Review by Sean Boelman
Based on the cult classic anthology film, Shudder’s horror-comedy series Creepshow returns to the service this week with brand new episodes containing macabre stories to delight fans. The first episode of the new season leans pretty heavily into the camp factor, but it offers plenty of great moments for the series’s followers.
The first story, “Model Kid”, is a throwback that feels very similar to the segments of the original film. Following a young boy who deals with his abusive uncle with supernatural means, it’s pretty silly, but it thankfully doesn’t take itself too seriously. It also has the characteristic moral lesson to be imparted onto the audience with a stunning finale.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this segment is its use of practical effects. Although it does take a bit of time for the story to get moving, it has a few gnarly moments that are definite highlights. The overall design of the episode also has a very retro vibe to it that plays nicely into the comic book framing device of the property.
Kevin Dillon is the recognizable face in this episode, playing the tough-love uncle. Fans of ‘80s horror (who likely make up a majority of the series’s viewers) will love getting the opportunity to see Dillon giving another hammy turn in a horror flick after his breakout in The Blob. It might not be a particularly nuanced performance, but it’s consistently fun to watch.
The second half of the episode is likely to be what is more divisive. Although “Public Television of the Dead” is certainly funny, it also doesn’t feel like much of a Creepshow story. Instead, it’s a conglomeration of pop culture references and horror Easter eggs which will allow fans to geek out but leave them feeling mostly empty.
Following a public television producer and some of the eccentric on-air personalities as they battle against the undead taking over when a spell is unleashed on the station, it’s an action-packed segment, but one that viewers will soon forget. Ultimately, the story is little more than an excuse for fanservice.
There are a few cool sequences in the segment that fans will immediately pick up on as homages to the classics of the genre, but apart from that, it’s mostly generic action-horror. The inclusion of some funny tributes and one gratifying cameo are great, but this doesn’t serve as much more than passive entertainment.
If the first episode is any indication, the new season of Creepshow will be a treat for horror-loving viewers. Fans should be looking forward to more star-studded and wackily fun tales to come.
Creepshow streams on Shudder beginning April 1, with new episodes streaming subsequent Thursdays. One out of six episodes reviewed.
EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE -- A Psychological Thriller with a Tour de Force Performance by Sam Claflin
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Don't let the title deceive you, Every Breath You Take is not a film about Sting or The Police, but a psychological thriller. This film has an atmosphere of a great thriller and the title represents the feeling of the film.
In the film, Casey Affleck plays a psychologist who believes he has made a breakthrough with a patient until she commits suicide. This tragic event affects his family and his professional life. When the patient's brother (Sam Claflin) comes into the picture it could have irrevocably changed his relationship with his wife (Michelle Monaghan) and his daughter (India Eisley) for the worse.
The film is made from a screenplay by David Murray and directed by Vaughn Stein, a director who isn't that well known. He has been an assistant director for some bigger films. His directorial career includes Terminal starring Margot Robbie and Inheritance starring Lily Collins and Simon Pegg. Every Breath You Take is the best thing he's directed thus far in his career.
Murray, Stein, and company lead the viewer down a path that is slow and methodical. When it picks up speed it doesn't stop. The tension that they build is palpable. They build the story and characters up very effectively. The various scenes that come in the second half of the film are those we dread because they are given credibility by what has come before in the film. They build the suspense perfectly. The twists and turns aren't seen coming at any distance.
With the moody storyline also comes a moody setting. The film is set in the cold climate of Portland which is a stand-in for Vancouver, British Columbia. This setting adds to the darker nature of the film. Cinematographer Michael Merriman uses the cold and dank surroundings to his advantage. This atmosphere is a beautiful setting for a film such as this. It's a rare talent for the cinematography to match the overall feel of the film. This does for sure.
Sam Claflin has been known as a heartthrob in his career. He has played love interests in a few films including the Hunger Games series and Me Before You. Casting him in Every Breath You Take is an act of pure genius from both himself and the filmmakers. He goes the distance to make his character charming and likable while also being conniving and vindictive at the same time. This is a brilliant turn for him in his career.
Every Breath You Take brings the viewer down a path slowly and mathematically. Once it gets to its destination it's very rewarding and satisfying. The cast is all superb, but the standout is Sam Claflin. He gives the performance of his career as this grieving brother with a dark side. He hides a lot of his character's secrets in his performance which is masterful. The script by Murray also allowed for such a great turn by Claflin and company. This is the best thriller of 2021 so far.
Every Breath You Take hits VOD on April 2.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Êxtase is the feature directorial debut of Maora Passoni, co-writer of the Oscar-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy. Featuring a unique style and format, Passoni’s newest film is a deeply personal depiction of anorexia and womanhood in an uncertain world.
This movie follows the story of Clara, a young girl on the cusp of womanhood and beyond who lives through political turmoil in 1990’s Brazil. In a world fraught with destruction and fear, Clara embarks on a path of self-destruction in the form of anorexia. This story is partly based on Passoni’s personal experience, so it’s a fitting story that she is in the best position to tell properly.
What’s noticeable from the start is how unique the film is stylistically. It has elements of a traditional narrative feature as well as elements of documentary filmmaking. She doesn’t treat these two genres differently; she elegantly interweaves different techniques to create different layers to her story. It reaches almost experimental levels at time, and it creates a more visceral experience for the viewer.
The actors aren’t given much to work with in this film due to its nature and blending of genres, but the entire cast is effective even if they aren’t memorable. The narration is quite somber but is often tinged with a mixture of nostalgia and serious reflection. However, it seems that most of the dialogue, which was written by Passoni, was intended to supplement the themes and imagery of the film rather than stand out.
That being said, the movie uses lots of graphic and beautiful imagery to tell its story. The cinematography doesn’t just capture the story but the essence of each scene, and it creates an atmosphere that is effective in conveying the film’s mood. Since the film deals with anorexia and political turmoil, some of this imagery is understandably graphic, but Passoni does this in a tasteful way that doesn’t feel exploitative.
The film also features music by acclaimed filmmaker David Lynch and Lykke Li. Lynch has proven throughout his career to be a master of sound and ambiance, and his work on this film is effective even if it isn’t his most accomplished and fleshed out. There are certain moments that are significantly elevated by his music.
The main flaw with the film is simultaneously how little time it has to explore its themes about power and suffering and also with how it seems to misallocate its short runtime. Some sections significantly dragged, and by the end, the film loses a lot of the initial momentum from the film’s great opening moments. Despite this, Passoni has created a unique experience that speaks to the times, especially in regard to the political anorexia the world faces as we all slowly become isolated from each other in these uncertain times.
Êxtase may not be a comprehensive exploration of its subjects, but it is an undeniably brave and personal film for Passoni, and it features some great imagery. It’s one of the most brutally honest films I’ve seen this year, but it can suffer at times from its inconsistent pace.
Êxtase is available on MoMA’s virtual cinema from March 28 to April 2.
Review by Rafael Motamayor
If you ever wanted to see what a good Lovecraftian take on Silent Hill would be like, then look no further than Offseason, a movie that puts the A in atmosphere and the tentacles in eldritch horror.
Director Mickey Keating has made a career out of blending elements from better-known films and regurgitating them in new forms that feel familiar but offer updated entertainment. His latest, Offseason, has nods to everything from John Carpenter's The Fog, to Dead & Buried, and even a bit of Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but it all somehow works together.
The film follows Marie Aldrich (Jocelin Donahue) receiving a letter saying her mother's grave has been desecrated and she needs to go to the island where her mother grew up and is buried in. The problem is that the island is just about to close "only until spring" (according to the locals). Of course, the moment she and her partner George (Joe Swanberg) head there, everything goes south, fog covers the entire island, and the locals become suspiciously hostile while teasing the arrival of an evil presence that once made a deal with the island's original settlers and is now coming to collect.
Despite a low budget, which becomes a detriment at times, Offseason manages to maintain a sense of dread for its entire runtime — though it certainly helps that the film is barely over eighty minutes. Keating wastes no time turning the locals' strange behavior up to eleven, making sure the audience is on the verge of yelling at the screen so the characters get the hell out, already. There is an almost dreamlike-feel to the way the film delivers information, with the film slowing down and exposition dialogues delivered slowly in drawn-out scenes, right before it snaps back into place and brings back a sense of urgency by reminding the audience of the ticking clock that is the raising bridge about to leave the island closed off from the outside world.
Donahue already impressed audiences with her role in The House of the Devil and she delivers one hell of a performance, exploring her character's fear and her slow descent into madness the longer she stays on the island. The camera stays glued on her at all times, bringing the audience in on her desperation and also her resolve, making for a slow yet riveting film. There are no jump scares, but Donahue's performance sells you on the idea that, at any time, something truly horrific is going to come on-screen, to the point where any actual jump scare would take away from the film's excellent and eerie atmosphere.
In a short runtime, Offseason builds an expansive mythology involving ancient deals, ritualistic curses, and a Lovecraftian god or two. Keating knows how to borrow from classic films to pay homage to them while building something new. Though he's limited by budgetary constraints, you come out of Offseason wishing he could take the ideas of this film into a bigger project, because he's displayed enough talent over the past decade to prove himself as an exciting new voice in horror. Plus, he's just made one of the best Lovecraftian movies in years, as well as one hell of a Silent Hill remake, which can only make me excited about what he does next.
Offseason screened as a part of the online edition of the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, which ran March 16-20.
TINA -- A Story of Resilience
Reviewed by Adam Donato
This is a documentary about the life of a famous singer, Tina Turner. The film follows her from her early days singing in a church choir to her marriage to Ike Turner and follows her the rest of her career. Interviewing for the documentary along with Tina Turner are some big names such as Angela Bassett and Oprah Winfrey. The rest of the interviews come from people who were close with Tina during her life, like her family, manager, and husband. Directed by Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin, Tina takes the audience on a journey through the life of one of the great women in all of rock.
Like Turner herself, the documentary is electric. It really is amazing to see all the old footage of her performing. The film features lots of commentary about Turner during her heyday like when they talk about how vivacious she is, but the thing that drives it home is just seeing her letting loose on stage. She is singing at the top of her lungs, she is dripping with sweat, and somehow her hair still looks good. Certainly, the high points in her life are very fun and are obviously filled with a lot of great music.
All that being said, it’s a sad watch. The life of Tina Turner was very tragic as she was an unwanted child and an abused wife. The film largely focuses on her relationship with her former husband, Ike Turner. There is one clip of an interview from him, which is interesting to watch because this perceived monster tries to provide an explanation for why his ex-wife tried to take her own life. All the while, the audience is looking at him with fear as literally everybody else is describing the horrific acts he committed. The worst part is that she repeatedly expresses her displeasure with the story of her life being centered around this man. Yes, he is a large part of a chapter in her life and how she got her start but seeing multiple videos of old interviews where they ask her questions about her former husband and the abuse is disheartening. Turner talks about how she wrote a book and made a movie decades ago so that she didn’t have to talk about it anymore and this only made the topic more of a prevalent focus in her life. It’s just sad and it’s hard to imagine she allowed this doc to happen if it was all going to be about her ex-husband and the abuse.
The silver lining to this is that Turner certainly is an inspiring character. It really does a great job of painting her as a good person, being nice to people that are close to her despite them not deserving it. Seeing her impact, not just on women like Angela Bassett, who got to play her in the movie, but on all women. I’m sure Turner doesn’t mind shedding light on the abuse if it means inspiring other women to stand up for themselves.
As far as biographical documentaries go, Tina does a good job of showcasing who she was, why she was, and why she is important. It only helps that the rest of the movie is filled with snippets of her singing. With plenty to say and a good time along the way, Tina is an informative piece that will satisfy hardcore fans and inspire new ones.
Tina airs on HBO March 27 at 8pm ET/PT.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Bad Trip was set to have its world premiere last year at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. However, as the state of the world abruptly changed, the movie was delayed to the following year. Director Kitao Sakurai and comedian Eric Andre collaborated once again on their newest film. Even if the jokes can become repetitive, this film is a hilariously cringeworthy and energetic road trip comedy that makes the most of its hidden camera pranks.
Chris is a slacker who by chance runs into his high school crush, Maria. Him and his friend, Bud, decide to take a road trip to New York to see her. They embark on their trip in Bud’s sister’s car while she is in prison. The story is extremely simple, and this allows the movie to incorporate many real-life pranks that work in context of the film.
The biggest strength of the film is its hidden camera pranks that make up a significant portion of the film. The screenplay by Andre, Sakurai, and Dan Curry does a mostly decent job of incorporating the pranks into the story. There are some hidden camera moments that don’t blend well into the story, but this is usually compensated by the fact that said moments are consistently enjoyable.
Andre leads the film as Chris, and Lil Rel Howery co-stars as Bud. Andre once again brings the charismatic and chaotic energy for which he is known. He brings a lot of life to the film, and he handles the hidden camera aspects of the film fairly well and does a great job of playing off of the real-life people who don’t realize they’re in a movie. Howery brings his signature charm to his role, and he has some great chemistry with Andre. The film also co-stars Tiffany Haddish as Trina, Bud’s sister who just broke out of prison. Her role is funny at times, but her performance can sometimes fall flat, especially during the hidden camera pranks.
Much like Andre’s acclaimed T.V. show, this movie succeeds in being cringe-inducing. These pranks put the characters in embarrassing and uncomfortable positions that will simultaneously make you crack up and make your skin crawl. Andre plays off the goofiness of these moments very well and convincingly sells otherwise unbelievable situations to an unsuspecting crowd. He consistently shocks, frustrates, and grosses out random bystanders throughout the film.
While the pranks are fun, they don’t have too much variety. This can lead to some bits feeling less effective in comparison to the rest of the film. Unlike the Borat films, this movie can sometimes lack the developed narrative to create some truly unique hidden camera moments. The humor in this movie isn’t clever or well thought out, so while it’s bound to make you laugh, it always feels superficial.
Thankfully, at under ninety minutes, this is a fast-paced comedy that never overstays its welcome. It’s a lot of fun, especially to view with a large group, and there are plenty of hilarious surprises throughout the keep you on edge. It may very well cause some secondhand embarrassment, but it’s an enjoyably chaotic film from start to finish.
Bad Trip sees Eric Andre once again pranking people with skill and charisma. It may miss the mark at times, but thanks to some outrageous pranks and great chemistry, this is a buddy comedy that is a sure to be a crowd-pleaser upon release.
Bad Trip will be available on Netflix March 26.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
World War II is full of tragic, fascinating, and incredible true stories. Some stories are too good to believe. A lot of movies have been made about all of these stories in recent months and years. The Good Traitor tells an unheard-of story about this tragic war.
On April 9th, 1940 the lives of the Danish people were changed forever when their country was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany. While that was going on in Europe, Henrick Kauffman (Ulrich Thomsen) — the Ambassador to Denmark in The United States — tried to broker deals to defeat the Germans and save his country while also dealing with drama on the homefront.
This story was a fascinating one because I had never heard of it before. It's great to see films about these stories that are so pivotal in the overall scheme of things during World War II but have never been brought to film before. The film looked like it took place in the 1940s. Danish director Christina Rosendahl uses some neat camera tricks and older filmmaking styles to make the film feel older and grainier. Her style stands out even though it's a period piece set in the 1940s. Watching all the things she does with the camera was almost as great as watching this fascinating story unfold before my eyes.
Along with Thomsen, the cast is full of character actors that play a vital role in making this film come to life. The cast includes Burn Gorman as Berle, an American government official, Denise Gough as Charlotte, Kauffman's wife, Zoe Tapper as Zilla, Charlotte's sister, Mikkel Folsgaard as Povil Bang-Jenson a Danish embassy employee, and Esben Delgaard Anderson as another Danish embassy employee with an agenda of his own. Every actor performs their roles adequately to give the film a very important feel to it. They were all very good in their respective roles.
As if taking over Denmark by the Germans and trying to rally the allies to help his country weren't enough, Kauffman also had some other problems on his hands. A couple of subplots involving some espionage and some personal issues between the two sisters were a bonus to this script by Christina Rosendahl, Dunja Fry Jensen, and Kristian Bang Foss. These subplots were perfectly mixed in to break up the main story. That story could have become monotonous without the other two subplots.
Everything made the 155 minute run time perfect. The film didn't seem to drag. The subplots helped with that without muddling the main story. There was also some archival footage and the film was half and half subtitles and English for those who aren't fans of reading a movie. The subtitled portion didn't take up that much time of the film. The archival footage was effective in showing some of the real events to the viewer to make people realize how realistic this story and film are. Rosendahl did a great job with these aspects of the film.
Overall this film had very good acting by all involved, a serviceable script and story, and some very interesting camera tricks to make the film look a little different yet period-centric to the time. It is always good to see films about stories that were not known before. That's the magic of film: the discovery of new voices and new ideas are always welcomed because so many things have been rehashed in the past.
The Good Traitor hits VOD on March 26.
[SXSW 2021] LILY TOPPLES THE WORLD -- A Compelling Documentary From an Unlikely Topic
Review by Sean Boelman
The great thing about watching documentaries at film festivals is that you get to see some about topics you wouldn’t expect to make for great entertainment. Lily Topples the World is one such movie, as filmmaker Jeremy Workman took a story that doesn’t seem like it would be all that compelling and made something legitimately moving out of it.
The film tells the story of domino artist and YouTube star Lily Hevesh as she tries to navigate the world of professional domino toppling as the only woman in the movie. There are elements of an underdog story here, along with the behind-the-scenes art documentary stuff that one would expect, and the result makes the audience appreciate Hevesh’s work in an even deeper way than they probably did before.
For the most part, the film follows Hevesh around as she goes about her different gigs, making domino art for advertisements, collaborations, and other outlets (even including one piece for The Tonight Show). However, Workman also wants to make sure that the audience sees her humility, exploring aspects of her family life and time at college.
There is undeniably something inspiring about this story and getting to see someone like Hevesh who has made a successful path for herself. She has gotten to take her passion and make a career out of it, which is admirable as heck, and will hopefully inspire future generations to continue to chase what they love.
At an hour and thirty minutes in length, the movie does start to get a bit derivative after a certain point, watching Hevesh carefully place dominos into patterns to make them fall in a spectacular way. However, there is another story that comes up later in the film about Hevesh creating her own line of dominos, and this is fascinating but underdeveloped.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of this movie is getting to see footage of Hevesh’s creations. The things she is able to make out of these pieces are astounding, and it’s totally understandable why she has gained such a following for these videos. Audiences will certainly be left wanting to check out more of what she has done.
Apart from the magnificent domino art footage, this is a mostly traditional documentary. Workman does a good job of positioning the camera during the fly-on-the-wall footage so that we can see Hevesh working in a way that also allows us to see the beauty of her work, but he doesn’t subvert expectations in terms of what he shows.
Lily Topples the World is a compelling documentary, and while there are some parts that are a bit redundant, the story is good enough to hold the audience’s attention. It comes as no surprise that this moving tale won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary Feature at SXSW.
Lily Topples the World screened as a part of the online edition of the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, which ran March 16-20.
Review by Sean Boelman
Winner of the Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature at this year’s SXSW, Megan Park’s drama The Fallout really wants to be something special, but instead ends up feeling cheap and ineffective. Although the performances are strong, the script fumbles its weighty themes in a way that is consistently frustrating.
The film tells the story of a teenager who, after experiencing a tragedy at school, struggles to cope with the emotional fallout, causing changes to her relationships and psyche. This is a case of a movie that clearly has the best of intentions but ends up defeating itself with lackluster and misguided execution.
There is a fundamental issue with this film, and it is that it seems to care less about the trauma that the protagonist is experiencing and more about the way in which she is acting out because of it. Although there is something to be said about how victims tend to hide away their trauma and put up a facade, this movie doesn’t portray the character much differently than a normal angsty teen.
The film also does a disservice to its supporting characters. There is one character who becomes socially active as a result of his experiences, but for the most part, this is a very one-track depiction of grief and trauma. It fails to explore the differing ways in which people struggle to understand their emotions after a tragedy such as this.
Thankfully, Park is mostly very sensitive about the way in which she approaches the topic itself. The scene in which the tragedy occurs is short and done in a way that is harrowing without showing too much. Unlike a lot of other movies that have been about school violence, this one didn’t come across as exploitative or opportunist.
There is one highlight in the film, and it is the lead actress, Jenna Ortega. She brings a lot of emotion to a character that isn’t particularly subtle in the way it is written, still managing to make her feel real despite some of the exaggerated qualities. And in the supporting cast, Shailene Woodley and John Ortiz both do a good job, although their roles are quite small.
On a technical level, the movie shows its small budget, but it can’t be faulted too much for that. However, the lo-fi qualities of the film don’t come together well with the script that is oftentimes a bit heavy-handed, resulting in a feel that is often less than satisfying. A few great scenes aside, the movie feels like a heavily independent production in the worst ways.
The Fallout seems like the type of film that won its honor based on the merit of what it wanted to be rather than what it is. There are definitely some glimpses of greatness in here, but it takes wading through a lot of mediocrity to get there.
The Fallout screened as a part of the online edition of the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, which ran March 16-20.
Review by Sean Boelman
There are two sides to the festival midnight movie category: campy and fun or disturbing and messed up. Jaco Bouwer’s eco-horror film Gaia falls firmly into the latter, a truly creepy movie that will leave audiences shaken to their core thanks to its brilliantly-crafted suspense and harrowing (if disorganized) messages.
The film follows a park ranger who gets stranded in the wilderness along with two survivalists, soon discovering that there is something terrifying lurking in the forest. Offering shades of The Last of Us and Annihilation, this movie may not have the emotional stakes of either of those, but has plenty of horrific imagery to make it stick in the viewer’s mind.
At first, the film seems like it is going to be a bit of a slow burn, but once things start to go down, it becomes really overwhelming. There is a lot happening at once, and while it can be difficult to follow at times, there is no denying that it’s scary, and there are many layers to dissect and explore upon rewatch.
If the movie does suffer from one thing, it is that it has too much to say. On one hand, the film seems to be about how we as humans interact with the environment. But on the other, it is an exploration of knowledge and how our evolution as a society over the years has led to our survival. These sometimes conflicting themes don’t always mesh together in the most satisfying way.
Additionally, the character development isn’t one of the movie’s strong suits. There are three main characters and one supporting player, and while it’s clear who the audience is supposed to identify with, there isn’t a whole lot of depth to the arcs. Everyone is pretty much filling an archetype, and while this plays to the message, it doesn’t help with the potential emotional distancing.
The standout in the cast is Carel Nel, who gives a superbly menacing turn as the father in the duo of survivalists. It’s a performance that dials into the viewer’s understanding of that type of character without fully embracing it, resulting in a genuinely creepy effect. Monique Rockman is also very good in her role, especially in the second half, in which she is given more to do.
It is on a visual level that the film is most successful. Bouwer takes advantage of his woodsy setting to create an atmosphere that is thoroughly eerie. The gore in the movie isn’t excessive, but when it comes, it’s brutal. And the creature design is magnificent, bringing an expansive quality to the movie.
Gaia is probably this year’s biggest success in the Midnighters category at the SXSW Film Festival, and art house horror audiences will absolutely eat it up. There is always a need for smart and disturbing genre pictures, and this fills that void.
Gaia screened as a part of the online edition of the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, which ran March 16-20.