Thursday 21 March 2024

Horror Film Review: You'll Never Find Me (2023) ★★★★☆ - A Shudder Original

On a dark, stormy night, loner Patrick sits at the table in his trailer, contemplating the end. The rain is beating on his trailer’s rickety roof and windows when there is an insistent banging at his door. Against his better judgement, he lets the visitor in and deeply uncomfortable viewing ensues. The visitor finds it increasingly difficult to leave and for his part, Patrick finds it increasingly difficult to tell fiction from reality.

He is not the only one

In their feature-length directorial debut, Australian filmmakers Josiah Allen and Indianna Bell deliver a tense, claustrophobic horror that will keep the audience guessing to the very end. You'll Never Find Me dives deep into gender dynamics and the quagmire of unchartered territory between the generations. Is Patrick as lonely, paranoid and cynical as he seems, or is the visitor the strange one?

Brendan Rock is Patrick in You'll Never Find Me (2023)

Personally, it left me feeling a bit dull as I battled to work out who exactly the antagonist was in that trailer on that very strange, stormy night. Lost for words as the credits rolled, I’d very helpfully scribbled down, ‘I’m left with the distinct impression that I no longer have a grasp of what is real and what is not’. It was only in the quiet hours that followed that I was able to unpick and piece back together the clues and circular timeline, to arrive at some level of enlightenment.

You'll Never Find Me is a very clever film

Brendan Rock (Carnifex) is excellent as the deeply troubled Patrick. The victim of self-imposed exile in a trailer park in a very remote location, Patrick is paying the price for the mistake that lost him his job. The only problem is that he quite liked making that mistake.

Jordan Cowan (Krystal Klairvoyant) shines as the young visitor. Perfectly embodying the deep distrust anyone under 25 has for those born in the last century, she sails her way through the night with the carefully curated blank facial expressions that are the hallmark of her generation. She is giving away nothing, least of all clues as to what she might be up to.

Jordan Cowan is The Visitor in You'll Never Find Me (2023)

The rain itself is a character in You'll Never Find Me. Brief flashbacks of a girl knocking on a car window provide a welcome chance for the viewer to catch their breath before being plunged back into the stagnant air of the trailer once again. It is a different thing altogether inside that trailer, where the rain becomes primary prisoner and tormentor, sentencing Patrick and the visitor to a very awkward and confusing situation.

For so much of You'll Never Find Me, I thought this was going to be a film of more suffocation and discomfort than scares but wait, the horror does come. In those final moments where the plot unpacks itself, you realise that the worst nightmare imaginable is playing out, one that repeatedly wakes me up at night. This film is not going to help that. At all.

I give You'll Never Find Me an excellent four out of five stars. Recommended for fans of claustrophobic horror and Australian frankness. I'll be interested to see what Josiah Allen and Indianna Bell deliver next because this did not feel like a debut feature.

A Shudder Original, You'll Never Find Me premieres on Friday 22 March 2024.

You'll Never Find Me (2023) Trailer. Directed by Josiah Allen and Indianna Bell

Saturday 2 March 2024

Horror Film Review: Doctor Jekyll (2023) ★★★☆☆ (Hammer Films)

Oh, let our dark hearts rejoice! Hammer Films has risen from the dead, resurrected in an acquisition by British theatre producer John Gore. The first film on the revived Hammer slab is Joe Stephenson’s Doctor Jekyll, starring Eddie Izzard, Scott Chambers and Lindsay Duncan. A creepy mansion, an unpredictable scientist; will this modern retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde deliver?

Doctor Jekyll (2023) banner

Rob (Scott Chambers, Malevolent) is fresh out of prison. Downtrodden and defeated, he needs to get a job before he can visit his sick daughter in hospital. In a suspicious stroke of luck, he secures an interview for a carer position for the reclusive Doctor Nina Jekyll (Eddie Izzard). Incredibly, he gets the position but seems immediately to be on a collision course with Jekyll’s assistant, Sandra (Lindsay Duncan). It doesn’t take long for Rob to work out that something sinister lurks in the shadowed halls of Jekyll’s mansion but he might be looking in the wrong places for the source of the danger.

From the opening credits, Doctor Jekyll harks back to the glory days of Hammer Films. A sense of unease permeates every scene, heightened by Rob’s naivety and inexperience. While scary in parts, Doctor Jekyll is not about jump scares so much as that Kafkaesque feeling of doom. What would you do if your own morals got in the way of your success?

Always stay two steps ahead

Rob walks through the gates to the mansion in Doctor Jekyll (2023)

Cinematographer Birgit Dierken makes excellent use of light and shadows, bright colours and silhouettes in the film. Much of the film takes place in Jekyll’s mansion with its Escher artworks and locked doors. One scene that stood out for me was right at the beginning when Rob walks through the gates of the mansion. He is captured from above with the long shadows of the iron gates trailing him. It is deeply foreshadowing; which will catch Rob first, his past or what lies beyond those gates?

Scott Chambers gives an excellent performance as Rob (full name Robert Louis Stevenson, of course). He is believable as a young man who finds himself adrift and quite lost, trying to become a different person to the one that landed him in prison. Eddie Izzard gives a likewise excellent performance as Nina Jekyll, with a compelling and powerful presence onscreen.

Eddie Izzard is Nina Jekyll in Doctor Jekyll (2023)

I was thoroughly enjoying Doctor Jekyll right up until the final act. I can think of far more satisfying endings or reveals for a film that proved itself willing to change the source material. Nevertheless, it’s down to personal taste and I can imagine will leave audiences divided.

Scott Chambers is Rob in Doctor Jekyll (2023)
I give Doctor Jekyll a good three out of five stars. Director Justin Kurzel has delivered a creepy film, deserving of the Hammer Horror banner, but the plot somehow prevents this film from being elevated to four stars. I didn’t love the ending but I liked it enough to seek out further works from Scott Chambers and Joe Stephenson.

Doctor Jekyll will be available on Digital Download from 11th March

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Trailer: Doctor Jekyll (2023), dir: Joe Stephenson


Saturday 24 February 2024

Horror Film Review: Silence of the Prey (2024) ★★★☆☆ (Golden State Film Festival 2024)

Folk horror Silence of the Prey opens the 8th edition of the Golden State Film Festival at the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood tonight. Karyna Kudzina stars and makes her directorial debut, alongside Michael Vaynberg, in a film highlighting the plight of undocumented migrants who, lacking the protections of everyday people, often fall through the net.

Karyna Kudzina is Nina and Chris LaPanta is Luther in Silence of the Prey (2023)

Nina (Karyna Kudzina) has escaped her native Belarus and arrived, undocumented, in the United States. Desperate to provide a stable environment for her daughter Isabella, Nina accepts a position as a live-in caretaker for a man on an isolated rural homestead. She is warned that he is eccentric but nothing quite prepares her for Luther (Chris LaPanta) or his community who forego modern conveniences and hunt their own food.

When Colombian national Andres (Monte Bezell) arrives at the homestead after his car breaks down, Nina finds a kindred spirit, one to share the horrors of the locals’ geographical and political ignorance and their increasingly intrusive questions.

“If I have to choose between being homeless on the street with a four-year-old and eventually being deported, or staying with a strange old man, I will choose the last. Unless you have any other suggestions”

As Nina begins to experience disturbing visions and hallucinations, she realises that all is not as it seems with Luther and his community. What is the terrifying secret that Luther is hiding and what lies beyond his friends’ ignorance and prejudice?

Karyna Kudzina is Nina and Chris LaPanta is Luther in Silence of the Prey (2023)

Silence of the Prey highlights the exploitation and vulnerability of those who do not have a voice, the people who arrive silently in other countries and lack the protections of documented arrivals. Anything can happen and as Nina observes, nobody even knows she is there.

Like many folk horror films, Silence of the Prey is a slowburner with little action taking place in the first hour. The isolation of Luther’s homestead and antiquated views of the community provide ample foreshadowing of what is to come.

Silence of the Prey is a family affair. Karyna Kudzina is married to Monte Bezell and their daughter Isabella stars as Isabella in the film. It is no surprise then that there is chemistry and a sense of cohesion between the characters that is obvious on screen. Chris LaPanta shines as the maddening and abstruse Luther, who seems to be on Nina’s side in one moment and not in the next.

My only complaint about Silence of the Prey would be that the storytelling is a bit linear and somewhat lacking in nuance. In their effort to highlight the plight of the undocumented, writers Kudzina and Saro Varjabedian have fallen into the trap of telling rather than showing and the key conflict is delivered with little subtlety.

Karyna Kudzina as Nina in Silence of the Prey (2023)
Despite that, I give Silence of the Prey a good three out of four stars and recommend to fans of independent film and folk horror. I'm interested to see what Karyna Kudzina does next and hope that it includes more collaborations with Monte Bezell.

Trailer:Silence of the Prey (2024). Directed by Michael Vaynberg and Karyna Kudzina

Now in its 8th year, the Golden State Film Festival is an opportunity for emerging independent filmmakers to showcase their talents, gain exposure to a wider audience, and compete for prizes. Filmmakers from across the United States and around the world are eligible to participate, and short-form as well as feature-length works are considered for entry.


Friday 16 February 2024

Horror Film Review: The Seeding (2023) ★★★★☆ (Independent Film)

Do you ever get the feeling you’re going to like a film, right from the first minute? In the opening scene of Barnaby Clay’s The Seeding, a long-haired toddler walks onto screen, gnawing what turns out to be a dismembered man’s finger. Settle down, get comfortable, because The Seeding  is a wild yet deeply uncomfortable ride.

A man looks up above him. In the background is a shack and a sheet of rock

Amateur photographer Wyndham Stone (Scott Haze, Venom) is on location in the desert to capture a solar eclipse. As the day winds down, he knows he needs to leave the desert and get back to civilisation. Fate intervenes when a boy appears, claiming to have lost his family. Against his better judgement, Wyndham follows and then loses the boy.

As night falls, he spies a woman walking into a cabin at the bottom of a canyon. He climbs down into the canyon to speak to the woman, who convinces him to share a meal and rest for the night. His nightmare begins the next morning when he realises he has no way of leaving the canyon.

A woman weeps, agony on her face

There is a significant amount of misdirection in The Seeding and it’s likely that everything the viewer believes will turn out to be a lie. Is Wyndham a typical bro who deserves everything that’s coming to him? Is the woman, Alina (Kate Lyn Sheil, V/H/S) a victim who needs saving? Can Wyndham fix the manic gang of sadistic boys that watch their every move? What is actually happening here?

What do they want?

The effect is claustrophobic and quite agonising as the viewer cringes for Wyndham’s every experience. The Seeding is not scary as such, but embodies every person’s definition of horror and powerlessness.

Feral boys look down from the top of a cliff in The Seeding (2023)

Shot on location in Kanab, Utah, The Seeding features some stunning cinematography. The viewer is treated to starry vistas at night, the silhouette of the photographer as he captures the eclipse, and unsettling views of the arid desert.

Down in the canyon, the curtain of rock surrounding the tiny cabin is omnipresent and unsettling. Meanwhile, seen through Wyndham’s photographic eye, the cabin and canyon are full of trinkets and broken paraphernalia, artefacts of past lives and broken dreams.

The cast of The Seeding is tiny. Scott Haze and Kate Lyn Sheil give excellent performances as Wyndham and Alina and special mention must go to the cast of feral boys. Like Wyndham, the viewer never really gets to see them directly yet their menace is abundantly clear.

A man hangs from a rope in front of a sheet of rock
I give The Seeding an excellent four out of five stars and recommend to fans of independent, claustrophobic and folk horror. Director Barnaby Clay joins the rank of great horror directors such as Ryan Kruger who have made the move from directing music videos to delivering atmospheric, visually appealing horror.

The Seeding is available to own or rent in the UK & Ireland from 12th February via Amazon, AppleTV, Google, Sky Store and Virgin Media Store.

The Seeding (2023) Trailer. Directed by Barnaby Clay


Friday 4 August 2023

Horror Film Review: The Inhabitant (2022) ★★★★★

On August 4th, 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were found dead in their home, brutally slaughtered with an axe. The main suspect was Lizzie Borden, Andrew's own daughter. One hundred and thirty one years later, I decided to watch The Inhabitant on exactly the same day.

They say that violence runs through the Borden family bloodline and that descendants of the Borden family continue to live in Fall River, Massachusetts, unaware of their dark lineage. Tara (Odessa A'zion, Hellraiser) is one such descendant. The teen field hockey player begins to experience disturbing nightmares and visions, convincing her that she is going to kill her family.

When people start disappearing in Fall River, including both Tara's main field hockey rival and a woman Tara babysits for, local police begin to zone in on one suspect.

Can Tara escape the Borden family curse?

With themes of mental illness, family legacy, and inescapable fate, The Inhabitant is the story of Tara's journey to the edge of darkness.

Directed by Jerren Lauder (Stay Out of the F**king Attic and written by Kevin Bacher (Jaws: The Inside Story), The Inhabitant is an unexpected teen scream triumph.

Odessa A'zion is mesmerising in her role as Tara. She commands her every scene and I liked that the viewer only gets to know as much as Tara knows. Dermot Mulroney and Leslie Bibb star as Tara's parents Ben and Emily and Lizze Broadway is Tara's best friend Suzy. Together they lead us down the garden path, deceiving the viewer as each in turn gaslights, manipulates and lies to the others.

It's not often that a horror film manages to mislead me to such an extent but The Inhabitant absolutely did and I was thrilled to get to the end and realise I'd been completely and effectively conned.

The Inhabitant is visually lush with great production design by Meg Cabell, cinematography by Brian Sowell and custome design by Summer Moore. There is a great use of light and shadow, giving the impression that scenes occur both in 1892 and present day simultaneously.

There is no time, only darkness, evil and mental decline

There is a feeling of disquiet as the film progresses and the viewer struggles to pinpoint what type of horror this is. Supernatural, psychological, slasher? This serves to make the film genuinely scary as you're never sure what to expect.

I give The Inhabitant an excellent five out of five stars. Highly recommended if you like unpredictable, and misleading independent horror. I enjoyed Jerren Lauder's direction / misdirection and very much enjoyed the ending.

The Inhabitant is coming to digital download from 14th August and can be pre-ordered on Apple Store here.

The Inhabitant (2022), dir. Jerren Lauder


Thursday 13 July 2023

Horror Film Review: Quicksand (2023) ★★☆☆☆–A Shudder Original

After 125 years of horror films, you'd think people would know the basics: never, ever ignore local knowledge of dangerous places and never follow someone else into certain death, no matter how much you love them. Andres Beltran's Quicksand had me shaking my head from the very beginning, first because of the arrogance of our unlikeable protagonists and then because it defied logic.

Poster for Andres Beltran's Quicksand showing Carolina Gaitán surrounded by a boa constrictor

Sofia (Carolina Gaitán, Encanto) and Josh (Allan Hawco, The Breach) travel to Colombia to attend a conference. They are in the throes of a divorce yet decide to take a hike together to find the La Chorrera waterfall. When a storm moves in and they try to return to their car, they have a violent encounter with an armed man. On the run and desperate, they escape into Las Arenas, the very part of the forest that locals are too afraid to go into.

They might have escaped their pursuer but the couple land up in quicksand and need to use every survival skill they have to save themselves.

Fear will drag you deeper

I'm always conscious that there are human beings behind every project and horror, especially, needs our indulgence and willing suspension of disbelief, but Quicksand was not my cup of tea. I’m also conscious that there is a subset of horror fans who watch films because they get bad reviews and also horror fans who read reviews because they want to vent about a film.With that said..

Spoiler alert: I need to talk about this film and I'm going to dive straight into some key plot points and outcomes below. Turn away now if you haven't watched Quicksand.

If you've ever sat at a table while a couple bickered and aired their dirty laundry in public, then you'll be familiar with the primary dynamic of Quicksand. Sofia and Josh argue in every scene but the audience is never given insight into who they are as people or what caused the breakdown of their relationship. I enjoyed Allan Hawco in The Breach but neither Hawco nor Gaitán had much to work with here.

Sofia (Carolina Gaitán) and Josh (Allan Hawco) crouch on the forest floor in Andres Beltran's Quicksand

This was partly due to the bare bones of a plot. In short: married couple are getting a divorce, they inexplicably go for a hike in the woods. They encounter a violent attacker, escape into the one place they've been warned against, and the wife lands in quicksand. The husband decides to jump in after her and then they are both doomed. They very conveniently find a dead man in the hole and are able to raid his entire MacGyver kit. Pity he didn't think of that.

They are initially unable to move their arms above the very heavy mud but luckily, Josh is able to reach into his pants and retrieve a bottle of vodka when Sofia gets attacked by fire ants.

She is likewise very fortunate to be able to conduct neck surgery on Josh to remove a blood clot after he is bitten by a snake. Thank goodness for that MacGyver knife.

In a feat of astonishing agility against the very heavy mud, Sofia is then able to use her upper body strength to lob a lasso (made of a 15kg dead boa constrictor and other bits and pieces) over a rock and pull herself out of the pit. For some reason, none of the very heavy mud is actually on her and she just looks wet.

Miraculously, Josh also survives because he had 6 hours to live after the snake bite and he only had to wait 5 hours and 59 minutes for the antidote.

I wish that I could say more about the cinematography and camera work, but I found it to be quite dull and uninspired despite the forest setting. A lot of the angles and shots were weird and disorienting too, although I could see what they were trying to achieve.

Carolina Gaitán struggles against a boa constrictor while submerged in quicksand
Overall, I'd recommend Andres Beltran's Quicksand be viewed on a night in when you're looking for a good drinking game. Have a shot every time something improbable or impossible happens on screen. It says a lot for a horror fan to choose to believe the paranormal and supernatural over a simple forest survival plot but there you have it. I give it a disappointing two out of five stars; as stupid as they were, the parts where Sofia fell in the quicksand and Josh went jumping in after her were actually quite thrilling. .

A Shudder Original, Quicksand premieres on Friday 14 July 2023. Streaming Exclusively on Shudder and AMC+

Quicksand (2022) Trailer. Directed by Andres Beltran

Monday 3 July 2023

Horror Film Review: The Breach (2022) ★★★★☆

I was hooked from the very first scene of the trailer for Rodrigo Gudiño's Rue Morgue horror, The Breach. A body has been discovered in the tiny Ontario town of Lone Crow and when Chief of Police John Hawkins (Allan Hawco, Republic of Doyle) asks whether it is a local, Deputy Connie Parks replies uneasily, 'I don't know how you would tell'.

Something horrible has happened on the banks of the Porcupine River and, with one week left in town before he moves to the big city, Hawkins needs to get to the bottom of it quickly. He enlists the help of coroner Jacob Redgrave (Wesley French) and local tour guide Meg Fullbright (Emily Alatalo) and together they travel up-river to the last known address of their possible victim, Dr Porter.

The Breach (2022) Landscape Poster

What they find is a house derelict beyond belief; Meg assures the men that it was not in this condition when she first dropped the doctor off mere months earlier.

To compound their issues, it is clear from the outset that John, Meg and Jake have some serious baggage between them and it isn't always certain that they'll be able to sidestep that history and act like professionals. The casting was fantastic in this respect, with all three actors delivering an onscreen friction worthy of a soap opera.

Derelict-looking house, a victim with impossible wounds, drama between the main characters? What could possibly go wrong?

As it happens - a lot, maybe too much. But we'll get to that later.

Filmed on location in Parry Sound, Ontario, The Breach features some stunning cinematography from Eric Oh (Sorry About the Demon). Most of the film takes place in the derelict home of Dr Porter, with some truly artistic composition. I'm always wary of excessively dark scenes in horror films but there was a great use of shadow, silhouette and flashlight to guide the viewer through the scenes.

I should probably admit here that I clearly don't know how to watch trailers properly anymore because I thought this was going to be a dark mystery-thriller, more along the lines of a police procedural than a horror film. I was wrong. The Breach is a stomach-churning body horror that had me gagging in disgust in some scenes, peeking from between my fingers in others, and desperately wishing I could un-see that fingernail scene.

Undead Ghoul in the Breach (2022)

The music in The Breach was fantastic. One of the reasons I watched this film was due to the involvement of Guns N’ Roses lead guitarist, Slash. He was executive producer and wrote and performed the foreboding opening theme in collaboration with Aybars Altay. It is James Zirco Fisher’s excellent score that sets the disquieting tone for the rest of the film, featuring tracks from his 2004 album Nightmare Picture Theatre, and the film ends off with She Past Away’s dark-wave anthem “Soluk”.

I’m on the fence as to whether the plot delivers. The Breach is based on Nick Cutter’s Audible original of the same name, featuring much of Cutter’s penchant for gore and cosmic horror. The problem is that it was a primordial soup of plotlines – was it in the sci-fi, zombie or body snatcher genre? Who knows? One of these threads seems to prevail in the end but sadly it's the most vague and underdeveloped part of the plot. It's frustrating because if that’s the outcome, I would have wanted to know more about it.

Emily Alatalo is Meg Fullbright in the Breach (2022)
I give The Breach a solid 3.5 stars, rounded up to four out of five stars thanks to the excellent music and the conflict between the main trio. Recommended for fans of The Void, The Fly and The Mist. Rodrigo Gudiño delivers a different type of horror to that which I normally enjoy but I'm intrigued enough to check out more of his work.

The Breach is distributed by Lightbulb Film Distribution and will be available on Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin Media, AppleTV and Google Play on 10 July 2023. 

The Breach (2022) Trailer. Directed by Rodrigo Gudiño
© 2005 - Mandy Southgate | Addicted to Media

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