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|Shadows off the beaten path|
Indies, foreigns, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 10.Sep.23|
The Latent Image
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Alexander McGregor Birrell
prd Cedric Andries
with Joshua Tonks, Jay Clift, William Tippery, Michael Alan Herman, Danny Plotner, Brendan Haley, Cedric Andries, Michael Varati
release US 12.Sep.23,
Is it streaming?
A contained thriller set in a cabin in the woods, this film cleverly plays with the nature of storytelling. Writer-director Alexander McGregor Birrell gleefully creates a mysterious vibe, adding suspense and meta flourishes in each scene. The main focus is on the elusive nature of inspiration, where ideas come from and how to make sure a plot holds water. And this unfolds in a way that's tense and sexy.
In an isolated house, Ben (Tonks) is writing a thriller novel while watching his own home movie footage when he hears a noise outside. He's bemused by his jittery nerves, then discovers a strange young man (Clift) making himself at home. In the morning, they chat awkwardly and, while the man goes to fix his car, Ben searches for information about this unnamed man, weaving it into his novel. Then Ben starts thinking that he'd like this man to stay. Soon they start talking about Ben's story, and the possibilities for where it could go.
Opening with scenes from Ben's creative mind, the film features so many red herrings that it's increasingly impossible to know whether what we're seeing is real or imagined. This extends to the movies Ben is shooting in the surrounding forest, seeking ideas for his story while imagining what might happen if his boyfriend Jamie (Tippery) turns up. Ben is resolutely old school, using a manual typewriter and Super 8 film camera. And his thoughts spiral out from his internal jumble of hopes and fears.
Tonks is likeable as Ben, even if his actions often seem impulsive and random, but then much of this is taking place in his rapidly unravelling mind's eye as he connects this stranger to recent stories of missing people in the area. Clift gives his role a mix of engaging enigma and freak-out menace that's deliberately inconsistent due to Ben's perception. Both actors dive into the physicality of their roles, which adds energy and intensity to the ever-shifting dynamic between them.
Implications abound as to who this stranger really is and what he's up to, connecting his story to Ben's over-active daydreaming. So as the narrative develops into full-on horror, it becomes irrelevant whether this is in Ben's mind or not. Although the lingering questions do have a big impact on whether or not the suspense takes hold. Ultimately, the story circles around to find some resonance in Ben and Jamie's strained relationship. And in the end, it's some astonishingly desperate violence that gives the film a kick.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Mike Hurst
prd Pat Kusnadi, Robbie Dias, Mike Hurst, Vernon Wells
with Vernon Wells, Dave Sheridan, Felissa Rose, Nicole Cinaglia, Marcella Di Pasquale, Angela Cela, Hunter Johnson, McKensie Lane, Charles Chudabala, Jennifer Nangle, Sadie Katz, Raymond Vinsik Williams
release UK Aug.23 frf
Is it streaming?
This ambitious horror film uses a range of pastiche styles to tell a story that's created by channel-hopping through TV broadcasts. Writer-director Michael Hurst infuses everything with the same B-movie production values as the movies and programmes within the film. Each element has a strong kick, and the way they combine is fiendishly clever. But there isn't space for character depth as everything circles around an overall narrative.
One night, an old man flips channels in between news updates about a home invasion and a series of murder-suicides connected by a strange symbol that's been seen painted around town. Among the shows he watches is a documentary following Rachel (Cinaglia) as she investigates the mysterious disappearance of her grandfather Frank (Wells), a slasher horror filmmaker who had that same symbol in his journal. His sci-fi epic is playing on another channel. And there's also the late-night comedy Nutballs, about an angry man (Sheridan) protecting his daughter (Cela) from a horny poolboy (Johnson).
Many of the channel jumps create hilarious juxtapositions, filling in story points in witty ways. In the outer space movie, a strange transmission turns crew members into ruthless killers. And there are various connections between films, news, docs and glimpses of other programmes, including a vintage sitcom, children's puppets and a shouty televangelist. All of this seems to link to satanic rituals involving a legendary void that can cause you to lose your mind.
Performances are all heightened, matching the style of each part of the production, although the fragmented structure makes it fairly impossible for anyone to develop complexity or nuance. The strongest roles are for Wells' filmmaker, who is depicted over several decades driven by his curiosity about this void, and Cinaglia as his intrepid granddaughter, who digs a bit too far into this mystery. Meanwhile, Di Pasquale has the most demanding role as a crew member facing all-out madness in her spaceship.
Aside from the general warning not to mess with things you don't understand, the movie doesn't have much to say thematically. But it's a remarkable achievement on what is clearly a relatively low budget, mimicking a wide variety of shooting styles and genres to create an eerily coherent overall story. The climactic moments are completely bonkers, as each fragment converges on this world-altering, exhilaratingly crazed transmission. And stick around for a properly unhinged post-credits sting.
Where the Devil Roams
Review by Rich Cline |
Is it streaming?
Made by the entire Adams family, this stylised horror romp is packed with extreme gore and devilish humour. Actor-filmmakers John, Toby and Zelda play a father, mother and daughter in 1930s America who embark on a murderous rampage while trying to hold their family together. So the film is a bizarro mix of emotional connections and satanic nonsense, plus lots of blood. And underlying warmth continually takes us aback.
Working for a travelling circus, Seven (John Adams) and his wife Maggie (Poser) perform with their daughter Eve (Zelda Adams), who sings with the voice of an angel but is otherwise mute. Driving in their vintage Chevy, they are forced to camp when no one takes them in. Abused as a child, Maggie purges her inner demons by killing villains they meet along the way, covering Seven's eyes to avoid triggering his trauma from the Great War. Eve photographs each violent death. Then when things take a turn, she comes up with a macabre solution.
Each element of the film is carefully designed with grubby textures and freaky imagery, accompanied by a mood-setting soundtrack by the family's band H6llB6nd6r. This creates an almost overpowering atmosphere, photographed in various levels of desaturation to maximise audience unease. Later on, the plot wobbles as Eve's imagination is piqued by fellow circus performer Mr Tibbs (Rodd), who has made a pact with the devil to heal him of the grisly wounds he self-inflicts in his act. But since she's mute, she can't say the words that make it work properly.
Performances are cartoonishly heightened to create an overall madhouse atmosphere in which everyone is an outcast from polite society. But each character also has a fascinating inner life. John Adams gives Seven a steely intensity that comes from his experience as a doctor and a battlefield medic, seen in violent flashback. Zelda Adams' Eve has an engagingly watchful demeanour, contrasted skilfully with her pitch-black thoughts and actions. And Poser has the scene-stealing role as the charismatic Maggie, who makes sense of the big bad world in her own brutal way.
All of this plays out in an over-the-top style that only rarely allows for subtlety. The demonic elements are played up from the start, and never quite come together plot-wise. This is perhaps intentional, a way to depict Eve's mind slipping after being raised by these two badly damaged people. Her desperation to keep her family stitched together is vivid and surprisingly touching. And it leads to a final moment that's simply jaw-dropping.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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