Sunday, 23 May 2021

Odessa by Jonathan Hill: A Graphic Novel About the End of the World (Odessa #1) ★★★★☆

Odessa by Jonathan Hill | Graphic Novel Review

Reading comics is a relatively new thing for me. It was only during lockdown, when I had the attention span of a fig, that I discovered the joy and page-turning wonder of graphic novels. Joe Hill's Locke & Key and The Walking Dead were my gateway series but I soon began to discover a theme with the graphic novels I was reading: they are pure art. A lot of work goes into the art, colour and expressions and the experience can often be deeper than normal novels.

I realise I'm probably the last person on earth to discover this.

Jonathan Hill's Odessa piqued my interest given my obsession with post-apocalyptic landscapes.

Eight years ago an earthquake - the Big One - hit along the Cascadia fault line, toppling cities and changing landscapes all up and down the west coast of the United States

Vietnamese-American Virginia Crane and her two younger brothers have grown up in this landscape, a strange new world based on bartering and luck. The earthquake unearthed primordial species from deep below the earth's surface, resulting in entirely new systems of fauna and flora. All of the strange new plants, creatures and bugs that emerged after the Big One are part of this world that the Crane kids have grown up in.

Ginny, Wes and Harry are used to not having a mom around. She disappeared so many years ago that only Ginny can remember her and their father has brought them up alone. When a strange package arrives from her mother on Ginny's 18th birthday, she sets off across the post-apocalyptic wasteland towards what used to be California. Little does she realise that her two younger brothers have followed her.

Odessa by Jonathan Hill | Graphic Novel Review

In a journey filled with peril, betrayals and deceit, Ginny, Wes and Harry travel across the crumbling remains of America in search of their mother. They meet strangers and long-lost relatives along the way, some of whom they can trust and some of whom they definitely can't.

Will they be successful? Only time will tell because Odessa ends on a heck of a cliffhanger!

I enjoyed Odessa a lot. The art work was simple but powerfully portrayed the desolate and crumbling landscape through which the kids travel. I enjoyed the story too, especially the idea of new plants and bugs being unearthed by the Big One. I'm definitely looking forward to the next graphic novel in the series but there is no news on a release date yet. Hill has mentioned just how much work a graphic novel is - and he is doing both art and story - so hopefully that process is going well.

Odessa by Jonathan Hill | Graphic Novel Review

I give Odessa an excellent four out of five stars and recommend to post-apocalyptic graphic novel lovers.

★★★★☆

I received an electronic copy of this novel from Netgalley. I will always provide an honest review, whether books are provided to me or purchased by me.

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Monday, 17 May 2021

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

Undergods 2020 | Horror Film Review | Director Chino Moya

'Wait, what just happened?' Not the usual way to begin a review but then Chino Moya's dystopian anthology Undergods is a very unusual film. The last time I sat with a pen and paper trying to work out causality after a film was after Tenet and if I'm honest, I think I had more success with Tenet. Imagine, if you will, that Kafka and Ray Bradbury had an illicit love affair at the end of the world, while mainlining Pink Floyd: The Wall. Undergods is the illegitimate love child from that union.

All this. Everything will be sucked into a massive hole and then all will be fog.

You know what, I'm going to level with you, I had to watch this film twice. It wasn't simply a matter of putting it all together in my head, although that was certainly a factor, it was so that I could better enjoy the pure artistry of it the second time around.

Undergods is a beautifully desaturated, desolate film.

We begin in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where K (Johann Myers) and Z (Géza Röhrig) are driving around, rounding up fresh meat. In between guzzling diesel fuel, they tell each other about their dreams, or in this case nightmares.

And so we meet Ron (Michael Gould), Ruth and their unwelcome guest Harry; storyteller Octavius and his curious daughter Horatia; the greedy developer Hans and his beloved daughter Maria (Tanya Reynolds); a factory at the end of the world; and the second husband Dominic who makes an unhappy acquaintance with his predecessor. Whether it's in a brand new high rise or a long-destroyed city, the stories in Undergods are a matryoshka doll of fairy tales about unlucky protagonists and moral misadventures.

It's about the worst possible things happening to the most deserving people, the seedy underbelly of the world and the underdogs that nourish and sustain our society. Grim, certainly, but Undergods is a lot of fun.

Director Chino Moya utilises every inch of the screen and delivers a unique viewing experience. Visually spectacular with superb sound editing and music, Undergods has the makings of a cult film; it's exactly the type of film I tend to watch over and over again.

Undergods 2020 | Horror Film Review | Director Chino Moya
I thought I wasn't the biggest fan of anthologies but Undergods ties up brilliantly into a trippy, mind bending whole. I give it an excellent four out of five stars and cannot wait to see what Chino Moya does next. Recommended for fans of post-apocalyptic horror and surreal timelines.
★★★★☆

Undergods will be in select cinemas and On Demand from May 17.

Undergods (2020) - directed by Chino Moya - trailer

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Monday, 10 May 2021

Horror Film Review: Relic (2020) - A Shudder Exclusive ★★★☆☆

Relic 2020 | Horror Film Review

I was trying to recall when last I saw an Australian horror film but how could I forget The Babadook, the film that started my whole obsession with horror? Relic is the debut feature by director Natalie Erika James and similar to The Babadook, the metaphor is the monster.

Kay (Emily Mortimer) gets a call from the local constable in her mother's town. Her mother Edna is missing and hasn't been seen by neighbours for several days. Kay drives to her mother's house with her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) and they find no sign of Edna. The house is in disarray, with fruit rotting, beds unmade and a creeping dark substance on the walls. The days stretch out as Kay and Sam rattle about the house, unable to do anything but simply wait.

Suddenly, Edna (Robyn Nevin) returns home, seemingly lucid but unwilling to shed light on where she's been. And that's when the walls of the house begin to close in.

Relic is the kind of film that gets under your skin and is deeply unsettling. While normally I steer well clear of spoilers, I don't think I'd be able to do justice to this film and my thoughts on it without spoilers, so stop here if you haven't seen the film yet. My one-line review? It's a solid horror but with extremely dark cinematography, so recommend viewing on a big screen rather than a home cinema.

Relic 2020 | Horror Film Review

Relic is a film about the horror of dementia and it is portrayed visually and spatially through Edna's house. We see walls closing in, hoarding, decay, getting trapped in endless loops within the house, and rooms closed off, inaccessible and too scary to explore. It is a dark, claustrophobic horror dealing with the cloying feeling of dementia taking hold; the creeping rot as day by day, another part of the person, of their mind, is lost to the condition.

It's also equally a film about a haunted house and an extremely good one because there is nothing supernatural about it, no one running around for rushed, hackneyed explanations involving medieval Christian torture to explain the haunting (I'm looking at you The Banishing). It's an old woman, alone with her failing mind and her feeling of a palpable presence that has come to torment her.

The acting in Relic is superb, with Nevin, Mortimer and Heathcote giving credence to the women they portray. Throughout the film there is a strong script and a subplot about the estranged relationships between mothers and daughters, the breeding resentments and the failure to communicate or understand one another.

The setting is great too, from the clutter of the house to the claustrophobic closets and those long, narrow passageways.

I wish I could have rated this film higher but the cinematography was incredibly dark, making it very difficult to see many of the scenes. With it being a slow-burn horror, I found my attention straying and I wish I could have better seen the impressive set design and special effects.

Relic 2020 | Horror Film Review
Relic is an excellent allegory for dementia with great performances and a devastating finale. I'm utterly conflicted because director Natalie Erika James has delivered a creepy and disturbing horror but the lighting means that I can only give three out of five stars.
★★★☆☆

A Shudder Exclusive, Relic will be released on 11 May 2021.

Relic (2020) directed by Natalie Erika James - Trailer

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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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© 2005 - Mandy Southgate | Addicted to Media

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