t tell his manipulative ex-girlfriend to stop phoning him, which doesn’t go down so well with Cecily. Oh and there’s a visiting environmental scientist, Dr Ellis (Rebecca Henderson).

But Wheeler’s assignment is about to change course when the town’s residents start dying in rather grisly ways. Someone, or something, is stalking the good people of Beaverfield, and it’s up to our plucky but pleasant ranger to solve the crimes and identify the potentially lycanthropic perp from among the townsfolk who, because of a snowstorm, are all holed up in a B&B.

Werewolves Within opens with a quote about niceness from legendary genial TV star Mister Rogers, and then proceeds as a more humorous take on the 1974 werewolf whodunnit movie The Beast Must Die, coupled with the eccentric ensemble playing of 2019’s Knives Out and the small town characters of the 1994 Canadian comedy crime series Due South. It also borrows heavily from the whip pan/smart comedy of Edgar Wright movies, and while the movie has a quirky charm, it’s perhaps too in debt to these influences to truly satisfy. Mishna Wolff’s wicked script almost saves the day though, and the performances by Richardson and Vayntrub, particularly in the first half of the film, are truly endearing.

A Deadly Legend (USA 2019: Dir Pamela Moriarty)
 For the love of whatever deity you pray to, get yourselves to your nearest purveyor of DVDs and pick this one up: you won't be disappointed!

Joan Hunter (Kristen Anne Ferraro, who gets to wear a swimsuit pretty much throughout the movie, like she has something to prove) is a property developer who, after a lot of negotiations and the opposition of most of the locals, successfully bids on a piece of land, reputed to be haunted, with awful things occurring every 50 years there. A year before the deal is sealed, Joan, her husband, daughter Krissy (Andee Buccheri) and Krissy's friend Amy (Daniella DeCaro) had driven out to inspect the site and crashed after swerving to avoid a ghostly girl on the roadside, who we find is named Luci (Tatiana Szpur) and really is a ghost; Joan's husband died at the wheel.

One year on and everyone gathers at a house near to the site, when strange things begin to happen. Luci turns up to look spooky; Joan and her business partner's wife Eva (Jean Chung) are having a bit of a sunbathe when Eva's leg gets caught in an anchor chain and she's dragged into the water. Later Eva reappears, wearing the type of outfit seen in a Xena cosplay event, now as a lethal chain ghost. And it's these two phantoms that prey on everyone connected with the new development. Of course if they'd listened to mad old Carl from the town (Judd Hirsch) when he shouts lines like "you are digging up madness" they may have been able to save a few people. Lori (Tank Girl) Petty gets a lot of screen time as a local drunk and is pretty terrible, but best of all is possessed construction worker Mike (Erik Wolf, the movie's scriptwriter and husband to Ms Ferraro) who gurns his way through some spiritual turbulence as he's forced to do the spirits' bidding. Apparently the story is based in part on the myth of 'America's Stonehenge' in New Hampshire. No me neither.

The Headless Horseman (USA 2007: Dir Anthony C Ferrante)
There was I, just getting into this packaged-as-a-2021 movie and wondering how they'd achieved a slightly old school feel of production design, when blow me down what did I find out but that it's actually a 2007 made for TV movie; the Sci Fi channel to be precise, as their Halloween special for that year.

Now if I'd known this in advance the DVD may well have stayed on the supermarket shelf and I'd have saved my £3, but I'm glad I didn't as Headless Horseman (the 'The' in this case is only added to the DVD packaging) is a pretty fun ride.

Taking an ill advised short cut en route to a big party, a bunch of seven young 'uns mistakenly cruise through town - Wormwood Ridge actually, more of a ghost town - hoping to make up time. Catching a flat just outside the place, they happen across Candy (Elizabeth Prestel) driving her dad's tow truck. She gives them a lift back to civilisation for dad to work on fixing the shot tyres.

But Wormwood Ridge isn't a place for strangers; it contains an ancient evil, a headless horseman that's been haunting the area for centures (a Civil War prologue confirms this) who returns every few years to collect seven heads (yeh, that's why I mentioned the number of twentysomethings). And guess what, the whole town's in on the act, helping Headless to off the newcomers in unusual ways; who will be left and will they still have their noggin connected?

Headless Horseman doesn't start off that well - annoying older actors playing young blades, cartoonish small town characters and a pretty nasty string synth soundtrack - but when Headless rises it's quite another story. The gore is rife and sometimes pretty nasty (surprising considering its genesis) and a clever mix of CGI and practical FX. The movie manages to sustain suspense, includes some well staged set pieces, and the story mixes myth and magic in a kind of non hokey way. Headless Horseman may be fourteen years old but it stands the test of time. Recommended.

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