Welcome to the darker side of AICN! M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. So I took a small vacation this week and while that always sets me back on my movie watching, I ended up having a fun time basically enjoying nature and some peace and quiet out of the city. No axe wielding maniacs or spaceships or Bigfoots to be seen in my journey into nature, but I did end up catching a few noteworthy movies below including the new film IT COMES AT NIGHT which, if you’re looking for real horror in the cinemas and what more of it, you should definitely check it out above, say, a horrorless remake of a classic Universal monster movie with an overpriced lead. Alls I’m saying is that IT COMES AT NIGHT is horror I’d rather see more of in theaters than the stuff Universal is trying to pawn off as scary. That’s my two cents of what you should do with your two cents (plus about twenty dollars as theater prices go these days) this weekend at the box office.
I also wanted to give out an open call to advertisers interested in helping to keep this column running. Any inquiries should contact me here!
On with the horror reviews!
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
Retro-review: DOLLS (1987)
It Came From My Shelf: COOKERS (2001)
DON’T KNOCK TWICE (2016)
DEAD WITHIN (2014)
CAMERA OBSCURA (2017)
IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017)
Advance Review: DEVIL’S WHISPER (2017)
And finally…Light’s Out: Execution!
Retro-review: New in the Empire Pictures BluRay Box Set Collection from Full Moon Entertainment!
DOLLS (1987)aka THE DOLL
Directed by Stuart Gordon
Written by Ed Naha
Starring Ian Patrick Williams, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Carrie Lorraine, Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason, Bunty Bailey, Cassie Stuart, Stephen Lee
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Empire Pictures made some amazing films in the 80’s. The precursor to Full Moon Entertainment stretched their budgets and put varied and extremely creative images on screen. These mini-epics tackle horror, sci fi and beyond and now they’ve collected them all in one huge, badass box set. I’m going to be covering each film in this collection over the next few weeks, but if you’re a film collector, you’re going to want to grab this set as soon as possible as there are only 600 of them. Check out this sizzle reel featuring some of the iconic films collected in this Box Set.
From the folks who brought you FROM BEYOND and RE-ANIMATOR comes something a little less Lovecraftian, but still pretty effective. While DOLLS is steeped in 80s horror movie clichés, it is also downright creepy from start to finish and while it doesn’t really stand up against the perfect storm that is RE-ANIMATOR or even the oddity that is FROM BEYOND, DOLLS still packs a punch worthy of recognition.
Released at the apex of awesome for Charles Band’s Empire Releasing, DOLLS opens with a dysfunctional family of three passing up a pair of punk rock hitchhikers and then breaking down conveniently in front of an old gothic mansion. Inside the car, snippy bitch Judy (played acidically by Carolyn Purdy-Gordon) does her best stab at an evil stepmother sniping at poor little Judy (Carrie Lorraine) in the backseat as her spineless husband and Judy’s father David (Ian Patrick Williams) snivel in the front seat. Immediately, we are to hate this couple and they do a fine job of making it so by yelling at Judy and then tossing her favorite teddy bear into the bushes. After a pretty amazing dream sequence where teddy gets his revenge on her parent, Judy is led to the mansion where the trio is to stay for the night. At the door of the mansion is the seemingly harmless Gabriel and Hillary Hardwicke (Guy Rolfe & Hilary Mason), who show the family to their own rooms, but not before the two punk girls show up as well as our unlikely hero, Ralph (Stephen Lee), a chubby but lovable man-child who has a sot spot for Judy having to put up with her shit-ass parents. About the entire mansion are tons and tons of dolls, and no one really seems to find this odd until they begin to stand up and attack folks when they are alone. Soon, only a few are left to find out the secret of the Hardwickes and their murderous doll collection.
Much like clowns, dolls can be very frightening due to their painted-on faces, especially when they are antiquated and worn down by use and time. Director Stuart Gordon knows this as many a scene is dedicated to focusing on their blank stares, dirty faces, and creepy painted-on smiles. Toss in a little stop motion animation and these dolls are damn spooky. And while a modern version of his tale would likely use CG for much cleaner movement, there’s something about the stop motion articulation that gives it all a much more effective chill factor. Gordon uses this in some extremely well choreographed scenes of murderous doll mayhem ranging from an amazing full-on attack with dolls with razor blades to a firing squad of toy soldiers to one victim turning into a life-sized doll holding her bloody eyes outside of her seeping eyeholes. And while the body horror isn’t as potent as RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, and SOCIETY, the kills definitely are creative to the max.
Stephen Lee has been in a ton of films from THE NEGOTIATOR to WAR GAMES, but he really gets to shine in this film as Ralph, the guy all of us geeks can relate to. He has an appreciation for toys, and is definitely more at home playing with Judy than interacting with the asshole adults in this film. Lee is likable in the role, even though some of his reactions to the horror make it feel like he channeling Lou Costello. And while a lot of the humor falls flat, Lee fills the void in the heart department left by these evil adults.
Though this is a bit of an outlier in director Stuart Gordon’s resume in terms of dealing with more fairy tale elements compared to the stuff he is most famous for, DOLLS proves that no matter what the sub-genre, he is a master at his horrific craft.
COOKERS (2001)Directed by Dan Mintz
Written by Jack Moore, Jeff Ritchie
Starring Brad Hunt, Cyia Batten, Patrick McGaw, Paul Banashek, Ashley Ann LaPan, Karole Nellis, Frankie Ray
Retro-reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
So I haven’t done an “It Came From My Shelf” review in a while. Through the years I’ve amassed quite the horror collection including some rare and difficult to find films. Like most of you, I imagine, I like to peruse the half price stores and bargain bins in hopes to find some obscure gem I haven’t seen before. This section isn’t really about something that is being released, but it is to give notice to some films that deserve a rerelease. So while I don’t know for certain where to direct you to find this one, if you stumble across it and you see it in this section, I advise you to pick it up. I got mine for $3.00 at Half Price Books and I found it here on Amazon. Because I’m doing some research on the mixture of drugs and horror for an upcoming project, I figured now would be a prime time to check out COOKERS as it has heaping helpings of both drugs and horror and mixes them into a deadly blend.
Hector (Brad Hunt) and his girlfriend Dorena (Cyia Batten) have stolen a shit ton of drugs and plan to whip up a giant batch of crystal meth to last them a lifetime and still be rich. Hector’s old buddy Merle (Patrick McGaw) is brought in because he knows of an abandoned house in the middle of the woods that is secluded enough to not be bothered by cops or trespassers. As Hector and Dorena lock themselves in the house to cook the meth, Merle is their only link to the outside world providing them with food and essentials. But as the three begin sampling the meth and other drugs, strange things start happening. At first they think that it is the drugs messing with their minds, but that doesn’t explain the shared hallucinations and dreams all three are having. Soon drug-fueled paranoia and possible paranormal activity start chipping away the psyches of these three speed freaks turning them inside out and against one another.
Filmed on a tight budget with the same kind of high definition digital format that SESSION 9 was filmed in, COOKERS is an excellent descent into madness tale laced with deadly addiction. It does not paint a decadent picture of drug taking lifestyle, but instead shows how drugs can wear down the body, mind, and soul. We first meet Hector when he is somewhat lucid and clean, having just stolen the drugs with his mind filled with grand plans of the final score. But once he begins cooking and tasting his own product, Hector quickly devolves into a paranoid, tweaked out shell of a man along with his two accomplices, especially when the paranormal visions start happening.
You don’t need a monster budget when you have amazing performances. I’ve encountered my fair share of tweakers and crack heads working in the mental health industry for a decade and Hunt, Batten, and McGaw are convincing as all get out. Brad Hunt is especially effective as Hector, the “leader” of this crew who becomes so overcome with paranoia that he doesn’t trust his friends closest to him. As the drug use and spooky stuff grows, so does Hector’s anxiety and Hunt’s shaky and spastic performance makes it all utterly believable. Batten and McGaw are equally great as they are haunted by their own demons plumbed from the depths of their worst nightmares.
While the effects are few and far between, it’s the intimate portrait of addiction that really sells the horror here. COOKERS is an amazing psychological nightmare. Director Brad Mintz keeps the cameras in nice and close to focus on the darting eyes, sweaty brows, and matted hair of these people throwing their life away for feeding their addiction and the pursuit of fame, fortune, and power. Mintz went on to produce the IRON MAN movies and other big budget movies, but COOKERS shows an authentic level of grit and grim here. Good luck finding this one, but if you do, this twisted gem is definitely worth seeking out for its realistic depiction of the horror of drugs and how seamlessly it melds that with the world of the supernatural.
New this week On Demand and on DVD September 1st from Uncork’d Entertainment!
BESETMENT (2017)Directed by Brad Douglas
Written by Brad Douglas
Starring Abby Wathen, Marlyn Mason, Michael Meyer, Douglas Rowe, Lindsea Kline, Greg James, Hannah Barefoot, John T. Woods, Sonya Davis, Max Gutfreund, Liam O'Sruitheain, Sadndra Doolittle, Tanner McCullough, Ashley Layton, Nona Bigham, Edward Simper
Find out more about this film here, @besetment, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While there are some moments of bite in BESETMENT, the film undercuts its own impact with expository and repetitious scenes as well as some rough patches of acting. While it tries to shock and schlock you, the rough edges of this one just don’t make it stand out. Still, there are some scenes that I wish I could unsee, which is something impressive with my jaded sensibilities.
A young woman named Amanda (Abby Wathen) takes a job at an inn owned by the seemingly matronly Mildred (Marlyn Mason). It’s an offer too good to be true as Amanda is trying to move out of her home and get away from her verbally abusive and alcoholic mother. Leaping at the opportunity, Amanda fails to see the creepy signs on the wall and ends up bound to a bed with her mouth sewn shut, and preparing to be forced to wed Mildred’s grown yet infantile son Billy (Michael Meyer).
BESETMENT reminds me of the schlocky familial horror films of old like THE BABY, SPIDER BABY, MOTHER’S DAY, and SONNY BOY as well as the classic TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, where the antagonists trap an unwitting victim and force them to be a part of their twisted family. I can appreciate the twisted lengths this film goes in order to shock the audience, even though seeing a septuagenarian jerk off her fifty year old son is something I’m pretty certain I never wanted to see. Still, in terms of shock and awe, that scene makes this movie up there in the “that’s just fucking wrong” category. The twisted ceremony of the drugged up Amanda and her husband to be is another attempt as freakishness, this time reminiscent of the oft-repeated dinner scene in TCM where a common familial setting is shat upon and put away wet by the freakishness of the monsters of the film. In that sense, BESETMENT does a decent job of providing some offensive and downright scarring scenes that really get to the core of what abject and unsettling horror is all about.
The problem is that everything is handled so ham fistedly that the impact of these twisted scenes fall flat on delivery. The acting is below par, the direction and editing are clumsy, and the writing is redundant. Through dialog and some action, we are able to put together that Amanda has been raped the first night she was at the inn, but she remembers none of it. We can piece together that Billy is a simple-minded, yet good natured soul through his interactions with Amanda and that Mildred is the true evil force at play here. Still, instead of relying on us to get it through the way the story plays out, the filmmaker decides to actually show the scene AFTER we’ve already been given all the information. We don’t need that extended flashback scene that simply adds ten minutes to the movie—most likely it was done to get feature length runtime as it only runs an hour and eleven minutes. This clumsy storytelling, capped off at the end with a trail scene that feels like it was set on the NIGHT COURT stage, is what really killed this one for me.
While there are some really grotesque things at play here, the need to show it all and poor way everything from acting to story is presented just makes this one a film you can skip. Some ideas are best hinted at for better effect. Showing it all isn’t always a good thing and this is the case with BESETMENT.
New this week on BluRay/DVD Combo available exclusively at WalMart and available on BluRay/DVD everywhere on August 1st from The Shout Factory and IFC Midnight!
DON’T KNOCK TWICE (2016)Directed by Caradog W. James
Written by Mark Huckerby, Nick Ostler
Starring Katee Sackhoff, Lucy Boynton, Nick Moran, Jordan Bolger, Pooneh Hajimohammadi, Richard Mylan, Megan Purvis, Callum Griffiths, Celyn Evans, Gabriel Trimble, Broughton Davies David, and Javier Botet as the demon-witch thing!
Find out more about this film here, @DontKnockTwice, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While films of this kind, where a woman faces a terrible curse that threatens to wreck her family, have been a cornerstone of horror for ages. Still, the recent glut of movies of this type which seem to want to be a tent pole film for either a rising female star or a possible franchise comparable to the INSIDIOUS/CONJURING/SINISTER films or both is getting really tiresome. That said, DON’T KNOCK TWICE, despite some moronic rules and an all over the place ending, contains a few nice jolts and some decent performances.
Recovering addict Jess (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’S Katee Sackhoff) has straightened out and makes a living as a sculptor, so she decides it’s high time to try to reconnect with her teenage daughter Chloe (Lucy Boynton). Growing up in an orphanage, Chloe has had her fair share of trouble, including driving a local old lady nuts by continuously knocking on her door and running away. Seems the old lady ends up hanging herself when the elderly shut in is accused of kidnapping a local missing boy. As a lark, Chloe and her boyfriend decide to knock twice on the abandoned home of the old lady for old times sake. But when her boyfriend disappears, Chloe believes the ghost of the old woman is out to get her and she decides to take Jess up on the offer to stay in her new home. This pairs mother and daughter against a twisted demon creature who likes to rap twice on your door before dragging you to hell.
Focusing on the good first; there are quite a few nicely choreographed scare scenes that I will admit gave me a start. These mostly are simply well constructed jump scares, but at least they aren’t the typical false jump scares, as they actually have some scary imagery to back it up. These scares occur in the earlier parts of the film as we are trying to figure out just what is going on, what are the rules of the horror in this movie, and the like. Director Caradog W. James, who dazzled in his first film THE MACHINE, at least knows how to set up scares in a way that really do work. I also have to compliment the actors Sackhoff and Boynton. Both of these actresses are strong in their roles and really do make you want to care about these characters even though they do some pretty dumb stuff later in the film.
The whole premise itself is rather flimsy. Who knocks twice? For the most part it’s usual a triple tap or an incessant knock till the door opens, but knocking twice just doesn’t seem like something someone does. Maybe it’s something I missed in my novice years in knocking. But if that were the only problem with this film, I wouldn’t have much issue with it. The main problem with DON’T KNOCK TWICE comes towards the tail end of the film where the film sort of just flops in on itself. There are red herrings, false endings, and then there’s the whole part where they get the bright idea to burn all of the doors in the house in an attempt to keep the demon from knocking. This is followed by a scene where the demon basically says, “Fuck you, you door burning mother ‘effers! I can make a door wherever I want!” and swiftly does so, making the hours the Sackhoff and Boynton spent taking all of the doors off the hinges, carting them to the front lawn, and setting them ablaze utterly pointless. It’s nonsensical decisions like this that make the latter half of this film simply ineffective and illogical since the film is so busy trying to throw people off and set up red herrings that it forgets to really establish a world and rules as to what this creature is and how it can be defeated.
Speaking of the creature, it is once again played by Javier Botet. I say once again because if you’ve seen MAMA or if you’ve seen another door movie called THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR or if you’ve seen [REC], then you know this actor (he is currently filming another creepy role in the upcoming IT movie). He is a lanky, Doug Jones body type, who mainly is shown either standing in the distance awkwardly or crawling towards the hero/heroine like THE GRUDGE girl with knobby outstretched fingers. This is admittedly a gruesome effect, but I feel Botet needs to up his repertoire a bit as he basically is doing the same crawls, scary walks, and posing that he’s done in the aforementioned films. Having seen these films, seeing him crawl, scary walk, and pose the exact same way in DON’T KNOCK TWICE is simply ineffectual after multiple viewings. The guy is creepily proportioned and always brings it in each performance, but directors, have Botet do something different please.
DON’T KNOCK TWICE isn’t a bad film. It’s just confused at the end as to where it wants to end up. There are plenty of great scenes that highlight both Sackhoff and Boynton’s skills as actors and director Caradog W. James’ ability to make potent scares on a smaller budget. The problem is that too much of this film has been seen before and the attempts to make things new and different end up being not well thought out.
Available on Netflix here and on iTunes here!
DEAD WITHIN (2013)aka WHAT REMAINS
Directed by Ben Wagner
Written by Matthew Bradford, Dean Chekvala, Ben Wagner, Amy Cale Peterson
Starring Dean Chekvala, Amy Cale Peterson
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
The psychological toll surviving the zombie apocalypse takes on a person is a theme that is ever present in THE WALKING DEAD and is surprisingly similar to IT COMES AT NIGHT, though it has a slightly broader scope at less of a budget. But while Rick and his survivors choose to make things interesting by travelling around from one locale to the next, it doesn’t really tell a story of those who are perfectly happy staying put where they are and how one locale can be equally taxing on the sanity. That’s the theme the new film DEAD WITHIN decides to dissect and dissect it does in a meticulous, harrowing, and gut-wrenching manner.
The film opens on what looks like a lovely day in LA. Traffic is lined up and the buildings stand tall. A gorgeously choreographed helicopter shot transitioning to the winding roads down the coast into forested areas away from the city follows, leading the viewer to a secluded cabin in the woods where a party is underway with a bunch of twenty somethings enjoying a meal, drinking wine, and living the good life. Just before you get annoyed with this picture of happiness, we switch to present day; where we are at the same locale, but it is now dark, in disarray, and occupied by two very different people than the happy couple we were just introduced to. Mike (Dean Chekvala) and his young wife Kim (Amy Cale Peterson) seem to be the only survivors left of the happy party. Soon we learn that outside, the world’s gone to shit, with diseased inhuman zombies roaming around and the threat of disease laying in every drop of water, morsel of food, or animal or human coming to their door. Barricaded in their home, Mike and Kim have worked out an intricate system in order for them to survive; as Mike goes out for food and supplies, Kim stays in secluded and alone.
What the film does right is that it focuses on surviving rather than the monsters themselves. DEAD WITHIN is more of a story about the horrors of seclusion and how that can destroy a perfectly good mind. Overcome by worry and guilt, as Mike’s trips take longer and longer, Kim’s sanity is chipping away. Filled with horrifying dreams realities and even scarier events that are actually happening to her, Kim is pushed to the limits. We never really leave this small cabin in DEAD WITHIN, but due to a rock-solid performance by Kim, never once does the film become boring or stale. Dean Chekvala is equally strong as the sometimes threatening, sometimes sincere Mike, who makes his relationship all the more complicated and complex, yet it is an utterly real relationship here.
Director Ben Wagner keeps the pace moving with constant trips in and out of Kim’s mind. The harrowing final moments of this film are the stuff of the worst nightmares of seclusion—dark and dismal, this film chips away at all hope in a manner that is both heartbreaking and terrifying. The final moments of this one will definitely get you up out of your seat. DEAD WITHIN was made on the budgetary low, but Wagner does so smartly, keeping things in one locale, yet amplifying every inch of that cabin to its most horrifying degree. I strongly recommend seeking out DEAD WITHIN for those who want more from their zombie horror than just half eaten brains and rotten insides. This is one apocalyptic zombie tale with brains to spare and guts to go places few zombie films would dare to go.
New this week in select theaters and next Tuesday on VOD and Digital HD from Chiller Films!
CAMERA OBSCURA (2017)Directed by Aaron B. Koontz
Written by Aaron B. Koontz & Cameron Burns
Starring Christopher Denham, Nadja Bobyleva, Catherine Curtin, Noah Segan, Chase Williamson, Andrew Sensenig, Gretchen Lodge, Dane Rhodes, David Jensen, Charlie Talbert, Carol Sutton, Lance E. Nichols, Cassandra Hierholzer, B.J. Grogan, Jared Bankens, Landon Abercrombie, Robert Aberdeen, Tammi Arender, Jaqueline Brumfield, Rebekah Downs, Danny Cosmo, D.J. Felder, Ashton Leigh, Akasha Villalobos, & Jeremy King as Tad!
Find out more about this film @cameraobscuramovie and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
The old cursed object chestnut is dusted off for this decent little thriller, made more recommendable due to some great performances and a rather offbeat sense of humor.
Christopher Denham plays Jack Zeller, a war vet photographer whose lens captured some truly horrific imagery during his time in service. Now back in the states, Jack tries to acclimate to regular life, but is still haunted by the atrocities he encountered there. Jack’s fiancée Claire (Nadja Bobyleva) is supportive, but wants to encourage Jack to get out of the house and get back to work. So she buys an antique camera at an auction, hoping it will spark Jack’s love of photography again. Once Jack begins taking photos, he finds that the camera only shoots in black and white and also shows photos of corpses that were not in frame when Jack shot them. Afraid he will be labeled as more unhinged than he already is, Jack begins to try to stop the cursed photos from actually occurring and is successful in preventing the death of one person, but that only shifts that person’s order of death to the next photo. When Jack sees his fiancée in one of the photos he’s taken, he sets out to prevent her death, but that means he must commit a murder to look exactly like it looks in the photo. Can Jack continue this murderous but well intentioned effort to shuffle his wife’s death until there are no more photos left or will his sanity and conscience give out before hand?
So this film is kind of like a FINAL DESTINATION movie if written by Stephen King. The secret of the strange camera is eventually explained, but while it is somewhat interesting what the camera is and who its previous owner was, the real interesting parts come when Jack is forced to recreate these images by murdering new people in order to shuffle his wife off the photos as the photos keep changing with every murder. It’s somewhat convoluted in explanation, but it plays out in a fun way in the film itself. A lot of this fun comes from the film’s lead Christopher Dunham. I first noticed Dunham when he starred in the underappreciated stalker movie FORGETTING THE GIRL (reviewed here), where Denham again plays a photographer. I predicted big things for the actor and while he hasn’t leapt to superstardom yet, he did land a role in Ben Affleck’s ARGO—though he was unrecognizable in the role. Here he is front and center and really does dazzle with star power. Reminiscent of the quirky performances of Michael Moriarty who always manages to add a little oddity in with even the most serious of roles, Denham has a self-aware sense about his performance that acknowledges the absurdity of the predicament he finds himself in, yet simply goes with it in a devil may care attitude all the way through. It’s that “ahhh fuck it” sense of giving up logic that drives Jack and makes him still likable even as he begins killing people. Denham is the reason to check out this film and I hope, once again, this leads to more roles for this talented actor.
Speaking of absurdity, the other thing that makes this film is the entire “Tad” scene where Jack goes to a privately owned hardware store run by a handsy guy named Tad. In a performance that really doesn’t belong in this more serious film, the ten minute “Tad” sequence is absolute, bright and shining GOLD in terms of goofy, off the wall entertainment as Jack and Tad wrestle around an apartment with Jack trying futilely to kill the seemingly unkillable Tad. This comedy laced scene breaks up the rather somber tone quite geniusly and while it plays off as something more at home in the editing reel from RAISING ARIZONA, I loved every second of this scene. It’s obvious the filmmakers got to the point in the film where they decided that this film was pretty ridiculously over-plotted, so why not break it up with a slapstick murder sequence that doesn’t end?
Denham’s performance also adds quite a bit in terms of attitude and wit, but for the most part everything leading up to the Tad scene is played pretty straight forward and occasionally is downright gruesome, though after the Tad scene everything kind of swirls down a drain of absurdity. Still, despite the overly complex plot and ever-morphing mood of this one, I have to recommend it because of Denham and that Tad scene. I’m telling you, watch it and after you finish guffawing, you can thank me.
New this week in theaters from A4 Films!
IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017)Directed by Trey Edward Shults
Written by Trey Edward Shults
Starring Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Griffin Robert Faulkner, David Pendleton, Chase Joliet, Mick O'Rourke, Mikey as Stanley the Dog!
Find out more about this film here, @ItComesAtNight, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
One of the most effective trailers of recent memory (see below) delivers on nerve-shredding tension and suspense as well as some of the best acting you’re going to find in a horror film, yet will most likely infuriate the more literal-minded folks that take a chance on this film. If you’re looking for a monster movie—a hulking, threatening, terrifying IT promised in the title and hinted at in the trailer for IT COMES AT NIGHT, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you’re more literate than literal, you’re going to be impressed at the restraint director/writer Trey Edward Shults exudes in the bulk of this movie. I fall somewhere in the middle and will explain below.
We are not made privy as to what ended the world, just that society has collapsed and a small family comprised of patriarch Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), and his dog Stanley (Mikey) live in a secluded area in the woods in a boarded up house with only one single door (painted red) blocking themselves from whatever threats there are outside. Apparently, some kind of virus is airborne, requiring anyone stepping outside to wear gas masks. The rest of the house is sealed and Paul has a particular set of guidelines, processes, and rules he follows in order to ensure the safety of his family. When a man named Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into the house, Paul defends his home, knocks him unconscious, and ties him to a tree outside. But after a while, Paul softens to Will and eventually invites Will and his family to live with his family. The more people, the more defense they have against whatever the treats are outside. After a series of events, the seal is breached and it is possible that someone got infected, causing a breakdown in Paul’s structure and impending doom for all of them.
This film hinges on what filmmaker Trey Edwards Shults does not tell you. How did the virus start? Is society destroyed or has the damage been fixed? How did Paul and his family come together? Is Travis, a young black man, actually the son of Paul (a white man) or is this a hodge-podge family whittled together after the apocalypse? Is Will trustworthy? Most of these questions are left unanswered resulting in a highly compact and no frills storytelling experience that I appreciated. It’s interesting to see practically all of the fat trimmed from this movie bone and have it simply tell a story of palpable paranoia and undeniable tension. It is about the family, the house, and the threat outside. The story never leaves the family, the house, and the surrounding woods. And because the film has such a talented cast, this gives everyone a shot at flexing their acting muscles to their capacity to carry the entire movie and the cast does so amazingly. Edgerton plays the morose and cautious yet strong willed head of the family. Travis is the outlying factor with all of the random challenges that come with being a youth testing the waters on how far he can stray from this family and its rules before they break in a way all teens do. Abbot is both sympathetic and suspicious at times, and even in the end, you don’t know what exactly is truthful or not about the stories he tells Paul. Through these interactions comes the tension and with an unknown and invisible threat outside, without these strong performances, this film would fall completely apart.
That said, I’ve seen some reviewers go out of their way to defend IT COMES AT NIGHT and I don’t feel as a reviewer I have to do that. A movie should stand on its own and the “those who don’t get it are just dummies” attitude just doesn’t fly with me. The IT in IT COMES AT NIGHT is not a monster as the trailer and title indicates. IT is the darkness, the fears, the unhampered imagination that looks into the dark and sees all kinds of creatures and evils. IT is the nightmares we have and the fears that keep us from trusting people. Shults is clear with this in the film, though the trailers suggest otherwise. Sure, this is the marketing department’s fault and not particularly the filmmaker’s, but if you’re going into this film hoping to see monsters, zombies, or infectoids running or schlumping after screaming survivors, you’ll be disappointed once the lights go up. But the marketing department can only have so much of the blame as some might think that the intended obtuseness of IT COMES AT NIGHT with all of its unanswered questions and intentionally vague title is simply trying to be the smart film in the room, batting down those who want more details as being ignorant. While I was satisfied with the story that was presented, I’m saying there is an audience, and sadly, that is the audience who will be going out to theaters to see this one, who are going to be pissed at it. Plain and simple, those who like things explained. Those who like a comedic jump scare to release the build-up of tension. Those who want a monster to blame for the evils that happen in this film. All of them are going to feel gypped by IT COMES AT NIGHT.
Still, if you thirst for an entire hour twenty of film with tension ratcheted up to a painful level, unbelievably dark shadows that threaten despair, destruction, and absolute terror, top tier acting from a cast to die for, and dialog/story with teeth that shred into humanity’s most common weaknesses then IT COMES AT NIGHT will fill your cup and then some. The mood of this film is as heavy as it comes. There are some gruesome effects scenes of those infected that will get under your skin and the nightmare imagery definitely hit the target. Just don’t come looking for answers. Come looking for a barebones tale of the ultimate in paranoia and your takeaway will be plentiful.
Playing this weekend at Dances With Films Festival from Vega Baby!
DEVIL’S WHISPER (2017)Directed by Adam Ripp
Written by Adam Ripp, Oliver Robins, Paul Todisco
Starring Luca Oriel, Alison Fernandez, Tessie Santiago, Rick Ravanello, Marcos A. Ferraez, Coy Stewart, Justin Tinucci, Jasper Polish, Julia Modesto, Olivia Negron, Luna Maya, Benjamin A. Hoyt, Steven Shaw, Violkys Bustamante
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
While films like GET OUT get a lot of buzz behind them, and it is a buzz-worthy film, it’s interesting that a film centering on Latino experiences with horror doesn’t get more attention. Having recently reviewed the somewhat wholesome, but still quite effective little Latino vampire film AARON’S BLOOD, it’s both surprising and nice to see another film comprised mostly of Latinos telling a mature and competent tale of terror. This time, the horror du jour is demonic possession, a culturally ripe theme in terms of Catholicism and the Latino community.
Alex (Luca Oriel) is a well-intentioned and smart 15 year old who plans to become a Catholic priest. While he struggles with his attraction to his childhood crush, he still knows the church is the path he plans to take and he has the full support of his strongly Catholic family. But when Alex discovers a seamless box in an old armoire belonging to his grandparents, his faith and well being are threatened by a demonic force. Struggling between his personal feelings of right and wrong and the demonic influence to act out on more primal, less wholesome actions, Alex finds himself in a battle for his own soul that only he can fight.
What struck me about this film was the strength of its ethical and moral core. Alex is a good kid and is about as noble and wholesome as they come. His family prays before meals and goes to church. But while these actions might be scoffed at in common Hollywood films, here it is seen as a strength and surprisingly presented as cool. Alex has a good group of friends who do both stupid and fun things. After the prayer, the father Marcos (Marcos A. Ferraez) leads the wave through the family’s held hands. It’s refreshing to see a family presented in this light in this apathetic and sarcastic day and age. Presenting the family in this light is something we often saw in the eighties horror films such as POLTERGEIST, where an unseen force invades a family, but modern films like INSIDIOUS present the modern family as disconnected, aloof, and fractured. Here, the family is a whole and it adds to the conflict in this film that a demonic force can crack through that familial core to get to Alex.
DEVIL’S WHISPER is not an over the top effects extravaganza. It’s subtle and evenly paced, never rushing moments of tension and horror as the unseen force creeps into his world. Alex is shown fighting the demonic influence and the entire process of him succumbing to the temptation doesn’t happen overnight. This might make the less impatient viewer look at their watch and wish the pace sped up, but the film is to atypical to so much that is out there today that I have to support it’s patience in carefully plotting out a possession by inches. Sure it makes for a couple of redundant scenes here and there, but in the end, it feels more realistic than simply floating above the bed and spitting pea soup overnight.
Apart from some choice four letter words, DEVIL’S WHISPER is a pretty wholesome little film about a good kid and a solid family being challenged by evil incarnate. There are some dark themes that give this one some teeth that are revealed late in the film that add to the blanketing dread this film kind of exudes. All in all, though, this is a well acted, morally secure and mature, and deftly constructed little low key possession film worth checking out. It doesn’t reinvent the subgenre of possession flicks, but it adds a new capable and rock solid installment into the pantheon.
Sorry, no trailer for this one yet.
And finally…how about another old time radio play from the dark mind of Arch Obler. Here’s “Execution” from the radio series Light’s Out!
See ya next week, folks!
Ambush Bug is M. L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 15 years & AICN HORROR for 5. Follow Mark on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller and on his new website collecting posts for AICN HORROR as well as all of the most recent updates on his various comic book projects on MLMillerWrites.com.
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