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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 1.Sep.23

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir Steven Pierce
scr James Allerdyce, Steven Pierce
prd James Allerdyce, Matt Mundy, Steven Pierce, Lori Kay, Bret Carr
with Ellen Adair, Mitzi Akaha, Corbin Bernsen, Jeremy Holm, Timothy V Murphy, Brandon James Ellis, Amanda Fuller, Dana Snyder, Jeremy Lawson, Ronan Starnes, Mallory Hawks, Matt Walton
release UK Aug.23 frf
23/US 1h36


Is it streaming?

akaha and adair
Starting as a marital drama, this film develops strongly resonant themes before transforming into a marauding zombie thriller. Steven Pierce directs the movie with a sharp sense of both the settings and relationships, which pulls the audience in further. It's a fresh approach that brings new ideas to the genre, highlighting the drama and grisliness while making pointed commentary about people who would rather fight than help each other.
Trying to save her stale marriage, Jamie (Adair) agrees to accompany her wife Alex (Akaha) on a canoeing getaway in rural Missouri. When Alex is injured in an accident, they make their way to Jamie's nearby hometown and the farm where her estranged father (Bernsen) lives. But the whole area is overrun with "heps", people who have turned violently cannibalistic due to a viral infection. They get help from Big John (Holm), a local doctor (Snyder) and a refuge worker (Fuller). But a rival militia led by Sterling (Murphy) launches an attack on them.
Real pain ripples through the connection between Jamie and Alex, which has led to a collapse in their ability to communicate. And this whole walking-dead situation doesn't make that any easier to deal with. It also forces Jamie to confront the unresolved conflict with her hotheaded bigot father. Yes, deep-seated prejudice about same-sex couples shows up in unexpected places, as do compassion and understanding. So where the story goes is intense and sometimes scary, but it also carries a strong emotional kick.

Performances have remarkable textures, as the action is punctuated with extended thoughtful scenes. Adair is able to make Jamie a complex, engaging woman who struggles to make the right decisions but is doing her best. She finds it impossible to share her feelings, but her bond with Akaha's more open-handed Alex runs deep. So even in the most chaotic action sequences, their feelings keep us tightly involved. And supporting actors bring their own complexities to surprisingly nuanced roles.

Deeper human issues make this an unusually involving thriller. The way some people are willing to battle each other to the death, even when there's a common enemy out there, is the most horrifying thing on the screen. And the underlying personal issues provide further resonance, encouraging us to say the honest things that need to be said, support those we love and sometimes give each other a break. Of course, facing an army of the undead can make this a bit difficult.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 25.Aug.23

It Lives Inside  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
The Artifice Girl
dir-scr Bishal Dutta
prd Raymond Mansfield, Sean McKittrick
with Megan Suri, Mohana Krishnan, Betty Gabriel, Neeru Bajwa, Vik Sahay, Gage Marsh, Beatrice Kitsos, Jenaya Ross, Sangeeta Wylie, Nola Khare, Saisha Muni, Siddhartha Minhas
release US/UK 22.Sep.23
23/US Neon 1h39


Is it streaming?

After a moody-macabre prolog sets the tone, this film cleverly shifts into the usual story about a social-media obsessed American teen. But everything is tinged by the characters' Indian heritage, which is linked to the horror that's unleashed. Writer-director Bishal Dutta tells the story skilfully, keeping the people and settings grounded while indulging in flurries of hyperactive movie grisliness. And the chaos escalates steadily to a cleverly savage finale.
At 16, top student Samidha (Suri) is frustrated by the constraints of her parents' Indian culture, wanting to be more integrated. Teacher Joyce (Gabriel) asks Sam to check on estranged friend Tamira (Krisnan), who is withdrawn and sullen. Indeed, Tamira says she has an Indian demon trapped in a jar. And when Sam smashes the jar, it possesses Tamira. Amid terrifying visions, Sam follows clues to Karan (Minhas), the frightened young man who unleashed it in the first place. And it seems to have Sam in its sites as well, violently attacking people around her.
Contrasting Sam's bright teen life with Tamira's dark personal hell, the movie allows these two realities to blur together, creating realistic scares alongside the heightened cinematic noise, which includes grisly cutaways, high-volume blasts of sound and lots of terrified facial expressions. There's also a sinister notebook filled with freaky drawings and symbols, but minimal digital trickery. And when Joyce researches this malevolent entity, which is called Pishach, she says the only way to stop it is to trap it like a genie in a bottle.

Suri is terrific as a normal teen who realises too late that she's caught up in something seriously dangerous. She has a sparky connection with Marsh's Russ, a cute classmate who invites her to dance at a party. So their investigation in Karan's abandoned house bristles with all kinds of tension. As her parents, Bajwa and Sahay add strong emotional currents to the story. And Gabriel is excellent, adding both gravitas and compassion to her scenes, while also diving into the craziness.

The strain between Sam and her cultural background adds unusual textures to the film, including the suggestion that this soul-devouring monster is stalking her because she is rejecting who she is. So Sam is grappling with layers of guilt, which makes her sympathetic in an unusually complex way. Even deeper is Indian wisdom about never going to sleep with bad feelings, as they will only fester in the darkness. Although this gruesome and intensely nasty film is certainly not going to give you sunny, smiley dreams.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 24.Aug.23

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir-scr Jennifer Reeder
prd Derek Bishe, Gregory Chambet
with Kiah McKirnan, Alicia Silverstone, Melanie Liburd, Christopher Lowell, Ireon Roach, Casimere Jollette, Sasha Kuznetsov, Tim Hopper, Josh Bywater, Audrey Francis, Avery Holliday, Ilirida Memedovski
release US/UK 1.Sep.23
23/US 1h41


Is it streaming?

There's a Lynchian weirdness to this dramatic horror that adds a compelling sense of emotion, pulling us into an arch mystery. Writer-director Jennifer Reeder infuses this story with provocative comments on femininity and gender, continually finding pointed ideas even as the story gets increasingly freaky and outrageously violent. It all tips a bit over the top, but is such an original that it's likely to develop a cult following.
Just before she turns 18, compulsive thief Jonny (McKirnan) is sent to live with her eccentric Aunt Hilde (Silverstone), because her father (Hopper) can't cope with what's coming. Indeed, she has inherited an empathetic superpower that Hilde can help her come to terms with. She calls it "forevering", and it's different for each family member. Meanwhile, girls are going missing from school at an alarming rate, and Jonny decides to do something about this, using her newfound hyper-senses and working with her friend Aviva (Jollette) to track down the perpetrator. Then Aviva is taken.
Blood makes an appearance in most scenes, often pooling on the floor in what seem to be living puddles that have a life of their own. It appears in the bonkers dreams Jonny has as she adjusts to this new reality. And also in a squirt-gun deployed by the smarmy principal (Lowell) during an absurd active-shooter drill. And it also shows up horrifically in how the masked killer tortures his victims with bizarre medical procedures. Of course, blood and heightened feelings are also representative of Jonny's womanhood.

To match the spiky plot, the characters are also heightened, giving the film a camp, soapy sensibility that often feels lurid, perhaps like the inside of a pubescent mind. This gives the effect that we are looking right into the people on-screen, rather than merely watching them go through these situations. McKirnan is excellent in the focal role, giving Jonny a bristling resilience that has almost taken her over. Silverstone is wonderfully woozy and insinuating, while Liburd has a terrific grounding role that emerges from a key revelation.

There are all kinds of intriguing layers in Reeder's script that defy expectations, so the film is neither a standard teen coming-of-age nor slasher horror film. But elements of both combine to make what happens darker and deeper, and also surprising as the story takes several jagged swerves. And there's added meaning in the recurring theme about the lengths people will go to in their quest to look eternally youthful. But at its centre, this is a fresh celebration of female perception.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 30.Aug.23

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