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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 15.Jul.21

The Boy Behind the Door  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
The Boy Behind the Door
dir-scr David Charbonier, Justin Powell
prd Rick Rosenthal, Jim Hart, Ryan Scaringe, John Hermann, Ryan Lewis
with Lonnie Chavis, Ezra Dewey, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Micah Hauptman, Scott Michael Foster, Rich Ceraulo Ko, Anna B Shaffer
release US/UK 29.Jul.21
21/US 1h28

Is it streaming?

chavis and dewey
Creating a foreboding sense of doom by using a tightly internalised perspective, this horror film centres on two young teens who find themselves in a terrifying situation. Filmmakers David Charbonier and Justin Powell skilfully ramp up suspense with clever directing choices that centre around churning menace rather than cheap scares. Although there are knowing nods to Home Alone, Die Hard and The Shining, this is a remarkably original freak-out.
In a small town, best pals Bobby and Kevin (Chavis and Dewey) dream about someday escaping to the California coast. Then late one afternoon they're kidnapped and taken to an isolated farmhouse. Bobby wriggles himself free, but he hears Kevin's cries for help and can't leave without him. Creeping into the underlit house, Bobby locates the chained-up Kevin behind a locked door. He also intrepidly confronts the creepy man (Hauptman) keeping watch inside. And as he tries to figure out how to free Kevin, Bobby is unaware that someone else is coming home.
The intensity cranks up as other people arrive, including a woman (van Straten) who knows Bobby is loose. An intriguing mix of old-style tech adds to the atmosphere, as does the fact that Bobby is too small in stature to deal with such enormous obstacles, but takes them on anyway. The ongoing trauma is another thing, a sinister threat to small boys that's difficult to watch. Details of the adults' intentions are mainly left off-screen, but the implications are horrifying. So the stakes are high.

Almost everything is seen through Bobby's eyes, and the excellent Chavis delivers a performance that rings true even in the most heightened scenes. As a tween, he realistic makes some dodgy decisions along the way, so he's very easy to root for as he continually has to regroup and revise his plan of attack. Dewey is also strong in a smaller, even more emotive role. And the various grown-ups who turn up along the way add sharp edges to their effectively enigmatic characters.

While some of the plot points are a bit convenient and gratuitous (why use your gun when there's an axe handy?), the film's tone is consistently gripping, layering various kinds of tension on top of each other while limiting what the audience can see. As things get increasingly grisly, there are some gross-out moments that will delight genre fans. But the film's real strength is in what is has to say about the friendship between two boys who would do anything for each other.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 21.Jul.21

Here Comes Your Man  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
Here Comes Your Man
dir-scr-prd Omar Salas Zamora
with Jason Alan Clark, Calvin Picou, Noelle Miller, Clay von Carlowitz, Hattie Smith, Matthew Namik, Niambi Wright, Beau Swartz, Alex Paige Fream, Scott Seagren, Felisha Michelle Cacho, Andrew Folsom
release US/UK 26.Jul.21
21/US Dekoo 1h31

Is it streaming?

clark and picou
Edited together from a five-episode series, this romantic comedy-drama has a vibe that's easy to go along with, even if it's never particularly revelatory or surprising. Writer-director Omar Salas Zamora creates characters and situations strong enough to make up for some fairly simplistic production values. It's all a bit low-key and downbeat, skipping over exhilarating highs and lusty passion in lieu of gently realistic challenges and messy emotions.

Aaron (Clark) meets Jordan (Picou) on a hookup app, but Jordan would rather chat than leap into bed. It turns out this is his first time, and they have a spark together that lingers. But Jordan has a girlfriend (Smith), so he ghosts Aaron. Later when he's single, Jordan runs into Aaron in a bar and they decide to give it another go. An affectionate romance develops, as they share a love of art, photography and music. But Aaron doesn't share Jordan's love of threesomes. And their happy ever after seems out of reach.
Zamora's script features the usual American queer-storytelling weaknesses, like being childishly prudish about nudity and continually preaching little sermons about the usual issues. The characters talk about sex and have a lot of it, but it's depicted in such an anonymous way that it means nothing on-screen. More interesting are the unspoken things that emerge between these young men, adding tension to their interaction. And when they finally get honest about their darker thoughts, the drama is jaggedly moving.

Clark and Picou have a relaxed chemistry together, making the most of dialog that feels a little stagey and on-the-nose. These are two men who are looking for "everything" but know that's not a given. Both performances are nicely understated, which creates a refreshingly delicate connection between them. Clark has the gutsier role, while Picou remains quietly tentative even after a year passes in their relationship. As their best friends, Miller and von Carlowitz get some lively moments, adding comical touches without stealing scenes.

Because it was shot as an episodic series, it doesn't have the usual cinematic narrative momentum. But there's something warmly involving about the ebb and flow as the plot traces this relationship over a year or so. There's definitely a sense that Zamora is working from his own experiences, revealing nostalgia for the good times and regret for the more painful ones. The strongest sequence is a vivid exploration of that nagging feeling that a partner no longer loves you. And yearnings that won't go away are more powerful than you admit.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 19.Jul.21

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir-scr Ivan Kavanagh
prd AnneMarie Naughton, Louis Tisne, Rene Bastian
with Andi Matichak, Emile Hirsch, Luke David Blumm, Cranston Johnson, Blaine Maye, Kristine Nielsen, J Robert Spencer, Rocco Sisto, Erin Bradley Dangar, Adam Stephenson, David Kallaway, Ethan McDowell
release US 5.Jul.21,
UK 9.Jul.21
21/Ireland 1h38

Is it streaming?

hirsch and matichak
A old-school freak-out, this horror drama plays on primal fears to unsettle the audience. Writer-director Ivan Kavanagh gleefully indulges in some riotously yucky imagery and sound, often cheap, shocking scares that layer one creepy situation onto another, accompanied by generous splashes of blood. Deeper themes add strong angles to the crazy goings-on, played to the hilt by the cast and crew using traditional filmmaking rather than digital trickery.
In small-town America, schoolteacher Laura (Matichak) has a happy life with her 8-year-old son David (Blumm). Then one evening she sees a group of sinister people in David's room. Detective Paul (Hirsch) can't find evidence of anything, but offers his support. And when David is taken ill, doctors are unable to help. Laura begins to suspect that all of this is connected to a satanic cult. And she has darker thoughts when David develops a gruesome new appetite. So she runs off to find old friend Jimmy (Maye), who knows the secrets of her past.
Most scenes are punctuated with Laura's loud, grisly nightmares, which are linked to the depiction of David's traumatic birth in a frantic prologue. This swirling demonic grisliness is properly horrific, although it's scarier to see emerging details of Laura's past as a survivor of hideous abuse. So perhaps it's unsurprising that she's willing to do whatever it takes to help her son, including a properly awful sequence in a seedy hotel room. Where her journey goes is more complex than expected, and delightfully unhinged.

Matichak carries the film in her fiercely protective maternalistic eyes. Laura is terrified of the threat to David, and she knows far more about what's happening than she lets on. Her scenes with the superbly naturalistic Blumm capture a realistic dynamic even when things get rather insane. And her growing connection to the likeable Hirsch's soft-spoken police officer is warm and well-played, even if the demands of the genre never let us relax and hope they'll have a happy ever after.

Intriguingly, the story can be read as an allegorical voyage through the legacy of child abuse. And Laura's determination to protect David from the truth about his origin is fraught with huge emotions. There's also a mental illness component in here. But these more powerful elements remain deep in the subtext as Kavanagh hones in on seriously nasty elements that are deployed to make things as terrifying as possible. Thankfully, the script's structure is unpredictable enough to keep us gripped right to the pitch black finale.

cert 18 themes, language, violence 8.Jul.21

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