Monday, 19 October 2015

Estranged Review – The Re-Visit

There are a lot of similarities to be made between Estranged and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit. Both feature visits to unknown (or forgotten, in the case of Estranged) relatives and both trips reveal a host of dark family truths. I wasn’t convinced by The Visit, but, with Estranged, Adam Levins (director) does a far better job with a similar premise.

The movie opens with January (Amy Manson) and her boyfriend, Callum (Simon Quarterman), tearing down exotic roads on a moped. But, an ominous shot of a bullet-riddled sign suggests things aren’t quite as idyllic as they seem, and the couple are soon sent flying in a bone-crunching collision. January is left wheelchair-bound and suffering from amnesia. Callum has no choice but to travel back to the UK with her to stay at her grand family home . . . that she ran away from six years ago. The only problem is she can’t remember why. All they know is that it was something so upsetting that she could never bring herself to tell her boyfriend. And so they’re left to re-meet her family.

At first glance, everything seems normal; a woodcutting father, a baking mother and two adult siblings, but a series of off-putting bird’s-eye view shots and equally creepy slow track-ins suggest that all is not quite right. Of course.


While it may lack the visual finesse of Shyamalam’s picture, Levins and his cinematographer, Gary Shaw, demonstrate their own brand of visual panache. They craft a number of really striking shots – the poster image of the eye under the door, being a prime example – and make full use of their location. A spinning camera emphasises the spiralled staircases to dizzying effect and a wheelchair-led dolly shot makes for one of the movie’s most striking sequences.

January’s recovery is also inventively realised. As she begins to walk again, we view her attempts not from her point of view, but stranded high above, looking down a great staircase at her shuffling below. It’s a really interesting directorial choice that heightens the growing unease.

Admittedly, it’s the subtle moments of foreboding that are most effective, but Levins isn’t afraid to dabble with a far blunter delivery. Most of these moments are saved for the final act and centre around the family’s incestuous tendencies. It’s pretty grim stuff, but I’d be wrong to say it didn’t affect me. There’s also a gloriously wince-inducing eye-related injury, that’s really well set-up earlier on in the film.

Like The Visit, there’s the overriding feeling that January and her boyfriend should just get the hell out of there. I mean don’t we all know that a nervy butler (the effective Craig Conway) is always a bad sign? That being said, the wheelchair addition does alleviate the issue somewhat, as well as adding another layer of tension. More problematic is January’s reaction, or lack thereof, to her boyfriend’s ‘disappearance’ towards the end of the first act. It seems to merit something greater than the ‘oh well’ we’re given.

The film also suffers from a slightly fluffed staggered set of reveals. Conceptually, they’re really rather successful, but in execution they come across as somewhat muddled. I got to the point that I was unsure about what I was supposed to know and what had yet to be unveiled, but in a confusing way rather than a mysterious one.

Ultimately, I think it’s the avoidance of any supernatural element that pushes Estranged a peg or two above The Visit. By grounding the mystery in the real world, Levins and his writers, William Borthwick and Simon Fantauzzo, service their strong concept well. Add in the creepy camerawork and we’re left with an effective little chiller, with a hint of grisly class satire thrown in for good measure.

★★★

Estranged is out now on DVD/VOD via FrightFest Presents.

Screener and images provided by Fetch Publicity. Thank you!

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Aaaaaaaah! Review – Gorilla Filmmaking

Aaaaaaaah! isn’t one of those potentially crowd-pleasing cult movies that just needs to reach a wider audience. Instead, it’s one of those totally wacko cult movies and I, for one, just couldn’t cope . . .


Part of me thinks there’s nothing really worth explaining, but I’ll give it my best shot. In Aaaaaaaah!, all of the actors are playing human apes. So, they look like humans and live in human houses, but they act and sound like monkeys. The closest the film gets to recognisable speech is a couple of ‘yes’-like grunts that sound kind of like a disgruntled Frenchman’s ‘oui’.

And, talking of ‘oui’, there’s a whole host of bodily fluids on display here, spewing every which way but loose. Steve Oram (writer-director and star, whom you may recognise from Ben Wheatley’s caravan massacre movie, Sightseers) captures these creatures’ depraved lifestyles in scatological detail.

Now, he may well argue that this is all a gross satire for 21st century life. But that just doesn’t sell when everything is smeared with excrement, and the whole thing starts to get really tiring, even at a slim 79 minutes.

But props to the actors for giving it there all, even when they’re caked in their own vomit. There are a couple of familiar faces in here, but most of the cast were new to me. Which only goes to heighten the distinctly British strain of Lynchian weirdness. I mean, you know it’s really out-there when Noel Fielding is the least strange thing about it.

There’s nothing sane about Aaaaaaaah! and while that may sound appealing at first, don’t get too far ahead of yourselves.

★★

Aaaaaaaah! is out now on DVD/VOD via FrightFest Presents.

Screener and images provided by Fetch Publicity. Thank you!

Night of the Living Deb Review – Great Fun!

The rom-zom-com (yeah, you guessed it; romantic zombie comedy) is becoming an increasingly fruitful subgenre, with Kyle Rankin’s (director) Maine-set entry the latest in a line that includes such films as Warm Bodies and the classic Shaun of the Dead.

Klutzy Deb’s (Maria Thayer) ‘raging lady boner’ – a line delivered exquisitely by Deb’s Christmas jumper wearing best friend, Ruby, played by the fabulous Julie Brister – for dreamy Ryan (Michael Cassidy) leads to a blurry 3rd of July one-night stand. Flash to Independence Day morning and zombies have overrun the whole town. With just each other for company, the unlikely pair have to team up to go check on Ryan’s family.


It’s a testament to Andy Selsor’s writing and the performances of the two leads that I would have happily watched Deb and Ryan awkwardly process the events of the night before in a straight up quirky rom-com. But, I guess the zombies are a bonus!

It’s this first half hour spent pretty much exclusively in their company that arguably works the best. Their double act is wittily written and sparkily performed. Think a slightly toned-down Kimmy Schmidt (complete with red hair and jelly shoes) trying to make it work with Kevin Smith-era Ben Affleck. I know that sounds bizarre . . . and it is. But, it just works!

As a result, the film does slip up somewhat when we reach Ryan’s family home and our attention is spread across a larger set of characters. However, Rankin and Selsor know they’ve struck gold with their leads and the big finale sets the focus firmly back on Deb and Ryan.

Rankin also deserves credit for turning me onto some new music. Spencer Albee, Happy Fangs and Colin Rankin (the director’s brother?) were all unknown to me going in, but their accompaniment brings the film to life over the opening credits and sends the film out with a deserving crescendo at the finale.

Night of the Living Deb is a blast! The jokes are sharp, the music’s joyous and the two leads are just perfect. It turns out there’s still life in the zombie genre after all.

★★★★

Night of the Living Deb is out now on UK VOD services via FrightFest Presents.

Screener and images provided by Fetch Publicity. Thank you!

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Some Kind of Hate Review – Metal!

Some Kind of Hate introduces us to Moira, the most inventive horror movie killer in recent memory.

Bullied to the point of suicide, Moira returns from the dead when called upon to wreak vengeance on the world’s bullies. The caller in question is Lincoln (the striking Ronen Rubenstein), a quiet metalhead who’s sent to a seemingly Illuminati-esque rehabilitation ‘school’ when he plunges a fork into his high school bully’s cheek. However, the sinister establishment turns out to be the least of Lincoln’s worries, as he’s soon preyed upon by another set of teen tormentors. And, with the call of ‘I wish they were all dead’, Moira starts sharpening the razor blades.


Her voodoo doll-tinged modus operandi sees any harm she inflicts upon herself replicated on her victims. Think Dolores Umbridge’s Black Quill in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix . . . only a million times worse. It’s an inspired concept and makes for some blood-curdling moments.

Brian DeLeeuw (writer) and Adam Egypt Mortimer’s (writer & director) choice to place Moira as a slasher villain with a killer supernatural twist works wonders and delivers some truly chilling moments. And these aren’t all gore-related. Our first real glimpse of Moira is via a brilliantly edited jump scare, and the chills develop from there. Her earliest appearances had me gnawing at my fingernails, as she greets Lincoln and begins stalking her first victims.

Be warned, though, this is tough stuff. Victims are left slashed to pieces and, in keeping with the film’s killer, Mortimer’s (director) camera doesn’t relent. Throats are cut, wrists are slashed and some of the character’s enjoy it all a little too much. As Lincoln comes to terms with the carnage he’s orchestrated, he banishes Moira . . . only for her to find a home with one of the other characters. This moment works as a really effective passing along of power and it functions as a strong piece of character development, in addition to being a smart deconstruction of the ‘bad girl; bad influence’ concept.

Benji Bakshi does great work with the cinematography and the juxtaposition of the sun-bleached desert scorch and dingy corridors lit by piercing torchlight makes for a striking contrast. Attention should also be drawn to the excellent costuming for Moira. Her razor blade necklace was an inspired addition. And the metal filmmaking doesn’t end there. Josh Ethier’s editing is visceral and instinctual, and cuts together brilliantly with Robert Allaire’s rock-heavy score. You’ll be chest-thumping as the first strained power chords rumble into view.

At times, Some Kind of Hate seems fuelled by just that, hate. However, there’s an unexpected emotional range to the characters that the film, as a whole, echoes perfectly. Don’t be put off by the depravity; like all the best metal there’s a catharsis to the carnage and, leaving the movie, you’ll be pumped up. But, violent? No way.

★★★★★

Some Kind of Hate is out now on DVD/VOD via FrightFest Presents.

Screener and images provided by Fetch Publicity. Thank you!

AfterDeath Review – Sin City

Robyn (Miranda Raison) is woken by the swell rolling into a mysterious beach. Alone, she stumbles up the beach, flinching from the gurgles of an unseen beast. As she crests the ridge, she’s greeted with a vast muddy field. She checks her pulse; the results are inconclusive.

This brilliant POV sequence opens Robin Schmidt and Gez Medinger’s (directors) award-winning high concept debut feature AfterDeath. And that (quite literally) is just the beginning . . .


Further exploring reveals a distant lighthouse and a solitary house. The lights are on. It turns out Robyn’s not alone. Upon entering, she’s greeted by the sight of a bizarrely over-dressed ménage à trois between Patricia, Livvy and Seb (Elarica Gallacher, Lorna Nickson Brown and Sam Keeley, respectively) and a repeatedly self-harming Livvy (Daniella Kertesz).

Over the course of the next hour and a half, our group of characters have to work out where they are and why they’re going through this together. Secrets are kept, truths are revealed and thing’s get sinister. Fast.

Raison makes for a terrific lead. Her Robyn is intensely driven, but never entirely trustworthy and working out her part in all of this makes for some of the most exhilarating moments in the film. Her co-stars also deliver a set of great performances, and Andrew Ellard’s (writer) character writing suits them all perfectly. They sell the tricksy narrative twists and turns perfectly.

The fact that four of the five leads are women also ensures the film passes the famed Bechdel test, and then some. The female dominance adds a real kick to the drama, whilst also having thematic repercussions further down the line.

The film also excels on a technical level. As well as looking great (keep an eye out for the fantastic canted angles!), the sound design, CGI, lighting, set design and locations are all fantastic, and ably match up to the film’s grand ideas.

AfterDeath is vast, yet small-scale. It deals with the afterlife, religion, guilt, sin, memories and a whole host of other things, without straying too far from a single house. Quite the achievement, wouldn’t you agree?

★★★★

AfterDeath is out now on DVD/VOD via FrightFest Presents.

Screener and images provided by Fetch Publicity. Thank you!