Monday, 3 May 2021

Horror Film Review: Fried Barry (2020) ★★★★☆

Gary Green is Barry | Fried Barry | Horror Film Review

Cape Town nights are hectic. There is a unique witching hour where one-too-many shot glasses has tumbled and nothing makes sense anymore. A night like that turns into the morning after for Fried Barry (Gary Green) before he lands up spending the day shooting heroin at the home of a friend. That turns out to be the least of Barry's problems when he's abducted by an alien spaceship and very invasive things happen to him.

With a brand new driver in his drug-addled body, Barry embarks on a rollercoaster caper around Cape Town's bars, clubs, brothels and other assorted dumps. His long-suffering wife eventually picks him up and she's quite taken with the docile little alien in Barry's body before things take a decidedly trippy turn.

The debut feature film from Ryan Kruger, Fried Barry is one of the weirdest films I've ever seen and I'm a longtime fan of Bloodbath at the House of Death. It's quintessentially South African with loads of Afrikaans one-liners, the nuance of which the subtitles can't come close to capturing.

Gary Green is Barry | Fried Barry | Horror Film Review

Before breaking into feature films, Ryan Kruger was a well known music video producer in the South African music scene. That definitely came through in Fried Barry and it reminded me a little bit of Alex Proyas's The Crow. Proyas had also moved from music videos to feature films and both The Crow and Fried Barry have a lurid, lucid feel, a sense of putting action to music and letting the tunes play out.

Indeed, much of Fried Barry was improvised with Kruger only writing a 'handful of dialogue' and that adds to the fly-on-the-wall feeling of a hectic Cape Town jol gone wrong.

Gary Green is superb in this role. I genuinely can't believe that he has no formal acting training because he owned this role as the entirely alien Fried Barry. There were so many standout moments but I think my favourites were in the rave club and hospital; Green has the best facial expressions.

Gary Green is Barry | Fried Barry | Horror Film Review
I have to admit, despite being genetically biased towards South African films and horror, I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy Fried Barry but I enjoyed it a lot. I'm very excited to see what Ryan Kruger does next and I hope it involves Gary Green again. I give Fried Barry an excellent four out of five stars and recommend to fans of trippy, psychedelic, comedy horror.
★★★★☆

A Shudder Original Film, Fried Barry premieres on Friday 7th May 2021.

Fried Barry (2020) - dir Ryan Kruger - Trailer

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Horror Film Review: Threshold (2020) ★★★★☆

Threshold 2020 | Horror Film Review | Directed by Powell Robinson and Patrick R Young

I've been trying to work out which are my favourite types of horror and I've come to realise it's clever horror. Show me something unexpected, unique or surprising and I'm going to be happy. Threshold absolutely meets that standard. Shot entirely on two iPhones with a crew of three on a 12-day road trip, Threshold has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it reveal and manages to pack in a whack of character development into one short road trip. It's a very clever horror.

After years of searching, Leo (Joey Millen) had finally located his drug-addicted sister Virginia (Madison West) and he digs out his old college jalopy to go fetch her. Unsurprisingly, Virginia is not in a good state but she somehow convinces Leo that her condition has nothing to do with her addiction. As the evidence mounts that Virginia is under some kind of curse, she convinces Leo to embark on a cross-country road trip to free her once and for all.

At the beginning, Leo is the type of self-righteous jerk you can't wait to see meet his just deserts. It reminded me of directors Powell Robinson and Patrick R Young's debut horror Bastard, where nasty events couldn’t have happened to a more deserving group of people.

But Threshold is no linear slasher film. Both Leo and Virginia have been on a hell of a journey in the past three years, the significance of which is playing out in current events, and they are in for the fight of their lives.

Madison West is Virginia | Threshold 2020 Horror Film Review

I love what directors Powell Robinson, Patrick R Young and producer Lauren Bates achieved with this no-budget horror. The quality of the production and editing was brilliant, at no point belying the simplicity of the iPhone format, and was accompanied by a fantastic score by Nick Chuba. I would love to see that Threshold theme released on Spotify.

Threshold 2020 Horror Film Review
Ultimately, Threshold is a film about the lengths we'll go in order to protect a sibling and the ties that bind us together. It's also a cautionary tale about choosing carefully before you send wishes out into the world. Creepy, scary and quite revolting in the end, it's a brilliant new addition to the supernatural horror family. I was already a fan of Powell Robinson and Patrick R Young after Bastard but now I'm especially keen to see what they do next.
★★★★☆

Threshold premieres on Arrow on 3rd May 2021.

ARROW is available in the US, Canada and the UK on the following Apps/devices: Roku (all Roku sticks, boxes, devices, etc), Apple TV & iOS devices, Android TV and mobile devices, Fire TV (all Amazon Fire TV Sticks, boxes, etc), and on all web browsers at arrow-player.com.

Threshold (dir. Powell Robinson and Patrick R Young) - Trailer

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Saturday, 24 April 2021

Horror Film Review: The Oak Room (2021) ★★★★★

The Oak Room | Horror Film Review | Dir Cody Calahan

It's takes a lot to render me speechless but director Cody Calahan's The Oak Room is a very clever horror film that had my mind reeling for ages afterwards as I tried to piece the plot together in my mind. It's a story within a story within a story, reminiscent of Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, this time with an actual plot. The Oak Room starring Breaking Bad alumnus RJ Mitte is a slow-burn horror with an absolute killer of a reveal and I predict that it will be one of my favourite horror films of 2021.

A drifter walks into a bar moments before closing time. He's not exactly welcome and he owes the bar-owner a great debt. Keeper of secrets and confidant Paul (Peter Outerbridge, Saw VI) does what any good bar-owner would do and snitches on the drifter to some very nasty people. Far from phased, the Steve (RJ Mitte) offers to tell him a story which he promises will release him from his debt. Intrigued, Paul agrees to listen while he finishes off the closing up.

Peter Outerbridge is Paul | The Oak Room | Horror Film Review | Dir Cody Calahan

As Steve says, ‘a story is worth a thousand words’ and he begins to weave a tale about another bar, The Oak Room, and a very convoluted tale involving another drifter, another bar man and a case of mistaken identity.

Of course, that is all I can divulge because The Oak Room is a film that must not be spoiled.

Set in two bars in the depth of a Canadian snowstorm, The Oak Room is surprisingly bright with rich, lurid colours from the neon lights of the bar paraphernalia. The oversaturated colours and snowy conditions lend the film a claustrophobic feel and add to the creeping sense of impending doom as the film reaches it’s climax.

Ari Millen is Michael | The Oak Room | Horror Film Review | Dir Cody Calahan

That breathless, heart stuttering feeling is definitely helped along by Steph Copeland’s soundtrack of eerie strings, sinister bass and devastating lyrics. If you loved The Oak Room soundtrack, check out the Soundcloud widget below.

Anyone who ever watched Breaking Bad will know that RJ Mitte can act but he was excellent in this film. He has the most expressive eyes, perfect for the capricious Steve and his tale of woe. Likewise, Peter Outerbridge was great in his role as Paul, a man whose fortunes are certainly altered throughout the night. Ari Millen (Orphan Black) and Martin Roach round of a fine cast who keep the audience guessing right up to the end.

The colours, the music, the atmosphere and plot, I liked this film a lot.

RJ Mitte is Steven | The Oak Room | Horror Film Review | Dir Cody Calahan
The Oak Room is the kind of film where you're best going in with as little information as possible and proves yet again why we need to support independent film. I give The Oak Room an excellent five out of five stars. Cody Calahan (Let Her Out) has created a very clever yet subtle horror film and I look forward to discovering what he does next.
★★★★★

The Oak Room will be released on digital download from April 26 in the UK (Lightbulb Film Distribution), from April 27 in Canada (Black Fawn Distribution) and from April 28 (also Lightbulb Film Distribution) in Australia and New Zealand.

The Oak Room - Original Soundtrack by Steph Copeland

The Oak Room - Trailer

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Monday, 12 April 2021

Horror Film Review: The Banishing (2020) (A Shudder Original) ★★☆☆☆

There are some houses that should remain empty, whose histories are built on such pain and suffering that the only answer is to demolish them and cleanse the ground. When a priest, his wife and her daughter move into a house in a small village, their neighbours want them to leave. Have they stumbled upon the most haunted house in England? Directed by Christopher Smith (Triangle), The Banishing is a Shudder Original starring Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey) and Sean Harris (Mission: Impossible franchise).

The Banishing | Horror Film Review

The Banishing is a strange, disconcerting film. The tone is set very early in the film when Sean Harris and a woman dance onscreen for a full two minutes; it is unsettling, uncomfortably intimate and drawn out, a feeling that will pervade the rest of the film. We don't know Sean's character yet but we know to look out for him.

The discomfort continues as we come to meet the priest Linus (John Heffernan) and his wife Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay). Far from being an upstanding man and a role model, Linus is weirdly insecure and quite cruel.

The Banishing | Horror Film Review

Then again, so is his Bishop Malachi (John Lynch), what is it with this church?

Linus assures his step-daughter Adelaide that she is completely safe in the house and every fibre of my body fills with the desire to shout at the screen. No, no she's not Linus. You're cruel and strange and I'm starting to hope something bad will happen to you!

Jessica Brown Findlay (Brave New World) is a shining beacon in a very strange film. Stuck in a loveless marriage and misinterpreting her child's increasing demonic influence for normal estrangement, she is tumbling headlong into a fight of epic proportions.

And so she meets Harry Price, the dancer from the opening scenes and a local occultist. Price is obviously the only person who can tell Marianne about the house they're living in, the nature of the threat and how to beat it. It's a fairly paint-by-numbers approach to horror that has been done many times before.

Indeed, other than Adelaide's increasingly obvious possession, there is nothing essentially scary in The Banishing. It is not a horror film as much as a disconnected sequence of scary visions.

If the true danger was merely visions, what was the point? A lot of scared people and some interesting cinematography?

I was struggling to understand why I should care and what the significance was to the viewer when the film ended and those thoughts dissipated to make way for one enduring impression: what did I just watch and what the hell was that ending?

The Banishing | Horror Film Review
I usually hesitate to give poor reviews but I know there is an entire subclass of horror fans who love bad horror films, the worse the better. Fans of Christopher Smith and Triangle are also going to rush to see this film. With that in mind, I give The Banishing a grudging two out of five stars and recommend to fans of creepy British horror. If you had to choose, I'd recommend last week's Shudder exclusive The Power over this one.

★★☆☆☆

A Shudder Original, The Banishing will be released on Thursday, 15 April 2021.

The Banishing (2020) -Directed by Christopher Smith) - Trailer

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Saturday, 10 April 2021

Randi Pink's 'Angel of Greenwood' ★★☆☆☆

May 2021 marks one hundred years since the Tulsa Massacre when the thriving African American community of Greenwood, Tulsa, Oklahoma was attacked by a mob of armed white Tulsans, killing as many as 300 people and displacing 8,000 more. I first read about the events in Lynn Hudson's excellent West of Jim Crow: The Fight Against California's Color Line and followed that up with the superb middle grade picture book Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Floyd Cooper. Naturally I was very interested when I first heard about Randi Pink's Angel of Greenwood, a YA novel set during the terrible events of Tulsa in 1921.

Angel of Greenwood | Book Review

This book has received almost universal acclaim, so it feels daunting to be an outlier. I do think many people will love this novel and they should definitely read it but I'm going to explain why it didn't work for me.

Angel of Greenwood: Bringing to Life Greenwood in 1921

Greenwood in 1921 was a thriving community and the high street was known across the States as the "Black Wall Street". Randi Pink does an exceptional job of depicting the bright colours, bustling high street, vibrant fashions, diverse occupations, culture, and sense of community of Greenwood's residents.

Angel of Greenwood: Historical Novel or Romance?

While we get a taste for the cultural richness of Greenwood, Angel of Greenwood is not simply a novel about a certain point in time; it is a novel about a horrifying event in history. If we consider the purpose of an historical novel, to educate readers about historical events and times, Angel of Greenwood fails because we learn very little about the actual Tulsa massacre, except in the end notes of the book.

Instead Angel of Greenwood is, for 80% of the book, a romance novel but it wasn't quite a romance I felt comfortable shipping.

Angel of Greenwood: Characterisations

There is an enduring theme of worthiness in the novel. People treat the main character Angel well because she is perceived to be churchgoing and virtuous. The boy in the story, Isaiah, initially bullies Angel. He begins to treat her better than he treats his own girlfriend Dorothy Mae once he sees Angel as intellectual and worthy in his mind. I did not like this at all. What about treating people with respect just because that's the right thing to do? More than that, worthiness is an enduring theme in many abusive relationships. I cannot trust a love interest who pits women (or girls) against each other and puts one on a pedestal while treating another like an object.

Angel of Greenwood | Book CoverThe problem was two-fold: while portraying prominent themes of the time, Isaiah expresses extremely outdated ideas about girls which ultimately go unchecked. We see this in his treatment of Dorothy Mae and how he patronises Angel. In addition, all of the characters are one-dimensional: Angel is good, Isaiah is misunderstood, the people on the other side of town are poor, and Isaiah's best friend is bad. Perhaps most offensive of all was that Dorothy Mae was probably the most mature, kind character in the book and yet she wasn't treated well at all and again, that goes unchecked.

The issue with one-dimensional characters is that you can immediately spot when they do something out of character and this becomes obvious during the last 20% of the book when Angel and Isaiah make incredibly unrealistic and uncharacteristic responses during the fires and chaos. Also, I wish authors (and directors) would learn more about the true nature of fire before having characters do impossible things during fires on page and on screen.

Ultimately, Angel of Greenwood fell very flat for me. I wanted to learn more about the events of Tulsa in 1921 but instead I'm tied up worrying about one-dimensional characters, an unlikely love story and impossible heroics during a fire.

With a heavy heart, I give Angel of Greenwood a disappointing two out of five stars, one for the beautiful depictions of life in Greenwood, one for drawing attention to an important event in history, and the other for the gorgeous cover, but less one star for the issues I mentioned above. I'm not saying 'don't read it', just that there are better sources if you're seeking to learn more about the Tulsa race massacre in 1921.

★★☆☆☆

I'm compiling a list of superior YA fiction. Visit the Addicted to Media YA Fiction Bookshop to see my recommendations (affiliate link; I will receive a small commission if you purchase using this link at no extra cost to you).

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Monday, 5 April 2021

Horror Film Review: The Power (2021) (A Shudder Exclusive) ★★★★☆

At a time when coalminers' strikes bring darkness and blackouts across London, a young nurse is forced to work the night shift in an old and decaying hospital. As unwelcome memories risen unbidden in her consciousness, she realises that, for some, the nightmare is ongoing. A Shudder Exclusive, The Power is written and directed by Corinna Faith and stars Rose Williams (Sanditon) as Val.

Rose Williams is Val | The Power 2021 | Horror Film Review

The opening scenes of The Power set the tone for the significance of the events to come. Waking from a nightmare, Val walks around her tiny bed sit, switching on all the lights and lighting it up like a carnival. It is clear that Val is no friend of darkness. It is her first day working at her new placement.

Proud as she is to finally be a nurse, Val's fresh-faced, spotless demeanour contrast starkly against the old hospital with its sick-coloured walls and peeling paint. Indeed, a hospital is the perfect setting for this story and Corinna Faith makes great use of the angles, lines and frames provided by the endless corridors and stairwells. It's easy to get lost in a hospital like this, as Val learns on her first day, and the perspectives and converging lines immediately plunge the viewer into Val's claustrophobic discomfort.

Rose Williams is Val | The Power 2021 | Horror Film Review

The generators can only do so much and most of the patients are evacuated to another hospital across town. Despite her inexperience, Val is chosen to remain in the night shift, keeping watch over the remaining patients in an empty and increasingly dark hospital.

The Power is terrifying yet subtle from the first frame. Hints of Val's childhood are released in a series of flashbacks, just enough to elicit a physical, defensive reaction from the viewer. Val's memories are not the darkest actor at play in the hospital and a malevolent force begins to stalk her as we watch the fresh-faced nurse turn haggard and dishevelled. If only she can survive the night with her wits and sanity intact but to do that means discovering the sickening nature of the presence.

Shakira Rahman is Saba | The Power 2021 | Horror Film Review

Rose Williams is superb in her role as Val and is supported by excellent performances from Gbemisola Ikumelo as Comfort, Emma Rigby as Babs and newcomer Shakira Rahman as Saba. With extremely heavy and traumatic themes, The Power is a dark and brooding British horror that explores sexual abuse, class and gender. The excellent costumes and setting contribute to the overall atmosphere of the film. It is a reminder of the desperate days of the early 70s and the ways in which people were kept in their place.

Rose Williams is Val | The Power 2021 | Horror Film Review
I give The Power an excellent four out of five stars and recommend to fans of dark, atmospheric and claustrophobic horror. I eagerly look forward to what Corinna Faith will deliver in future.

★★★★☆

A Shudder Exclusive, The Power will be released on 8 April 2021.

The Power (2021) dir. Corinna Faith - Trailer

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Saturday, 3 April 2021

Five YA Audiobook Releases Not to Miss in April 2021

UK YA Audiobook Releases April 2021

When I began this series, it was with the aim of listening to at least 2-3 audiobooks a month. I haven’t finished one single audiobook. This is the nature of lockdown – entering it’s 5th month in Kent today – I can’t concentrate on a single thing long enough to enjoy.

I’ve promised that’s going to change in April. I’ve spent my weight in gold on seven audiobooks this morning and when I’ve finished those, here are the UK YA audiobook releases I’m most looking forward to in April 2021.


House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland

Narrated by: Eleanor Bennett
Release date: 13-04-21
Publisher: Hot Key Books

Summary

Dark, dangerous things happened around the Hollow sisters. Everybody knew it.

A seductive horror story from the extraordinary Krystal Sutherland.

The Hollow sisters - Vivi, Grey and Iris - are as seductively glamorous as they are mysterious. They have black eyes and hair as white as milk. They share the same birthday, spaced exactly two years apart. The Hollow sisters don't have friends - they don't need them. They move through the corridors like sharks, the other little fish parting around them, whispering behind their backs.

This one sounds deliciously creepy. I’m either going to love it, like Claire Legrand’s Sawkill Girls or I’m going to inexplicably be the only one to not love it, like Rory Power’s Wilder Girls.

Pre-order  House of Hollow


Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet By Laekan Zea Kemp

Narrated by: Andy Aragon, Arami Malaise
Length: 8 hrs and 45 mins
Release date: 06-04-21
Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers

Summary

I'm Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter meets Emergency Contact in this stunning story of first love, familial expectations, the power of food, and finding where you belong.

Penelope Prado has always dreamed of opening her own pastelería next to her father's restaurant, Nacho's Tacos. But her mom and dad have different plans - leaving Pen to choose between disappointing her traditional Mexican-American parents or following her own path. When she confesses a secret she's been keeping, her world is sent into a tailspin. But then she meets a cute new hire at Nacho's who sees through her hard exterior and asks the questions she's been too afraid to ask herself.

This book sounds delicious, full stop. With it’s promise of culinary delights, I get a definite With Fire On High vibe and I suspect that like Acevedo’s books, this one will be best enjoyed on audiobook.

Pre-order Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet


Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart

Narrated by: Izoriah Glover, Ashh Blackwood
Release date: 20-04-21
Publisher: Hot Key Books

Summary

Trust no witch....

Iraya Adair has spent her life in a cell. Heir of an overthrown and magically-gifted dynasty, she was exiled from her home on the island nation of Aiyca when she was just a child. But every day brings her closer to freedom - and vengeance.

Jazmyne Cariot grew up dressed in gold, with stolen magic at her fingertips. Daughter of the self-crowned doyenne, her existence is a threat to her mother's rule. But unlike her sister, Jazmyne has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother's power.

Sworn enemies, the two witches enter a deadly alliance to take down the woman who threatens both their worlds.

But revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain - except the lengths Iraya and Jazmyne will go to win this game.

Two witches. One motive. And a very untrustworthy alliance..

This one is giving me strong Children of Blood and Bone vibes. I never could get into Children of Virtue and Vengeance so I’m hoping this will fill the slightly disappointing gap left by the Legacy of Orïsha series.

Pre-order Witches Steeped in Gold


The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

Narrated by: Sue Jean Kim
Length: 9 hrs and 30 mins
Release date: 20-04-21
Publisher: Listening Library

Summary

Suspenseful and richly atmospheric, June Hur's The Forest of Stolen Girls is a haunting historical mystery sure to keep listeners guessing until the last word.

1426, Joseon (Korea). Hwani's family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest near a gruesome crime scene.

Years later, Detective Min - Hwani's father - learns that 13 girls have recently disappeared from the same forest that nearly stole his daughters. He travels to their hometown on the island of Jeju to investigate...only to vanish as well.

Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village - and collides with her now estranged sister, Maewol - Hwani comes to realize that the answer could lie within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.

This sounds very dark. I’ll be very interested to know if it has a Courtney Summers Sadie feel or more of a Rin Chupeco Girl From the Well feel. Then again, maybe we’ll be utterly surprised with a new and unique voice. Nevertheless this is on my watchlist, as well as every other bookworm in the country.

Pre-order The Forest of Stolen Girls


Way of the Argosi (Spellslinger #0.5) by Sebastien de Castell

Narrated by: Kristin Atherton
Release date: 15-04-21
Publisher: Hot Key Books

Summary

The Alchemist meets The Three Musketeers - with card tricks. A brilliant origin story of adventure, wit and philosophy to enrapture devotees as well as newcomers to the Spellslinger series.

Ferius Parfax has a simple plan: kill every last inhabitant of the spell-gifted nation that destroyed her people, starting with the man who murdered her parents. Killing mages is a difficult and dangerous business, of course, but when she meets the inimitable and extraordinary Durrall Brown she discovers that physical strength is not the only way to defeat evil of all kinds.

So Ferius undertakes to study the ways of the Argosi: the loosely-knit tribe of tricksters known for getting the better of even the most powerful of spellcasters. But the Argosi have a price for their teachings, and by the time Ferius learns what it is, it may be too late.

Perfect for fans of The Dark Tower, Firefly, Guardians of the Galaxy, Terry Pratchett, Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.

The third book by Hot Key Books on this list. I don’t usually include books from series on this list unless I’ve read and loved the other books in the series. Nevertheless, this promises to be accessible to both novices and fans of the series and honestly? They had me at Guardians of the Galaxy and Ben Aaronovitch.

Pre-order Way of the Argosi


Click on any of the audiobook covers or links above to go straight to Amazon to pre-order. Alternatively, support local bookshops and visit the Addicted to Media YA Fiction Bookshop to see my recommendations.

All links above are affiliate links and I will earn a small commission from your purchase at no extra cost to you.

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© 2005 - Mandy Southgate | Addicted to Media

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