Friday, 5 January 2018

New Films Round Up #12 - Reviews of Watch Over Us (USA 2017), The Ice Cream Truck (USA 2017), Consumption (USA 2016), Jonah Lives (USA 2015), Peelers (USA 2016) and The Id (USA 2015)

Well hello. It's been a while since I did one of these. So here's a round up of reviews of various movies seen last year that were generally too sniffy to have been considered for publication by others. But not by me, obviously:

Watch Over Us (USA 2017: Dir F.C Rabbath) Written, directed, shot and cut by ‘inventor, comedian, former journalist and entrepreneur’ (it says here) F.C. Rabbath, a young director with over 30 credits to his name already, Watch Over Us is a mildly interesting if painfully low budget movie, which dates from 2015 but which only had a VOD release late last year.

Jon, a single parent dad, lives with his two daughters, no nonsense Eliza and older sister Becca, in the house of his own father. He’s fallen on hard times, between jobs and dating again after his divorce, albeit rather disastrously. And as if that’s not a difficult enough set up, the family house appears to be haunted. The centre of the disturbance seems to be a large barn, and when the girls threaten to leave, freaked out by the strange groans and shaking light fittings, a priest is summoned, but gets the wim wams when he manages to communicate with the demon, and advises the whole household to get out of Dodge (or Florida in this case).

The twist in this rather slight 70 minute film can’t be revealed, which is a shame as it’s the only interesting thing that happens in the whole movie, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Watch Over Us isn’t sure what it wants to be. It’s not scary, that’s for sure. It attempts a light comedy touch, but the script is weak and although the characters themselves are quite spunky the acting’s rather clumsy (the two daughters, played by Avery Kristen Pohl (Eliza) and Ella Schaefer (Becca) are the best of a middling bunch), so it ends up playing as a rather lukewarm and uncertain film. 

But the premise is quite a good one and I’d have liked to have seen this done in more capable hands. Mr Rabbath thanks ‘GOD’ in the credits, but I’m not sure if he was any help on this one.

The Ice Cream Truck (USA 2017: Dir Megan Freels Johnston) The press release tells me that The Ice Cream Truck’s writer and director, Megan Freels Johnston, is the granddaughter of crime author Elmore Leonard. And like her old granddad Johnston is happy to keep two or three lines of narrative going at any one time in her second directorial outing, but unlike crime’s grandmaster she’s not so good at pulling them all together. 

We meet Mary, who has moved back to the suburbs where she grew up, in advance of her husband and kids who will soon be joining her. Mary’s a freelance writer but you get the feeling that the work isn’t exactly flooding in – she’s also feeling the distance between her family, and struggling as a result. David Lynch style, beneath the picket fences and neatly mown lawns of the suburban streets the town is a hotbed of unreleased tensions, from the constantly on the sauce ladies who lunch to their horny sons, one in particular who sees Mary as a game piece of MILF action, particularly after she joins in with an illicit smoking session. And all the while the tidy streets are patrolled by an old school ice cream van, complete with white suited bow tie wearing owner, you know, like from the past. Strangely he’s never seen selling ices to kids, but occasionally propositions one of the townsfolk to look inside his truck to see what’s on offer. And they have a habit of not coming out again.

Johnston is clearly playing this as a satire – the problem being that satires only really work if you’re in on the joke, and it’s kind of difficult to see what she’s trying to get at. When Lynch juxtaposed the quaint little town of Lumberton with the positively evil events going on in it in Blue Velvet, for example, you got the idea. Is Johnston playing with the idea of retribution for moral corruptness by a maniac ice cream salesman instead of the more familiar Michael Myers type assailant? I’m not sure. Although there are horror elements, the gore is played down, denying the audience their thrills. Or is it hidden from them deliberately as part of the overall tease? I’m still none the wiser.

This isn’t to say that The Ice Cream Truck is not enjoyable. It’s well shot and Deanna Russo does well as Mary, pulled into the dark side of suburbia, albeit playing it for comedy in a film where the humour is more in the setup than the script. There’s a head scratchy end shot to underline that things are not what they appear, but it’s too oblique to reward analysis. Just ok then.

Consumption (USA 2016: Dir Brandon Scullion) On the director’s commentary for this film, Brandon Scullion, who wrote, directed, edited and contributed some of the music to the movie, seems to graciously accept that the company who owns the film wanted to change its title from original Live-In Fear to Consumption (it’s a 2014 film which has presumably been retitled for the home viewing market). But he gets his own way in the credits by listing both titles, which leads me to believe that his debut feature was a labour of love, and something he took very seriously.

And Consumption does come over as a film that desperately wants to escape the limitations of budget and cast – it’s a shame then that’s it’s a horrible mess, combining possession, murder, and ghost story narratives with little overall impact into one soggy, overwrought stew.

Four friends (two couples) gather in a snow bound cabin in the Utah mountains. Each has, shall we say, some baggage. Seth, one of the four, certainly does have baggage. It contains the chopped up remains of his mother, which he buries out in the forest. Unfortunately he’s taunted by visions of mum (played by genre stalwart Maria Olsen, who also co-produced the movie), very much in one piece. On the ride to the cabin, Seth tells the others about the local legend of a bloody bride, and it’s not long before all the cabin occupants are affected by an unseen force which exploits their hidden fears and neuroses. And don’t get me started on the cabin neighbours, a group of backwoods weirdos who may be part of a strange coven.

There is a nice sense of claustrophobia as the two couples begin to unravel, but the central core of the film is unrealised and ultimately there are just too many loose threads to make it a satisfying watch. Scullion is clearly in thrall to both The Evil Dead and Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, but the movie doesn’t come anywhere near either of those films. Consumption aka Live-in Fear (and they’re both terrible titles, by the way) has to take some kind of prize for having the worst audio I’ve heard for quite some time. Sounds levels rise and fall, dialogue is muffled, and the almost musique concrete soundtrack, composed by Scullion and Melinda Ecchevaria, is both overbearing and inappropriate.

Jonah Lives (USA 2015: Dir Luis Carvalho) Four bickering kids mess about with a ouija board in the basement of a house for something to do and unwittingly summon the spirit of Jonah, who was poisoned by his wife for money. We know this because Jonah tells us via the board, before speaking through the voice of one of the kids, Lydia, and rising from the local cemetery. We know the rotted shape that emerges from the tomb is Jonah because the camera shows us the name on the grave a number of times. Via an earlier sequence, we have already found out that the kids carrying out the séance become possessed, although this plot development goes nowehere. Luckily god fearing Tony, the fifth member of the group and Lydia’s non pre martial sex observing boyfriend, refuses to participate and witnesses the whole thing (“Devil voices came out of you guys,” he observes).   

Secretly pregnant Yvonne - who is sports jock and demon expert Francis’s girlfriend - prays for God to deliver them from evil. It was at this point that I started to check whether this was one of those movies funded by evangelical church groups, but it isn’t. It’s naturally terrible. Meanwhile above them an adult party is in full swing. Guests include Zora (played by genre regular Brinke Stevens, who was cast in just about every straight to video thriller in the 1990s) and her girlfriend, trans star Brina (formerly Brian), previously seen in 2012’s Transsexuals from Space. Zora is of course Jonah’s ex-wife, and she’s celebrating her release from him, which seems a bit late as he’s obviously been in the ground for a while, judging by the state of him. But uh oh? Guess who’s going to get an extra guest at the party? 

Jonah Lives is a truly awful film. ‘Actors’ who should never grace a film set again seem to develop their characters on screen in front of us. The script and camerawork are entirely in sympatico here – repetition is the name of the game, with shots and lines duplicated over and over again, presumably to achieve some kind of hypnotic effect. 

Peelers (USA 2016: Dir Sevé Schelenz) Here’s a smart, funny horror comedy that gets the balance between laughs and gross out pretty much spot on. Director Sevé Schelenz made the above average Skew back in 2011, and it’s good to see that his earlier film wasn’t a one off.

Ex cop Blue Jean is facing her last night at the Titty Ball lounge, a strip club that’s being taken over by a big bucks businessman. Blue Jean and her assembly of sassy strippers are going to put on one last show for a loyal audience, joined by a group of local coal miners who have something to celebrate – they struck oil while hacking away at the coalface and figure they’re going to get rich pretty quick. Actually they’re going to get dead, as the oil is in fact a toxic substance which turns those in contact with it into, you guessed it, slavering infected creatures. And one of the miners is already in the throes of conversion.

From here on in Peelers is a fight for survival as the audience gradually becomes infected and the strippers and staff have to fight for their life.There’s nothing new on the menu here, but the cast works really well together. Blue Jean, played by Wren Walker, is a feisty so and so (but with a heart of gold) and makes a great lead. The strippers are all well drawn characters and a very game bunch of actresses (Baby, who wears a nappy, has a rather, er, refreshing end to her routine) and they do a good job at keeping a rather slim set up lively. The gore is, like a number of films these days, a mix of old school prosthetics and CGI but sadly much of the film is very dark – budget restrictions, I’m assuming – which means the effects can’t always be appreciated.

But I liked this movie – it’s a Friday night beer and popcorn feature, no less, no more, but it had me laughing out loud on several occasions, and its 80 odd minutes zip along pretty well. Oh and make sure you carry on watching after the end credits, to catch Blue Jean doing her own dance and find out just how she managed to win a police motorcycle in a bet.

The Id (USA 2015: Dir Thommy Hutson) A claustrophobic and rather disturbing two hander which slightly resembles Edgar Allan Poe’s short story ‘The Tell Tale Heart,’ The Id is a gripping chamber piece. 

Put upon, eccentric Meredith Lane has made nothing of her life, remaining at home to look after her father, a foul mouthed, misanthropic couch potato whose hatred of everything and love of the bottle drove his wife away years ago. As we meet the two of them they’re involved in an ongoing battle of wills, with the father insisting on Meredith doing everything for him and castigating her while she’s doing it. It’s clear this can’t go on indefinitely. Meredith’s only potential for release comes when she receives a call from a high school sweetheart, Ted, who’s in town and wants to catch up. Can she escape her father and form a new life with a man from her past?

Of course not. The Id is an agonising film. Patrick Peduto, playing the father, is such a bundle of anger and vileness that you find your fists bunching watching his performance. But it’s not easy to side with Meredith (hysterically and convincingly played by Amanda Wyss) because she’s also pretty unlikeable and almost certainly not quite the ticket (she spends the second half of the movie in a puffball dress left over from high school, waiting for Ted to arrive).

I’m sure I don’t need to mention that Meredith’s growing psychosis means that this doesn’t end well. It’s a massively unpleasant hour and a half of your life, brilliantly played, and with a coiled spring of narrative tension that threatens to burst at any moment. The Id won’t be for everyone – it’s bleak and unsparing – but there’s no doubt that it’s a twisted, first rate drama, bookended by credits and slightly saccharine score (about the only music in the film) that lull you into thinking that perhaps you’re going to be watching an issue-of-the-week movie. Well you’re not.

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