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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 5.Sep.21

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir Amelia Moses
scr Wendy Hill-Tout, Lowell
prd Wendy Hill-Tout, Michael Peterson
with Lauren Beatty, Greg Bryk, Katharine King So, Judith Buchan, Michael Ironside, Jesse Gervais, Jayce McKenzie, Michael Peterson, Hans Grossmann, Patricia Cerra, Richard Lee, Sheiny Satanove
release US 23.Apr.21,
UK 3.Sep.21
20/Canada 1h24

frightfest london

Is it streaming?

bryk and beatty
With slick visuals and a detailed set-up, this is not your typical werewolf horror. It's also far too serious for its own good, even with twisted touches that add compelling observations about the aggression and sacrifice required for artistic success. It's grisly enough to hold the attention, but some earthy energy in the writing and direction would have allowed the story and characters to resonate much more strongly.
Rising-star singer-songwriter Grey (Beatty) is haunted by grisly nightmares, and her doctor (Ironside) is unable to find a treatment that works. Perhaps getting away will help, so she and her girlfriend Charlie (So) head off to a remote woodland studio to record Grey's next album with scandalous hotshot producer Vaughn (Bryk). As they get to work, Grey needs to dig deep into herself. But she can't escape these ghastly visions of herself as a wolf. The demanding Vaughn encourages her to embrace them and push her boundaries further, channeling her urges into her music.
Vaughn's isolated mansion in a snowy wilderness is hilariously arch, complete with gothic doorways, candelabras and a sneery housekeeper (Buchan). There's also an underlying irony in the way the vegan Grey begins to crave meat. But scenes are played with an ominous self-importance, never taking advantage of the story's offbeat angles to make things more inviting or engaging. Instead, director Moses focusses on Grey's darkly focussed exploration of her carnivorous longings and artistic ambition. And of course there are more secrets that need to be brought into the open.

Beatty gives Grey an effectively haunted persona, but only hints at her ferocious instincts. There are outbursts of emotion, but her energy remains bottled up even as Vaughn brazenly pushes her buttons. Bryk adds a gruff intensity to Vaughn, which is most effective in the way he clashes with the fiercely loyal Charlie. Otherwise, So's role is a bit thankless, as Charlie remains on the sideline, only around to warn Grey that there's obviously something dangerous going on here.

Grey's songs (by musician Lowell, who also cowrote the script) cleverly turn sinister as the story progresses, mixing beauty with an undercurrent of violence to add passion to the vocals. There are several gruesome moments along the way that are entertainingly unnerving, plus some inventive, understated makeup and effects work. And even the more obvious, incoherent plot twists are provocative and genuinely nasty. But the film's nuttiest sequences are played with such a straight face that they begin to feel faintly ridiculous.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 29.Aug.21

Death Drop Gorgeous  
Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5

Death Drop Gorgeous
dir-scr Michael J Ahern, Christopher Dalpe, Brandon Perras-Sanchez
prd Brandon Perras-Sanchez Christopher Dalpe, Michael J Ahern, Ryan Miller, Wayne Gonsalves
with Wayne Gonsalves, Payton St James, Brandon Perras-Sanchez, Christopher Dalpe, Michael J Ahern, Sean Murphy, Complete Destruction, Matthew Pidge, Linnea Quigley, Ninny Nothin, Neoki Feytal, Jacqueline Dimera
release US 10.Sep.21
20/US 1h44

Is it streaming?

dalpe and gonsalves
There's a gleefully trashy tone to this grisly horror comedy, which feels thoroughly home-made with its overacting cast, clumsy pacing and guerrilla-style locations. With each scene full of snappy drag queens, it's a witty, snarky movie that makes up for the low-brow production with arch dialog and hilariously over-the-top characters. If the three writer-directors had made the movie sexy as well, it might have been a cult classic.
Back in Providence after a bad breakup, Dwayne (Gonsalves) moves in with his enthusiastically camp friend Brian (Dalpe) and returns to his old job in a bar owned by the shifty Tony (Perras-Sanchez). But there's a killer in town, stalking victims on hook-up apps, in dressing rooms and cruising sites then draining their blood. Detectives O'Hara and Barry (Ahern and Murphy) are on the case, and they quickly trace each victim back to Tony's club. And as more and more boys turn up brutally murdered, the question is whether anyone will make it out alive.
Each scene is a riot of sequins and glitter, although the filmmaking is very rough around the edges, with the story choppily edited together. The slasher-killer lurks in the shadows, striking in riotously outrageous ways. There's an early scene that adds a nasty meaning to the Grindr app, while mirrors and stilettos are apt weapons to use against a diva. And the makeup and gore effects are gushingly well-done. Otherwise, there's rather a lot of messy lip-synching and appallingly dopey conversations leading to the extended, wildly incoherent finale.

None of the characters is developed very deeply, but Gonsalves provides an engaging presence at the centre as the lovelorn Dwayne. Dalpe has fun hamming it up as the dopey Brian, and both Ahern and Murphy stir plenty of rather obvious innuendo into their scenes. It's a bit of a problem that most drag queens are the similarly styled and essentially interchangeable. Standouts are Destruction's hilariously monosyllabic goth Tragedi and St James' has-been drama queen, cast off as a relic by 40.

The script reveals the killer's identity about an hour in, so the rest of the film is about revealing the nefarious master plan while the detectives work the case and the performers carry on obliviously. The filmmakers miss a trick as they continually shy away from anything remotely lusty. And the comment on ageism in the business is half-hearted at best. But the escalating body count offers plenty of amusingly blood-splattered mayhem.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 2.Sep.21

A Wake  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
A Wake
dir-scr Scott Boswell
prd Cheryl Simas Valenzuela
with Noah Urrea, Kolton Stewart, Sofia Rosinsky, Megan Trout, Bettina Devin, Emilie Talbot, Kevin Karrick, Scott Cox, Nathan Brown, Tiffany Heggebo, Regia Sargent, Marc Scruggs
release US 3.Sep.21
19/US 1h37

Is it streaming?

urrea and stewart
Quiet and thoughtful, this low-budget drama taps into buried emotions and unexpected truths. Writer-director Scott Boswell draws the audience in with involving scenes that peer under the surface. The disparate threads take time to come together into something meaningful, which leaves the film feeling hesitant about the way it approaches the unnecessary clash between Christianity and homosexuality. But the final act brings some remarkably open-handed moments that offer hope.

As a deeply religious family grapples with grief, teen Mason (Urrea) is devastated by the loss of his identical twin Mitchel to an overdose, straining to reach out to him. His demanding little sister Molly (Rosinsky) is planning the wake, while stepmum Vanessa (Talbot) and grandmother Loretta (Devin) try not to bicker. Meanwhile, older sister Megan (Trout) arrives in town but takes her time returning home. Then Mitchel's secret boyfriend Jameson (Stewart) turns up, and the group's reminiscences begin to reveal their connection. Whether the family is ready to accept this is another story.
When the family pastor (Cox) fails to understand Mason's need to connect with his brother, Mason turns to a psychic (Sargent) and a Ouija board, which infuriates his devout Baptist dad (Karrick). Meanwhile in flashbacks, the layered relationship between twins Mason and Mitchel (also Urrea) begins to emerge, circling around Mitchel's romance with Jameson and a group of violently homophobic school bullies. Then at Molly's memorial ceremony, the attendees open up about their feelings, forcing everyone to confront their beliefs.

Even when there are arguments between the family members, performances remain muted. Urrea has a strong presence as the young Mason, whose thoughts and feelings remain largely internalised. His interaction with Jameson has a subtle spark of intrigue, which is very nicely played by Stewart and Urrea (in both roles) as teens who are simply trying to make sense of their lives in a culture that feels adversarial. Other characters are more simplistically defined, but work together to create a bigger picture.

Although Mitchel's pill-popping habit feels like a plot device, it reflects the intense struggle of a closeted gay teen living in a harshly religious home that's in denial about everything. It's awful to see the family avoid the topic at hand, encouraged by platitudes from the pastor, refusing to be honest about who Mitchel was and why he died. The saddest thing is that they all know the facts but refuse to accept or talk about them, which of course leads to even more stress and pain. But healing only comes in embracing the truth.

cert pg themes, language, sexuality, violence 31.Aug.21

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