Filmcraziest Interviews – Director Jesse O’Brien for his film Two Heads Creek (2020)

Filmcraziest Interviews – Director Jesse O’Brien for his film Two Heads Creek (2020)

For this episode, I was joined by Jesse O’Brien, the director of the new cannibal horror comedy Two Heads Creek, which will be released in the U.K. on September 7, 2020, and will also be a part of the Arrow Video Frightfest lineup at the end of August.

In the interview, we discuss the music of the film, the social commentary, the cannibals, as well as filming in a ghost town, and much more! By the way, we talked about both Two Heads Creek and his 2016 feature debut Arrowhead, but I’ve separated it into two episodes so I’ll release the second interview with Jesse about Arrowhead next week.

In the meantime, you can listen to the interview for Two Heads Creek below and download here.

Dark Light (2019)

Dark Light (2019)

Directed by: Padraig Reynolds. Starring: Jessica Madsen, Opal Littleton, Ed Brody. Released: December 6, 2019. Runtime: 1h 30 min.

This review contains mild spoilers.

In Dark Light, Annie Knox (Jessica Madsen) and her daughter Emily (Opal Littleton) move into Annie’s childhood home and learn that it’s inhabited by monsters.

The interesting thing about Padraig Reynolds’ Dark Light is it feels like it could go in so many different directions. The film starts like a haunted house story because of the things that go bump in the night and the secluded American farmhouse setting, complete with the cornfield in the backyard (and the film’s actually filmed in Tbilisi, Georgia, which subs in for Mississippi). I really liked the look of scenes at night, too, especially when we see establishing shots of the house with fog surrounding it.

The cornfield is used for a great sequence as Annie investigates lights in the cornfield and looks back at the house and sees a “man” with a headlamp fixed on his head in her room, and watches him cross the hallway towards her daughter’s room. Reynolds builds the tension here expertly and it’s one of the film’s creepiest scenes. When Annie goes inside, the man is gone. A scene like this is what cements a possibility that these occurrences are all in Annie’s head.

Annie has a history of nervous breakdowns as we learn from Annie’s ex-husband Paul (Ed Brody). She knows something is stalking them but no one else has seen them, so it feels like she’s the Girl Who Cried Monster. It sounds like the film is balancing a lot of things, but it never feels crowded. Jessica Madsen turns in a strong performance as Annie, a character whose main drive is fighting for her daughter and protecting her. These nervous breakdowns bring a layer to Annie as a character, though I wanted to know more about her.

About the pacing in the film’s first 40 minutes, the storytelling is occasionally non-linear because we’re dropped directly into the action around the mid-point. It opens with Annie, shotgun cocked, looking through her house for her daughter Emily. The scene results in Annie being put in the back of a police cruiser.

After this scene, Annie and Emily first arrive at the house and then after the first night of haunting, Annie’s being interrogated by Sheriff Dickerson (a good Kristina Clifford) about Emily’s whereabouts. There’s a helpful audio cue when it skips forward in time to scenes like these – but I found this initially jarring and the placement of these scenes affected the flow of the first half. The pacing feels much smoother once we catch up with this first scene.

There was also one scene that I wanted more from. This is when Annie and Emily play flashlight tag in the cornfield and after some creepiness, Emily ends up on the roof of the home and Annie rushes to her and the scene ends. I liked the set-up of this scene and her being on the roof brought so much tension that I wanted to see what would happen.

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Jessica Madsen in Dark Light. (IMDb)

Since we don’t see what happens, there aren’t any consequences to Emily for being on the roof. That’s the thing with the first half, there’s great atmosphere, creepiness and effective build-up, but there are few consequences for these characters. That all changes in the second half when all the consequences come as it dives into the creature feature. Dark Light had my curiosity from the beginning but as soon as I saw the creature it had my attention and I was hooked. It made the first portion worth the wait as it went into the “action” side of the film where Annie tries to find her daughter and faces the nightmare head-on.

Some horror films thrive on the audience not seeing the monster and the monster being scariest in their imaginations. Here, both aspects are done well as the atmosphere and creepiness of the first half is good, but as soon as Reynolds shows the monster, Dark Light shines.

The monster looks great and it’s designed by Aaron Sims (known for creating the monster on Stranger Things). I appreciated that it’s a man in a suit with practical effects and not a CGI creation. The monster’s screeches are nightmarish, too, and these creatures who also like cornfields make the aliens in Signs look friendly (keep in mind that these villains are “humanoids” and not aliens, by the way).

Learning the background of these humanoids was fascinating as we’re told this information by the film’s conspiracy theorist character Walter Simms (Gerald Tyler). I won’t spoil what makes these creatures tick and how they survive, but I wanted to know more about them and how long they’ve been at Annie’s house. I was curious how she and them had never crossed paths before, because the Flashlight Monster’s “home” looks like it’s been there for centuries. If we ever see these monsters again, I’m curious to see where Reynolds can take the mythology.

When it comes to the horror, the second half is more focused on the action but there are still solid scares in the third act, including a great scene with a toy chest. I counted three effective jump scares within 3-minute span, as Reynolds knows when to scare us when we’re relaxed and it’s an effective tactic. The kills are fun in general but there’s one memorable one that looks so great with the effects used. (I won’t spoil it in this review, but I talk to Reynolds about it in my interview with him, which can be found here.) This film’s more about the thrills, especially in the show-stopping third act where Annie finds where the creatures live. It’s creepy and it’s a great set, and this finale is worth the wait.

Score: 63/100

Open 24 Hours (2020)

Open 24 Hours (2020)

Directed by: Padraig Reynolds. Starring: Vanessa Grasse, Brendan Fletcher, Emily Tennant. Released: August 18, 2020 (in U.S; July 20, 2020 in U.K.). Runtime: 1h 42 min.

This review contains some spoilers. Also, if you missed my last post, I interviewed the writer/director of this film, Padraig Reynolds, and that interview can be found here.

Mary (Vanessa Grasse) is recently out on parole and gets a job as on the night shift at a gas station called Deer Gas Market. Mary’s crime is setting her serial killer boyfriend on fire, and that whole relationship has made her, as her case file says, “paranoid and delusional” suffering from hallucinations. Naturally, since she’s on the night shift, she’s in for an ordeal.

Padraig Reynolds, writer and director of Open 24 Hours, is able to create a compelling final girl with Mary, one trying to get over her past trauma. She dated the notorious (but fictional) serial killer James Lincoln Fields (Cole Vigue), also known as the Rain Ripper, who killed 35 women. The use of rain as his inspiration to kill people during storms is interesting and the use of Don Clark’s song “Raindrops” as the film’s theme is the perfect choice and makes for some creepy moments.

Back to Mary, being involved with the Ripper, Mary was dubbed by the media as the Watcher, because James made Mary watch the deaths after she found out. Since that ordeal, she’s had paranoid delusions and being on the night shift at a secluded gas station probably isn’t the best thing for her, but it’s a great set-up for horror.

The side of the psychological horror is strong as Mary’s haunted by her past, as we see when Mary first sees her ex-boyfriend killing one of his victims (again) in Mary’s bathroom. Given that he’s a brutal serial killer, the violence is on the gnarly side. There are buckets of blood in a couple scenes, both in the slasher parts and the paranoia.

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Vanessa Grasse in Open 24 Hours. (IMDb)

Balancing both slasher and paranoia is an intriguing mix in a horror film, as well. The film’s best horror scene is when Mary goes to the gas station’s outdoor bathroom and the encounter she has in there. This is when some of the craftiest scares happen. There’s a tendency for jump scares in Open 24 Hours, as there is with most slashers, but the creativity around that comes with Mary’s paranoia.

Since a lot of the horror is in Mary’s head, the jump scares don’t feel lazy when things pop out of nowhere, and the possibilities because of that are endless here and it makes for some fun scenes. In other scenes, one scare tactic is repeated on a couple occasions,  as Mary would imagine something, back away from it and run into a real-life person, so it’s not as scary on the third use. The repeated use of this doesn’t hurt the film overall as the atmosphere’s generally strong. There’s also a lot of fun to be had in this gory and rain-soaked slasher, especially when Mary imagines the Rain Ripper set on fire and walking towards her at the gas station.

Speaking of the gas station, the setting is so great. Filmed in Serbia, the gas station is constructed in the middle of nowhere and the secluded setting is great for a night shift horror. Most of what happens in the film happens at this one location, and there are so many rooms in the gas station and on the property in general that it feels so spacious. There are just a lot of possibilities from this one location that it’s fun to see what’s used, especially the outdoor bathroom and a neighboring area that comes into play at one point.

Mary does occasionally have some company on her first night in the form of colleague Bobby (Brendan Fletcher). Fletcher’s good in the role, and when I saw his name in the cast list I assumed he’d be playing the killer, so him playing the earnest colleague is a surprising change of pace here. Vanessa Grasse is also strong as Mary, and their scenes together are solid, especially when Mary shares her backstory.

In terms of story structure, the pacing is good. Interestingly, we as the audience know some secrets well before Mary herself, like the big fact that someone is out there killing people. We’re not certain if it is the Rain Ripper, but we know these scenes definitely seem real. Padraig Reynolds’ screenplay has enough twists and turns that will keep you guessing throughout about the identity of the killer.

Knowing all this before Mary is a worthwhile sacrifice when it means there’s slasher action throughout the runtime. When Mary’s let into the action, there is still doubt in her mind if all of this is real and that keeps some of the paranoia dynamic in play. The transition from psychological horror to slasher is seamless, and I won’t spoil what happens there – other than it’s fun and will please slasher fans and lovers of gore.

Score: 75/100

Altitude (2010)

Altitude (2010)

Directed by: Kaare Andrews. Starring: Jessica Lowndes, Landon Liboiron, Julianna Guill. Released: October 3, 2010. Runtime: 1h 30 min.

I’m spooked of heights – like roller coasters and the works – but I’m not too bad on airplanes. That is, commercial airplanes. I haven’t been on many plane rides in my life, but I don’t think you’d ever catch me dead in a helicopter or especially one of the small planes used in the film Altitude, a film that shows if you’re ever just making a short trip for a concert, just drive.

Sara (Jessica Lowndes) is a rookie pilot whose mom died in a plane crash when she was a kid. A week before she’s set to move 3,000 miles to Montreal for college, she and four of her friends are taking a trip to a concert. Enroute in the air, the plane’s wing has a malfunction on the wing and the plane starts spiralling out of control, and soon they enter dark storm clouds where they find themselves in a deadly showdown with unexplained supernatural forces.

The set-up for Altitude really isn’t that bad. We have a prologue to start the film and it’s Sara’s mom getting in a plane crash and there’s a little kid on the flight who is totally nervous about flying. In the present, we meet Sara’s new boyfriend Bruce (Landon Liboiron), who also seems really nervous about flying. His anxiety on the flight is definitely how I would be reacting, though at times it gets a bit annoying.

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Jessica Lowndes in Altitude. (IMDb)

The other three characters have a strange dynamic: There’s Mel (Julianna Guill) and her boyfriend Sal (Jake Weary). There’s also Cory (Ryan Donowho) who has super obviously had a fling with Mel either currently or in the past and is also Sara’s cousin. The character dynamics are fine for a horror flick, but as we get in the air and into the stressful situations, Sara is really the only likable one here, and Bruce is the only other one with any development.

Sal is horribly written, but is a perfect template for any new writers wondering how to write an extremely unlikable frat boy. He’s antagonizing to just about everyone, rips up Bruce’s comic book when gets scared flying the plane, and is always so quick to lay the blame on people. His character and dialogue just gets worse as soon as the stakes are raised. At one point after something crazy happens, Bruce says, “Oh no, it can’t be,” and Sal immediately jumps up to blame him and starts beating him up asking what he did and just assuming everything is his fault.

None of the characters are interesting and the acting isn’t anything to write home about, either. Some scenes are pretty intense, though, like when they have to take risks to save their own asses and one of the characters goes out on the plane’s tail to try to fix the malfunction, but the horror is not very scary. Sure, it’s an intense premise as their plane just flies blindly through pitch black clouds, but it’s not very scary. The supposed-to-be-scares comes from a mysterious presence inside the clouds that, up to a point, only Sal has claimed to have seen. We hear it at various points, though, as a screech. Then, when we see it, all hell breaks loose and it feels too quick. Like, we’ve been teased about there being something but then they just open that can of worms and it just feels rushed. The monster is a Chthulu looking octopus thing in the sky, unexplained for most of the film as to how it got there. About the effects, the actual effects of flying through the sky look passable. However, the creature FX are weak.

The film’s main fault is just being boring for the most part, and then it just dips its toe into stupidity. Well, it doesn’t really dip, it cannon balls in. And that stupidity is the explanation of the monster and I like the idea of it a lot as to what they were going for, but how it unfolds on screen feels awkward and under-explained. The twist really just comes out of left-field and the ending to the film feels easy and the way it’s wrapped up is unrewarding. At one point, Mel theorizes that they’re just in a government experiment to test how people react to stress and it honestly feels more plausible.

Score: 38/100

Scarecrows (1988)

Scarecrows (1988)

Directed by: William Wesley. Starring: Ted Vernon, Michael David Simms, Richard Vidan. Runtime: 1h 23 min. Released: August 28, 1988.

I reviewed this film as part of the May Scavenger Hunt on Letterboxd, and you can find the original list here if you want to play along. The prompt for this film was No. 24, to “watch a film reference in The Cabin in the Woods. This review contains some spoilers.

I like B-horror movies as much as the next horror fan, so long as it has a point. Scarecrows isn’t one of those films with a point. A group of mercenary type criminals hijack a plane from a military base, kidnapping a pilot (David Campbell) and his daughter (Victoria Christian), forcing them to fly Mexico. En route, there’s a double cross where one of the thieves, Bert (B.J. Turner), takes the $3.5 million in cash, jumps out of the plane, and parachutes into a graveyard surrounded by a lone house and scarecrows.

Bert’s action doesn’t make sense as it’s poorly planned out, but as a concept to get these characters into the path of these scarecrows, it is not bad in set-up. Scarecrows are genuinely creepy – I would never be caught dead in a cornfield with one or even three scarecrows in the middle of the night – but this film makes scarecrows boring. The kills are simplistic and gory enough; but most of the gore comes from what these scarecrows do after the fact. Mild spoilers, but the people these scarecrows bring back from the dead are sort-of creepy. The scarecrows themselves? Hard meh. This isn’t that eventful when the mercenaries are being hunted and when they figure out how to kill these scarecrows, they’re not threatening because it’s such an easy defeat.

The rules for the scarecrows are also not well-established and how they hunt these characters. The scarecrows can imitate voices to lure these mercenaries into traps. They can also bring things back to life. They also magically disperse the money over the property so they are in little “follow the trail of money” piles. They can do so many supernatural things that it seems that director William Wesley just adds a new power when it’s interesting for the story. There’s a lack of planning that feels evident, especially when main mercenary, Curry (Michael David Simms), learns that the scarecrows are murderous. Curry jumps to the conclusion – a gigantic leap that literally can’t be measured – to the fact that these three scarecrows are actually the Fowler brothers, the owners of the home, reincarnated as scarecrows. Up to that point, we had not heard a single thing about them (unless I nodded off, which, sure, is possible) and it feels like a lazy, almost throwaway explanation for the scarecrows. It doesn’t go to any other lengths in explaining powers or Curry’s throwaway theory that maybe they’re meant to be here. There’s no rhyme or reason to this world and it’s annoying. I know I’m taking a stupid scarecrow movie a little seriously, but if the world is this small, I’d appreciate some attention to detail for it. 

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Victoria Christian, Kristina Sanborn and David Campbell in Scarecrows. (IMDb)

Other than this film being boring, the dialogue is weak. Most of the dialogue and action has the mercenaries being separated and shouting at each other over their radios and asking where everyone is. About to be killed by a scarecrow? “Where are ya, man? Where are ya? I can’t find you!” This is always to someone on the other end not answering. There’s also a weird choice made with Bert when he’s alone on the ground. His lips never move so they either filmed his action with the idea in mind that they’d just put a voice-over inner monologue later where he takes us through his thought process, or they just realized the action was so boring that it needed voice-over to tell us what he was doing. Either way, it’s strange and awkward. The dialogue elsewhere is just bad, too, as Jack (Richard Vidan) theorizes that “this place is possessed by demonic demons.” It’s not evident why they brought on three writers credited with additional dialogue, because they did not do their jobs well.

There’s little effort given to these people and they are not that likable. The dynamics of the group feel basic at best, and it’s not that exciting watching them try to recoup their money. The premise sounds like Predator but with scarecrows, and it brings the mercenaries and the large, jungle-esque property, but it only shows the scarecrows occasionally, and the sense of foreboding when we see the crosses without their scarecrow companions is creepier than when we see the scarecrows attack. The only merciless thing about this is the actual movie clocks in at about 75 minutes. We’re in and out quickly; but the trip still feels too long.

Score: 38/100

31 (2016)

31 (2016)

Directed by: Rob Zombie. Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Richard Brake, Jeff Daniel Phillips. Runtime: 1h 42 min. Released: September 16, 2016.

On Letterboxd, I’m participating in a scavenger hunt there for the month of May where you make a list of 31 films by answering prompts to watch in the month of May. The link to the original host’s scavenger hunt with the prompts can be found here. My list can be found here, too.

I started my scavenger hunt by reviewing Rob Zombie’s film 31 for Prompt Number 19 which was to “watch a film where characters play a game, but it’s more than just a game.” In Rob Zombie’s film, five carnival workers are kidnapped and held hostage in an abandoned compound where they’re forced to participate in a violent game, the goal of which is to survive twelve hours against a gang of sadistic clowns.

I watched this film first so I could say I’ve now finished Zombie’s filmography. It’s almost happened by accident because he only has seven feature films, but for me, he’s a consistent filmmaker. That’s not a good thing – I’ve only liked one of his films and that was 2007’s Halloween. I didn’t like Halloween 2, I hate his Firefly trilogy (I tolerated The Devil’s Rejects the most), didn’t like Halloween 2 and just hate, hate, The Lords of Salem. Then there’s 31, which I hated as well.

The laziest thing about it might be the title itself, merely called 31 because it takes place on Halloween in 1976. Sure, he can’t call the film Halloween for obvious reasons, but at least try with the title. The game is also named 31 because it’s played annually on Halloween. The concept is why I wanted to watch this because I love battle royale kind-of films, and this felt like a horror battle royale. As a concept, the set-up is fine.

A trio of wealthy aristocrats, led by Malcolm McDowell, decked out in Victorian era costumes tell our heroes they’ll play a game called 31. They inform our heroes of their odds of survival, as if people are betting on the outcome but that’s barely addressed, where the women of the group are given 500 to 1 odds of survival and the men given 60 to 1 odds of survival, because that’s just how Rob Zombie sees the world.

For the most part I just didn’t care about how the main characters played the game because I didn’t like them. They’re a group of carnival workers traveling to their next city – I guess – but it’s not that well-developed and the five characters that survive to the game of 31 are generally boring or unlikable. I frankly found the only one of note to be Charly, played by Rob Zombie’s wife and muse, Sheri Moon Zombie. She can’t act, but she’s also never been given a strong character.

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Jane Carr, Malcolm McDowell and Judy Geeson in 31. (IMDb)

She gets some terrible dialogue, as does everyone else, and my biggest problem with Rob Zombie as a filmmaker is just the blatant sexism and how he sees women. I don’t like his view of the world or the worlds that he creates – Halloween was the most tolerable of all his films because it’s someone else’s character. Zombie’s characters don’t talk like real people and the way they interact with each other, even outside of the game, is gross because they’re horrible to each other. It’s expected in a Rob Zombie film and maybe I’m being too Canadian, but it’s just so off-putting.

As a concept, I think 31 is a good idea but Zombie’s style and dialogue kills it. I also like violence in film when there’s a purpose or it feels fun, and 31 is neither of those. In writing, I thought the staging of the film and pacing was solid as instead of a whole gang of clowns coming to overpower them, the five players face clowns in different stages. The first clown theatrically introduced to them is also the most annoying – it’s a clown called Sick-Head (Pancho Moler), a Spanish little person dressed as Adolf Hitler. The dialogue he gets makes him more excruciatingly annoying than threatening.

His sequence is also where the film looks at its most– the colour palette is so flat and dull this might as well have been in black and white. It’s so lifeless and that’s how I generally feel while watching a Zombie film, just dead inside. The big bad of the film, called Doom-Head and played well by Richard Brake, is the main boss who has a perfect murder record because he’s a Terminator-esque killing machine. He’s obviously a horrible human being, but his third act portion would be more fun if we actually cared about any of the players.

I tolerated this film for 20 minutes when a pair of chainsaw-wielding clowns came out to play. Their scenes are somewhat fun and well-shot, despite the still consistently off-putting dialogue. It’s also a little fun when E.G. Daily shows up as we see a wild side of Buttercup from The Powerpuff Girls. Unfortunately, in her moment to shine, it looks so ugly because a strobe-light sort-of effect above makes it so hard to see and makes it so irritating.

I honestly think Zombie’s horror writing in his action is solid, but it’s his visual style that consistently compromises it. His films are also ruined by someone opening their mouth because they so often just spout vitriol at one another. It’s maddening to watch this happen time after time, and I’m truly ecstatic to be done with his filmography because it was an ordeal.

Score: 25/100

47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019)

47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019)

Directed by: Johannes Roberts. Starring: Sophie Nélisse, Corinne Foxx, Brianne Tju. Runtime: 1h 30 min. Released: August 16, 2019.

47 Meters Down: Uncaged follows a quartet of girls who go diving in underwater city. As they’re exploring, they learn they’re trapped with a group of evolved sharks in the claustrophobic labyrinth of caves.

Uncaged follows in the footsteps of the original film in terms of its characters, as their development isn’t the greatest. Mia (Sophie Nélisse, The Book Thief) basically gets picked on at school for some reason… She seems nice enough so the being picked on aspect seems random.

There’s not much empathy from her new stepsister Sasha (Corinne Foxx), but their chemistry becomes fine enough as the film swims along. Basically they’re given tickets by their parents (Mia’s father Grant is played by John Corbett; Sasha’s mom Jennifer is played by Nia Long) and then they ditch that to go to the caves with Sasha’s friends Alexa (Brianne Tju) and Nicole (Sistine Rose Stallone). They know about these caves because Grant leads the exploration of the underwater city.

The cast in the film is fine, but we just don’t get to know these characters, especially Alexa and Nicole. To be fair, we don’t really get to know Mia or Sasha that well, either, but their sisterly bond works for the film, it’s just very much akin to 2017’s 47 Meters Down.

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John Corbett, Sophie Nélisse and Brianne Tju in  47 Meters Down: Uncaged. (IMDb)

By the way, the firt film was made for $5 million and intended to go straight-to-DVD and this film is made for $12 million and was always intended to be a theatrical release. Some scenes in Uncaged are  hard to see because of how dark everything is, and there’s even a scene that’s very similar in set-up to the first film involving a red flashlight, but the shark visuals seem stronger.

The set design and production design is also fantastic as it looks believable that this could be a long-abandoned underwater city instead of just a movie a claustrophobic movie set for a mediocre shark movie. The set-up improves in this film as the characters aren’t confined to one area (in the first film Mandy Moore’s jut in a cage) and can move around the city, but the film still feels claustrophobic. The characters are truly uncaged, but a better pun would be calling this 47 Meters Down: Uncaved.

The potential here isn’t truly uncaged yet, however. The formula for the film works but the first hour has its share of boring moments as they’re setting up its premise. The film improves when a way out of the city seems imminent and then all the shit hits the fan, so at least there’s an action-packed finale as the film is kind-of exciting for 30 minutes. There’s not much here in terms of memorable horror, either, just a decent finale and some tense scenes. I enjoyed this by the end of it, but it’s still mediocre.

Score: 50/100

The Perfection (2019)

The Perfection (2019)

Directed by: Richard Shepard. Starring: Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Steven Weber. Runtime: 1h 30 min. Released: May 24, 2019.

Some spoilers follow.

When troubled musical prodigy Charlotte (Allison Williams) seeks out Elizabeth (Logan Browning), the new star pupil of her former school, the encounter sends both musicians down a sinister path with shocking consequences. Y’know, I absolutely love movies with a twist.

But with The Perfection, there are about four or five twists sprinkled throughout the film. These are not small twists, either; they are twists that subvert expectations at every turn. I could barely figure out what film it’s trying to be, and when I thought I had figured it out, director Richard Shepard and co-writers Eric C. Charmelo and Nicole Snyder say “Psych!” and change the direction of the film. The changes feel organic to the story, however, and they are rarely frustrating.

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Allison Williams in The Perfection. (IMDb)

That’s what makes The Perfection one of the most unique horror films I’ve seen in awhile as it blends romance, a stalker movie, a virus film, as well as another genre which would border on spoiler. I’ll just say that some characters get their comeuppance and that aspect doesn’t work as well as the others. The third act twists are intriguing, but one aspect is a disturbing pillow to swallow. It’s the only direction of the film I don’t completely love as it becomes slightly too dark for even my tastes, and I think if it was handled in a different this would be in my Top 10 of 2019. (For reference point, this would probably still make my Top 30 out of 200 films.)

Allison Williams and Logan Brown are both great here. Williams plays so many layers convincingly that I swear after this and Get Out, I could never trust her. Steven Weber also turns in a memorable performance as the music teacher who thrives on perfection. It’s a film that is separated into distinct chapters and tones and they are balanced well. The Perfection is a wild, wild ride and it takes so many risks, even if they don’t all pay off. It also never feels like a gimmick where it’s only about its twists, because it gives thought to its characters. It has backbone and for a film that could be very standard, it takes an utterly crazy path, the road less traveled. It’s audacious to its last shot. Truly, the last note I wrote for this film in my notebook was: “Honestly, what the fuck?”

Score: 75/100

The Hunt (2020)

The Hunt (2020)

The Hunt posterDirected by: Craig Zobel. Starring: Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz. Runtime: 1h 30 min. Released: March 13, 2020.

This review contains spoilers.

I was really looking forward to The Hunt when it was to be released last August before it was delayed because due to mass shootings. Now, when there’s reason to delay movies, the film sneaked into theatres for a week before the close of many all over because of COVID-19, and the film will be released On Demand tomorrow.

The reason it was delayed last August was because of its content. 12 Americans are kidnapped from all over and brought to a mansion in what appears to be rural Arkansas, as they wake up in a clearing and are hunted for sport by liberal elitists in The Hunt, also known as #ManorGate.

It’s called #ManorGate because there were rumours that wealthy liberals, who really appear to be social justice warriors who wouldn’t allow people of colour to be hunted because that’s too far, were hunting people for sport. The reasoning behind the Hunt is kind-of disappointing as it works into its commentary and satire.

I get the commentary and satire, though some of the political aspects would surely go over my head, but it’s not super effective. It’s written by Nick Cuse (TV’s Watchmen and TV’s The Leftovers) and Damon Lindelof (show runner for Watchmen and The Leftovers). Craig Zobel also directs it well (and he’s known for some directing work on Watchmen and The Leftovers so it’s a real reunion), and I am a fan of his film Compliance, one of those disturbing films that’s great but you never want to watch again. Zobel’s film here has more rewatchability.

The Hunt’s commentary doesn’t always work, much of it includes characters walking on eggshells afraid to offend anyone, but there are some strong moments. A great visual gag includes a tense moment of opening a crate, and a pig fitted with Shakespeare clothes jumps out. The film is usually more action than horror, but it’s solid. As for its commentary, I’m not sure what the film is exactly trying to say, other than that the jackrabbit always wins as Crystal (Betty Gilpin) tells in a dark story.

The Hunt article
Betty Gilpin in The Hunt (IMDb).

It is Gilpin’s performance that makes this fun, and some well-timed jokes, too. Gilpin embraces her character and shows she is completely within her element, and we learn throughout that Athena (Hilary Swank) has picked the wrong person to include in this Hunt. Without Gilpin, this wouldn’t be as enjoyable as it is. Most of the characters don’t pack much of a punch, but she does.

My main complaint is some of the Hunt participants that seem like they could be key players get killed off quickly and one is particularly disappointing, because I think seeing the character interact with Crystal would have been fun. It subverts expectations and establishes that there’s no central character, at least for the first 20 minutes. The first 20 minutes are fun, but it becomes a real blast when Gilpin comes into play, especially in the action scenes. I think this film works better as just a regular action movie than a commentary.

It’s also really entertaining seeing Ethan Suplee (I’m a fan since his Boy Meets World days) and he plays racist bigot very well (as he shows in his best known role in American History X). The film feels like Game of Thrones in how anyone could be killed at any moment in this kind-of film – so don’t get attached to your favourites (Crystal is the exception).

I enjoy these Battle Royale sort-of films with a high body count (WWE Studios’ The Condemned is a guilty pleasure for that reason), but keep in mind that, while this film manages to be memorable, there’s nothing new in this action thriller. As I’ve said before, Gilpin and the action make it worth the watch, but if you just wanted to watch (or re-watch) Battle Royale or even The Hunger Games again, I wouldn’t blame you. Still, if you want a good R-rated version of The Hunger Games, The Hunt entertains for 90 minutes.

Score: 70/100

Haunt (2019)

Haunt (2019)

Haunt posterDirected by: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods. Starring: Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Andrew Caldwell. Released: September 13, 2019. Runtime: 1h 32 min.

In Haunt, a group of friends on Halloween night stumble upon an “extreme” haunted house that promises to feed into their darkest fears. The horror in Haunt is memorable as there are great scenes of tension and the set design is creative throughout the haunted house. There’s nothing quite as scary as a character looking down a hall with a series of mannequins covered with blankets and not knowing if one of those is a real person. Characters crawling through a claustrophobic tunnel and hearing noises is also intense.

Admittedly, the characters are cookie cutter but the main character Harper (Katie Stevens) has a strong backstory and we cheer for her. Stevens’ acting is also strong in a horror film I was surprised by. Nathan (Will Birttain) is fine as the main guy, but I truly couldn’t tell you anything about his character. Evan (Andrew Caldwell) brings the comedic relief. Otherwise, they’re disposable and the film knows it and takes advantage of that. The horror is well-executed throughout and well-written by writing team Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place). They also direct.

The pacing is strong as after the characters find out that the haunted house is a little too real, the film is consistently action-packed and has a strong atmosphere and doesn’t have to lean on too many jump scares. There are jump scares, because it’s a film with a haunted house, but it never feels gimmicky. The film gives the immersive haunted house experience in the form of a horror film and it works. I liked it because I’m too much of a scaredy cat to enjoy haunted houses. My anxiety couldn’t take it, so it’s nice to visit a haunted house through this from the comfort of my own home where no one can jump out at me or hold me hostage.

Haunt article
Terry Partyka in Haunt. (IMDb)

2018’s Hell Fest has a similar effect in providing a haunted house experience in a film, but its execution is weak. Haunt’s execution works very well, also utilizing a fear of the unknown. This unknown is the motives of those running the haunted house. We see their faces – and it’s quite intense when they unmask – but we never know their motives. That’s one complaint of mine, but it’s also understandable why it’s not explained.

There’s some fear in the fact that these are just people being so brutal to others for the sake of it, but I think for a film that doesn’t thrive on storyline or characters (besides the one strong central story of trauma), some motive would be nice here just for the sake of story. It’s realistic there’s no motive, however, because these maniacs aren’t the type to monologue of why they’re doing this or give tragic backstories.

That’s mostly because the pacing is so quick so there’s literally no time. They just kill remorselessly and go onto the next one. By the way, this is an Eli Roth film so of course it’s brutal. I do think not explaining the motives works for the film, as trying to develop its story more might have bogged it down. It’s a Halloween movie that thrives on its horror scenarios and just like haunted houses, it doesn’t need a story to scare the shit out of you.

Score: 75/100

Not a sponsor, but Haunt is available to watch on the streaming service Shudder.