Monday, January 30, 2012

The Hide (2008): Hidden Agenda

The Hide (2008) Poster

Based on the Tim Whitnall stage play The Sociable Plover, 2008's The Hide was brought to life by first time director Marek Losey. Staring Alex MacQueen and Phil Campbell, this UK production is set in one very small location and features only two characters, Roy (MacQueen) and Dave (Campbell), two people who, outside of these very specific circumstances, would never encounter one another in a million years.

When first introduced to Roy, he is presented as a straight laced, intelligent middle-aged man who loves nothing more than spending time in a secluded seaside shack (a "hide," if you will), watching and documenting the various species of birds he encounters. Roy's bird watching routine would seem to be precise and consistent, with the only excitement being the immense thrill he gets from spending time doing something he loves dearly. That is until the day a stranger named Dave shows up to take refuge from a vicious storm that has plagued the area. Unlike Roy, Dave is young and appears to be a lot more street savvy; in fact, he even comes off as potentially dangerous.

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Despite their differing personalities, Roy and Dave find themselves getting along fairly well, sharing bits of personal information and beliefs that, at times, go far beyond the usual chitchat. Throughout their frequent and brilliantly written conversations, there is a line of cordiality that both men walk when conversing with one another. There are times where Roy and Dave's differing personalities are expressed in a more drastic fashion, causing the men to get a little agitated with one another. Nevertheless, the honesty creates a stronger bound, as well as being something that is quite satisfying to watch as a viewer.

The odd couple relationship forming between Roy and Dave stalls out when it's learned that the police are searching the area, looking for a dangerous white male wanted for murder. This revelation alarms Roy, setting about a slow falling domino effect of unease and tension that builds between the two characters up until the film's smart, but a little easy for me to spot, twist conclusion. 

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The Hide was lensed during the months of November and December on location on the Isle of Sheppey, and the result is a setting that exudes sweltering atmosphere in a deliciously gloomy way. Filled with overcasting rain clouds that shadow the scenery in dread, the location emits with the sounds of surrounding birds singing their own brand of ambience, making this a truly gorgeous setting for a film where scale takes a backseat to tone and detail.

It might be difficult for many to enjoy, or even want to watch, a film that takes place in one, very cramped, location that features no more than two characters who basically spend a majority of their time talking. It can be a lot to ask of an audience, but The Hide takes what is a stripped down story and fills it up with a great premise, interesting dialogue and a truly magnificent backdrop for the actors to give their fantastic performances in front of.

The Hide (2008)

My only real issue with The Hide is the fact that I watched the film via a screener that looked like complete shit, something that is not at all the film's fault, naturally. Not only did my copy have some "property off…" bullshit polluting the screen for the entirety of the film (something I can deal with), the quality of the screener is grossly degrading to what was meticulously put on screen by director Marek Losey (something I find unacceptable). I would normally never make comment on such a secluded issue as a screener's quality, but it's as unfortunate as it is obnoxious seeing such a fine film in such a fashion. Regardless, this quip is a nonissue for anyone who would rent or buy The Hide, and knowing just how much better the film could look in a proper release, I would certainly love to take another plunge into this fantastically low-key, character driven thriller. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rage (2010): Karma's a Bitch

Rage (2010) Poster

Written and directed by Chris Witherspoon, Rage (2010) is a film that shows, in explicit detail, just how far someone will go for the sake of petty revenge. The $100,000 independent feature plays as two parts paranoid thriller and one part Slasher film, following a day (from hell) in the life of a man named Dennis (Rick Crawford). Dennis, who is happily married, or so it seems, has come to a point in his life where he only really thinks about one person: himself. Dennis has become so preoccupied with himself that he has completely allowed his better judgment fall by the wayside, and the once happily married man has found himself having an elicit affair with another woman.

Rage (2010)

Throughout the film, it's made quite clear that his wife is nothing short of wonderful, supportive and loving, something that makes it all the more apparent that Dennis is simply feeding his own selfish needs. This is further proven when Dennis breaks things off with the woman he's been seeing. Dennis has been stringing along his mistress in a whirlwind romance, only to dump her because he now suffers from a guilty conscience over what he has been doing behind his wife's back. While Dennis is trying to wipe his slate clean, his selfish ways have blinded him to the potential dangers that surround him. Soon after what seems to be a random encounter with a biker decked out in all black, Dennis finds himself being stalked by the stranger, whose advances become increasingly violent, until things go well beyond anything Dennis could have ever imagined. 

While the encounter is random at first thought, the woman who Dennis was having an affair with has an ex-boyfriend who is not only incredibly jealous, he was just released from prison. Is the biker who's been stalking Dennis her ex-boyfriend, or is it someone else altogether? Regardless of the answer, Dennis is forced to own up to his disrespectfully selfish ways in a fashion that no man could ever be prepared for.

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At first glance, Rage is a movie that seems to have an identity complex on the surface, but in retrospect, the overall film gels together due to Dennis' character flaw driven plot. As I sat back and watched the film, I was a little confused at times as to what the movie was trying to be and where it was going, but there is a clear destination followed, which would be revealed to me upon deeper thought. As a result, the film that I found to be just okay, I now find to be much more enjoyable and possibly even worthy of a rewatch just to see how it plays out a second time around.

For a movie that costs only a $100,000 to make, Rage shows signs of a strong technical presence. There're moments where it feels and looks almost like a Hollywood made feature with a lot of skill brought to the table technically; however, there are moments where the independent feature flaws show up, things like cheap fade-ins and outs, for example. Regardless, as a whole, Rage is a well put together feature, with varied stylistic choices that seem to go hand in hand with what is unfolding on screen.

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As far as the performances go, most of the acting is passable, but there's nothing too outstanding. Though, there is some lackluster and somewhat mellow dramatic dialogue to be found during certain moments in the film, something that I think hinders the impact of the performances at times. I would say the best performance does come from the silent stalker himself, the mysterious biker (who is actually played by the film's director), who, outside of a few minor cheesy hand acting moments, is an effectively intimidating presence in the film.

Overall, Rage is an interesting, if not slightly flawed, cautionary tale that should payoff for many fans of low-budget/independent horror cinema. The film often feels like a rollercoaster ride for the character and viewer alike, and while there are times where things get a little bumpy, the overall ride is satisfying enough to get back on again for another go around.

If you want to find out more about Chris Witherspoon's Rage, you can pop your head in over at the film's official site which I have conveniently highlighted just for you.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Skew (2011): A Skewed View to a Kill

Skew (2011) poster

Following one of the hottest trends within the independent horror genre, 2011's Skew is yet another found footage horror film that has found its way into my arms. At this point, I have seen so many found footage/handheld films, specifically from independent filmmakers, that I'm almost taken aback whenever a new one is announced. It's a subgenre that is fast becoming oversaturated (or already has, to many horror fans), and is now receiving the backlash that is sure to come with any subgenre that all but completely takes over the horror scene. For me, well, I've said it many times in the past, I've had great luck with the handheld genre, and as overbearing as it's become, I flat out love it, plain and simple. And thankfully, Skew does nothing but keep that love intact.

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Now, maybe blowing my proverbial load in the first paragraph of a review is a bad idea, but hey, if you're already here and reading this, hopefully you'll be curious as to why I enjoyed the film.

Written and directed by Sevé Schelenz, Skew is, on the surface, your standard road trip story, focusing on a group of friends, Simon, Richard and Eva (played by Rob Scattergood, Richard Harrison and Amber Lewis, respectively), who are on their way to a wedding. It isn't too long before strange things begin to happen to the film's videographer, Simon, as many of the people he encounters on their road trip appear to have a contorted face - a Skewed face, if you will. As the film progresses, it is revealed that all three of the characters have some serious issues with one another, and things are only compounded by the twisted visions that Simon is subjected to. 

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Naturally, there is more to the story as far as the horror elements go, and the same can be said for the depth of the characters tumultuous relationship, but Skew is a great film to watch knowing very little beforehand. With that said, I would rather not get into too many story details in the event you might seek this film out for yourself. What I will do is applaud Schelenz for creating some incredibly deep and layered characters. The dialogue and character development found in Skew is significantly refreshing for a film with such a low budget, and better yet, the actors all bring solid, believable performances to the table.

As a horror movie, the scary elements of Skew start off fairly early and continue in a nice even pace throughout the entire film and up until its conclusion. There is no long, drawn-out wait for the action to get going (which is the case with some handheld movies), and the film effectively uses some nicely timed and perfectly setup jump scares, a few of which that totally caught me off guard.

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Something else that really plays into both the film's overall creep factor and character development is the camera work. There is some interesting work done cinematically, as the videographer, Simon, captures his friends in ways that are somewhat creepy and off putting. Simon will use his camera to simply stare at a character for long periods of time, sometimes unbeknownst to them. Even in mid-conversation, Simon will just go in real close and linger for a minute… all the while, the character is completely clueless that Simon is cinematically analyzing them. It's very stalker like and incredibly disturbing, adding a different level to the horror beyond the lurid visions that Simon suffers from.

The only place where Skew shows any weakness is in its budget, something that only translates to a few specific scenes. Some of them are scenes in which the characters are clearly dubbed into the film, with background conversations happening over footage that was obviously shot at another time in another place. Also, some of the special effects are extremely hindered by the budget; however, they go with it and don't try to shy away from what they are capable of simply because they are limited. In addition, after seeing the effect enough times, more specifically the blurry face, it does become effective enough to convey what is necessary.

Skew (2011)

Naturally, I do not in any way, shape or form, hold these specific issues against either the film or those behind it. You gotta do what you gotta do when making a low-budget film, and despite the fact that Skew does suffer from some budgetary restraints, it is quite clever and still works as an effective, marginally original found footage horror film. Maybe it's the kid in me who attaches to the genre so greatly, but I think the simplicity and stripped down nature of found footage horror simply works for me on a weird nostalgic level. I love inexpensive, homemade horror films, shot on video horror and anything else that falls in line with that style. Always have and always will, I assume, and for the time being, the genre has not quite hit the skids for me with independent films as solid as Skew being made.

Unlike many of the indie horror movies I review here, Skew is actually readily available to watch streaming on Netflix as we speak. Not that we're speaking, but I digress… if you are indeed a fan of the genre, then I highly recommend giving this low-budget gem a looksie. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

George: A ZZZZZZombie Intervention (2011)

George A Zombie Intervention (2011) Poster

What is essentially a pairing of A&E's Emmy award winning series, Intervention (which usually finds a way to make me feel somewhat better about my addiction to Charleston Chew candy bars) and the zombie subgenre, George: A Zombie Intervention (2011) takes two overplayed genre conventions, zombies and humor, and injects them with a fresh idea that doesn't necessarily equal a winning combination.

The premise is fairly simple, showcasing zombies as people who are, as per usual, dead and enjoy the sweet, succulent taste of human flesh. However, they are also able to function as normal human beings and are accepted members of society, but there is the rare occurrence of a zombie going on a human flesh binge, which is the case with this film's titular character, George. Seeing his problem as a form of addiction, George's friends get together to intervene, giving him the ultimatum of going to rehab or losing them as friends. As you would see in any given episode of Intervention, George doesn't believe he has an eating humans problem and becomes standoffish to the idea of rehab. However, as the night grows long and more people begin to show up - and even more begin to mysteriously die - George must eventually face his demons.     

George A Zombie Intervention (2011)

The zombie subgenre, or, more specifically the zombie/comedy subgenre, has become so over saturated that there is barely even the smallest sign of a fresh idea in what is produced nowadays. Naturally, there are still a few that shine through; films that are able to take a tired genre staple, inject a fresh idea into it and deliver something fun and refreshing, even in an overly submerged market. Director J.T. Seaton, who co-wrote the film with Brad Hodson, had what was initially a great idea, but it's how that idea was executed that holds George: A Zombie Intervention (aka George's Intervention) back. 

Where George: A Zombie Intervention falls flat is in how unnecessarily over-the-top silly it tries to be, which results in the film feeling like an overlong comedy skit that simply overstays its welcome. The concept is already funny, but to go so overboard takes away from the humor that comes naturally from the initial idea. A perfect film that I could compare George to is 2006's Fido, a zombie film with a hysterical concept but a subtle, stick to your guns execution. The humor in Fido was tongue in cheek, subdued and sharp, and it is those aspects that made that film a joy to watch. George: A Zombie Intervention pushes the matter too far and it affects the film's overall appeal. There are some very funny moments, but most of the more successful comedic moments come from subtlety as opposed to the times when full-on humor was being attempted. The comedic tonal changes and ideas are confused and tedious, leaving the film to be scatterbrained and, more importantly, left this viewer with a slightly bored taste in his mouth.

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Regardless of the film's major comedic flaw, George: A Zombie Intervention is not a terrible movie in regards to the filmmaking and acting. For a low-budget movie, the film looks good enough quality wise. Most of the performances are decent, with Carlos Larkin given the standout performance as George. It was also nice to see genre actress Lynn Lowry (I Drink Your Blood, The Crazies) in the film, as she does a commendable comedic job playing a half-assed interventionist hired to help George with his problem. In addition, the budget make-up effects are very good and the film does deliver a few fun gore moments that should be best appreciated by genre fans of my generation. 

I wish I had more positive things to say about this film, but so much of it hinges on the humor. Sadly, much of the humor simply did not work for me. I am incredibly picky (and cynical) when it comes to my comedy, and I generally do not find much of what the mainstream considers to be funny all that humorous, so maybe the humor might work for you. I wouldn't want to necessarily discourage people from giving George: A Zombie Intervention a shot because it's not a terrible film, I just didn't find it to be a very funny one.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Salute Your Shorts: The Code (2011)

The Code 2011

Directed by Mark Blitch, The Code is a horror comedy short film that was specifically created to compete in the 2011 Splatterfest Festival in Houston, TX where it went on to win an impressive 11 awards. Written by Jason Walter Vaile and Alan Tregoning and featuring Tamara Voss, Taylor Brandt and Todd Terry, the just under 6 minute short is a look at the importance of communication in an internet savvy world.

Outside of telling you I think The Code features a funny idea that is well executed (especially in the first half), reviewing a horror comedy such as this would be somewhat pointless. I wouldn't want to simply repeat jokes I think are funny, though, I will mention that Chad's laugh is pure gold.

It's good stuff, so take a break from your hard partying and have good laugh!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Commune (2009): Daddy's Girl

The Commune Poster

Written, produced and directed by Elisabeth Fies, The Commune (2009) is an independent thriller that follows the exploits of a young teen named Jenny, who is staying at her deadbeat dad's commune for the summer. Jenny harbors much negativity for her father (played by Stuart G. Bennett) as he abandoned her and her mother both emotionally and financially to live a carefree life as the leader of a New Age cult. However, after all these years, he now wants to rekindle his relationship with his angst-filled daughter, but his reasoning for doing so might be more sinister than simply wanting redemption for his past parental neglect.

While The Commune doesn't necessarily come right out and tell you where the film will go on a thriller level, you will have a good idea as to where things could end up simply due to that delicate line between free loving hippies and full on delusional cult psychos. Now, while there is a twist that actually caught me by surprise, and in a good way, the film is not so much focused on forcing the thriller angle down its viewer's throat as it is on projecting the difficulties of a teenage girl going through the motions of becoming a woman.

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The viewer is privy to a first hand look at Jenny dealing with her daddy issues as well as her budding sexuality. She is fiercely independent, something which is clearly attributed to her mother's upbringing, but her independence is heavily challenged within the ironically confined commune setting she is now begrudgingly living in. Which is something that is kind of interesting, actually, as the people within the commune speak of freedom from religious oppression, openness and the ability to express one's self, yet Jenny is constantly judged for being who she is while also not given the privacy she, a 16-year-old girl, desires. Jenny is portrayed by Chauntal Lewis, a strikingly gorgeous actress who is uncannily reminiscent of a young Jordan Ladd. Lewis has an immediate screen presence about her and plays the role of Jenny well enough. She is clearly not playing to her actual age, but at certain moments, she does an admirable job capturing the rebellious innocence of a teenage girl hurdling down the highway of adulthood.

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While The Commune plays more to the character growth and development of Jenny than it does the thriller aspect, something which is mostly refreshing and honest, it is also that aspect of the film that suffers from its only real issue. There are a few moments in the second half of the movie where things crawl at a pace only a tortoise could appreciate. These specific moments are a result of extended scenes between Jenny and her budding relationship with a local stud named Puck (David Lago), who thankfully keeps his fingers out of the peanut butter. The overall romantic story thread between Jenny and Puck is not at all boring unto itself, and the entire relationship is very important to Jenny's character arc, but some of their scenes just go on a tad too long. 

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As mentioned, the story and female character development are something worth strong compliment from me, but where The Commune shines brightest is in the surprising visual prowess of the film as a whole. For a low-budget feature, The Commune looks very clean and is nicely shot with a level of high quality rarely found in an independent horror film. Adding another layer to the visual stamina of the film is a visually fulfilling spectrum of colors that runs across the screen, with a vibrant color palate that is overly bold and exotic, giving a false sense of ease meant to mask the true intentions of those who surround Jenny. A lot of this can be attributed to the amazingly picturesque location (the film was shot at Isis Oasis, a retreat center and ocelot wildlife preserve in Geyserville, California), but there was clearly attention paid to the cohesiveness of the location, specific character wardrobes and set dressings as well as lighting techniques used.  

The Commune

In many ways, The Commune is really a coming of age tale with a thread of thriller laced throughout and a splash of quirkiness thrown in for good measure. If you are one who has little interest or desire to watch a film which sheds light on a young girl's discovery of who she really is, in more ways than one, then The Commune might not work for you. For me, it's something I can appreciate on a number of levels. I truly enjoyed the character driven approach to what results in a fairly creepy, low-key, paranoid thriller as well as the impressive technical demeanor that was shown from someone who was essentially a first time feature filmmaker in Elisabeth Fies.

You can pick up The Commune on DVD for super cheap on the film's official website, where you can also read more about the movie, check out some other reviews and all sorts of good stuff. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Death of Death-cember and Other Random Crap

For the time being, the holiday season has completely made its exit from our current existence, and with that comes the end of Death-cember. Death-cember, a month where I was far from prepared to do anything whatsoever, turned out to be decent enough, all things considered. I'm happy with the posts I got up, especially with how damn busy my life was for most of the month, and Death-cember surprisingly brought about what would be the busiest month, traffic wise, CNAMB has ever seen! And for that, I have to thank you peeps out there in internetland.

Anyway, on to a new year, and with 2012 all up in our guts, I look forward to growing as a writer and making this blog the best I can make it. I have a pretty awesome new monthly segment that I actually started working on about seven or eight months ago, but just never got around to posting any of the individual posts ('cause I'm weird like that). Also, since 2011 has gone done past us up, I have begun to work on my best of '11 movie list, but I won't really do anything with that until the end of the month so I can have the chance to catch up with a few more flicks. Though, I do have quite the girthy list already. As for this month, I want to try to get a bunch of screeners and other shit out of the way, so I might make low-budget/independent horror my focus for January. And as for right now, I think I'll spend a little after holiday quality time with me wife and the Christmas lingerie I bought for her.

sexy cristmas

Somebody's getting their stocking filled all the way up this year.

Hope everyone had a great New Year, and I will see you in the DangerZone!*


*Not Sure what the DangerZone is, but it sounded like a pretty sick thing to say at the time.

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