EVIL is a Giant Cockroach Trying To Bite Your Head Off…Man! “Love and Monsters” reviewed! (Paramount / Blu-ray Review)

For seven years, monsters have ravaged the human race to nearly extinction after nuclear nations destroyed an planet killing meteor in space, but the radioactive debris that fall back to Earth mutated the smallest creatures into monstrous killing machines.  Humans have been divided into colonies forced into underground bunkers.  Joel Dawson has been barely surviving with bunk mates who see him as a liability in his inability to act when faced with a monster situation and has been unable to connect, romantically, with another person.  When Joel discovers his high school sweetheart is 85 miles away in another colony, Joel decides to leave the bunker safe haven and journey across the dangerous surface for seven days for the sole purpose of love.  Forced to face his fears and adapt to survive a perilous land full of giant centipedes, hungry massive toads, and a crusty crab the size of a two story building, Joel must rely on his instincts and the help of rule-following topside survivors to see again the girl he thought he lost.

Add “Love and Monsters,” a monstrously romantic creature feature, right up there with “Warm Bodies” as this decade’s version of horror and love dancing the tangled tango in this kill or be eaten comedy-love pursuit directed by Michael Matthews.  The 2020 release is Matthews’ sophomore directorial from a script co-written between Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson off a Duffield’s original “Monster Problems” script.  Duffield is best known for penning last year’s water leviathan success, “Underwater,” starring Kristen Stewart, with “Monster Trucks’” Robinson coming aboard to finesse the grand adventure mechanism that makes “Love and Monsters” a singular trek through heart-thumping terrorland.  The Canadian production filmed in the amalgam terrain of Australia is produced by Dan Cohen and Shawn Levy, who both know a thing or two about doomsday premises in producing Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and the Denis Villeneuve sleeper sci-fi first contact film, “Arrival,” under 21 Laps Entertainment in association with Entertainment One and Paramount Pictures distribution in North America.

A singular journey of bushwhacking and survival falls upon the shoulders of a young man who hasn’t yet transitioned to be an adult. From the time he was 16 years old, Joel Dawson knew love, but didn’t know how to fend for himself when life gets tough….really tough, like, full of carnivorous creatures in an end of humanity and heading to extinction tough. Yet, as adults, we thrive on challenges as our brains have learned to adapt with each new level of adversity and obstacle. For Joel, being stuck in the past, reliving a swift romance, has suspended him in nowheresville as he struggles to find love and age-appropriate interaction with of his kind peers. Dylan O’Brian captures Joel’s inability to see the clearly world around him because, literally, he hasn’t seen or experienced the world for about a third of his young life. Portrayed early on in young adult fiction with his feet firm in the heartthrob remake of “Teen Wolf” television series and coming out of adapted for film “The Maze Runner” trilogy, O’Brien discovers that being feeble and lonely can be just as powerful as being a werewolf or a dystopian survivalist; instead, O’Brien up-plays the quirky, quick-witted, outcast with delusions about his solitary and unpopularity as he finds fortitude by trekking seven days through a monster-riddled hell to rekindle his relationship with Amiee, the last person he personally felt a connection to who hasn’t been squished under the foot of a Granddaddy Long Leg. “The Head Hunter” and “Underwater” star, Jessica Henwick, retunes her vocal chords to present her best American English accent in order to be Joel’s live-or-die love interest, if she hasn’t changed in the last seven horrible years. Yet, before Joel and Amiee reunite in what’s a finger-crossable moment of love again at first sight, the meek Joel Dawson needs to go through, what half the monsters outside have already gone through, is a metamorphosis of sorts to be bigger, tougher, and more self-reliant. This is where MCU alums, Michael Rooker (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) and Ariana Greenblatt (“Avengers: Infinity War”) step in. As Clyde, Rooker’s the Bear Grylls of monster land, knowing all the tips and tricks of topside survival all the while sporting a Richard Simmons perm, whereas Greenblatt, as the orphaned Minnow traveling in companion with Clyde, is just rugged despite her pintsize. “Love and Monsters” really focuses on these four individuals that mainly perpetuate only one of them, Joel, to be the best survivor he can be at the bottom of the food chain, but other minor characters do arise and nudge brash action that requires the solidity of an unbroken community chain. Dan Ewing (“Occupation”), Ellen Hollman (“Asylum”), Pacharo Mzembe, Tre Hale, Senie Priti, Amalie Golden, and “The Road Warrior’s” Bruce Spence makes a cameo appearance as Old Pete.

What I find interesting about “Love and Monsters,” that’s more prevalent in most post-apocalypse themed plots, is the lack of dog-eat-dog between humans.  While the story mainly skirts around the concept with a running gag that the real reason Joel left his colony is because he’s a no-good food stealer, Joel’s interactions with his and Amiee’s colonies, plus in his travels with Clyde and Minnow, showed no sign of deception or greed, a rare and humbling dynamic when starved, weary, and scared people are backed against a wall and cutthroat advantages are at arm’s length; instead, a real sense of community and compassion is committed that brings a sense of hope, not for just Joel in a world conquered by monsters, but for also audiences with pessimistic views about the volatility of man.  Even with all the fears of A.I hostile takeover, tender moments of man face-to-face with machine seals that threat into inexistence as Joel comes across a damaged MAV1S unit, an anatomical automaton built for servicing humanity, borders that plane of complex human emotions with all the right things to say and able to read what Joel needs to here to keep him moving in a sacrificial scene of the androids’ last hurrah before complete battery drain.  “Love and Monsters” doesn’t do a complete withdrawal from the hypodermic needle of inhuman poison, but the concept is certainly not the emphasis.  With a title like “Love and Monsters,” you want the monsters to be, at the very least, half of the story, as promised, and we’re treated to a slew of different monsters with different personalities and with different innate weapons. Not all the monsters are blood thirsty. Some are gentle, but judged for their immense size and scary physical attributes and Matthews points this important theme out in a trope about-face, signifying that just because this is a monster movie, doesn’t mean all monsters have been unjustly deemed vicious and terrorizing. In a way, these monsters parallel in being judged just as inaccurately as Joel is by his survivalist peers without so much as the benefit of the doubt and only when a trust evolves from out of being scared is when judgements wash away with sheltered conventional thinking. Diminutive inside a fantasyland of behemoth horrors, “Love and Monsters” has a tremendous heart with an interpersonal message about understanding connections with people inside the mixed-messaged confines of coming into adulthood.

If we don’t nuke ourselves out of existence first, the lifeforms underneath the soles of our shoes will gladly seize dominance for an easy, human-sized, snack in Michael Matthews’ “Love and Monsters” now released on Blu-ray plus digital, as well as 4K Ultra HD and DVD, courtesy of Paramount Pictures. The PG-13 action-adventure creature feature is presented in high definition, 1080p, widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Australia is already a futuristic land of gorgeous overgrowth and untouched wonder, Lachlan Milne trades in the practical (zombie horde) aesthetics of “Little Monsters” to a transcending larger types of monsters to scale an open world environment to eventually be combined with post-production visual effects of Kaiju-sized myriapods, crustaceans, and amphibians to just name a few. Award winning VFX company, The Mill, has seamless and organic creations that blend truth and deception with the scariest of ease as creatures explode out of the ground or lumber above head with no angle left uncovered or underdeveloped in giving audiences unmistakable visuals of our nightmares. The English language 7.1 DTS-HD master audio mix is the epitome of well balanced with clear dialogue, a complimentary soundtrack, and a long range and diverse depth of sound engineered monsters being monsters from low, sonorous gutturals to the high cracks and pops of creature movements. Inside a cardboard slipcover, The Paramount Pictures Blu-ray comes with a digital movie code to add to your digital movie collection to watch anywhere, but the release also comes with deleted scenes, a “Bottom of the Food Chain” featurette feature snippet interviews with the cast and crew, and “It’s a Monster World: Creating a Post-Apocalyptic Landscape” that dives into the natural preserve combined with production design to create the apocalypse illusion. Adventurously invigorating and outside the norm of telling story patterns, “Love and Monsters” romanticizes the post-apocalypse with a self love theme in a hope-inspiring and fun creature-crammed monster movie.

Blu-ray of “Love and Monsters.” Click poster to purchase at Amazon.com!

EVIL is Undead…And Rides a Shark! “Sky Sharks” reviewed (Umbrella Entertainment / DVD)

Former Nazi scientist Dr. Klaus Richter’s past has finally caught up with him after 70 years when a clandestine German laboratory, disguised as an aircraft-battleship hybrid, thaws from behind a globally warmed sheet of frozen ice and rock, releasing Dr. Richter’s regenerated legion of undead Nazi super-soldiers piloting genetically engineered flying battle sharks complete with guided missiles alongside their razor sharp jaws.  Loyal to the Third Reich, the sky sharks continue their master race patronage with a blitzkrieg in the skies, attacking commercial aircraft, boarding the cabins, and slaughtering every last person on board before crashing.   Now contractually working for the U.S. Government as the biggest name in technological advancement, Dr. Klaus, with the help of his two daughters, has a plan to nullify the sky sharks’ defenses to make them vulnerable to his latest newest experiment in warfare, Dead Flesh, under the guidance of his fellow covert government agency heads.

Apex predators of the waters are now apex predators of the skies in Marc Fehse’s ridiculous, frenzied, and utterly mad ultra-violent Nazi-exploitation, “Sky Sharks.” Soaring through the heavens soaking fluffy white clouds with blood, the Carsten Fehse and A.D. Morel co-written film took off virally in 2020 with the promise to the internet, especially horror fans, of zombified SS soldiers mounted standing on humungous Great White, Hammerhead, and Megalodon jet-propelled sharks. Fehse’s team delivered. “Sky Sharks” has not one single serious bone in all it’s cartilaginous gory-glory body in what’s Fehse’s second film behind the 1999, straight to video, “Mutation” involving the what-if factor of a surrealistically free reigning and sadistically unbridled Nazi force hellbent on winning World War II no matter how many lives needing to be sacrificed for the sake of the Führer’s dominion. The Germany-made production is a Fuse Box Films and Fantom Films.

“Sky Sharks” is studded with cult stars, but those studs pop out mostly after the carnage-laden opening scene of passengers on a commercial flight being ripped to shreds by undead super-soldiers hog-wild about killing. Robert LaSardo (“Strangeland”), Lynn Lowery (“Model Hunger”), Tony Todd (“Candyman”), Diana Prince (“The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs”), Mick Garris (director of “Critters 2”), Dave Sheridan (“Scary Movie”), Amanda Bearse (“Fright Night” ’85), Asami (“Gun Woman), Naomi Grossman (“American Horror Story” franchise), Lar Park-Lincoln (“Friday the 13th Part VII:  The New Blood”) and “Mortal Kombat’s Shang Tsung himself, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, make an appearance in some minor way, shape, or form, but since “Sky Sharks” is a German production, much of the cast is geared toward German and Austrian actors with Thomas Morris spearheading the lead role of the inverted mad scientist, Dr. Klaus Richter, a centenarian mastermind behind the birth and, hopeful, destruction of his monstrous airborne jaws of death experiment.  The role itself isn’t very exciting that refrains Morris to be nothing more but a talking head who recounts his failed World War II and Vietnam resurrection serum to turn the tides of war.  While Dr. Richter has immense blood on his hands from a long and rich background, the present day Richter has lackluster appeal and Morris doesn’t provide much zest either.  More complexities reside in Richter’s two tech-savvy and kickass daughters, Diabla and Angelique.  Their signifying names alone provide some foreshadowing of events, but the close sisters are boots on the ground with their father being the eye in the sky; yet, Diabla and Angelique have been kept in the dark from their father’s horrid past that factors little into parting ways from being daughter’s little girls.  Blonde beauties Eva Haberman and Barbara Nedeljakova successful roles in Germany and the U.S. include “Hostel” and the sci-fi tele-series “Lexx,” but their blind obedience to the patriarch roles downscales any moments to shine individually as free thinking agents of good.  Any other character factored into “Sky Sharks’” whiplash narrative come and go without a single ounce meaningful impact becoming background noise for the fray. There’s not even a singular villain to speak of as a focal point to direct a challenger against forces of good.

As much as the concept excites me on an obscurely dysfunctional level, a real telling tale of who I am as a person, who also praises “Snakes on a Plane” as cult candy, “Sky Sharks” has atrocious issues with pacing and story quality.  The opening scene sets up what to expect of gore drenched Nazis yoking back on genetically mutated sharks, zipping through high altitude to acrobatically infiltrate commercial planes for complete and total annihilation of every passenger onboard.  Tickles me in all the right places.  Yet, the sky sharks’ unveiling background whizzes past right into death from above world apocalypse, skipping keynote details resolving the giant warship beached on the Antarctic ice.  Fehse decides to redirect our focus with a bunch of explicit violence and sex and while that’s all nice and good…really good…the misdirection can’t coverup the necessities needed for a good story even if the story is absolutely bonkers. The visual effects are not distinct from the ream of shark-sploitation films that have become popular over the last decade in a cheaper slaved effort to capitalize on the majestic beasts of the sea…who sometimes mistake a surfer for a sea lion. The flying sharks swim in a stiffly pattern and move inorganically through their uncharacteristic ecosystem as they rocket in a school of steampunk nightmares. Not all visuals fall short of satisfaction when they’re appropriately blended with practical effects. Under that hood of tangible horrors is “Iron Sky: The Coming Race’s” Martin Schäper and, the legendary, Tom Savini, who we haven’t seen special effects work from since 2012’s “Death from Above” (an also fitting title for killer sharks in the sky). Schäper and Savini bring it with blood. Each plane sequence, there’s two of them, exhibit different deaths with each one more outrageous than the next. My favorite is the inverted periscope through a guy’s cranium and having a looksie at the screaming, bloodied passengers. “Sky Sharks” is, literally, an over-the-top scream of slice’em and dice’em fun.

Cresting through the blue yonder and painting the sky blood red is the deadliest gang of shark riding Nazi’s to ever grace a cinema platform in “Sky Sharks,” coming to DVD in Australia, no stranger to large, deadly sharks, courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment in association with Raven Banner. The NTSC encoded, region 4, rated R release will present the film in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. “Sky Sharks” is a turbulent wonderland of rustic computer generated visual effects with a Marco J. Riedl and Olaf Markmann cinematography, typifying a clashing style, of keeping actors tightly in focus to sell a futuristic fluorescent environment. A few scenes give a sense of layered paper mâché sitting in front a green screen as the forefront images seemingly pop out of their backdrops. The English and German Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix falls victim to an overpowering score of a weak dialogue track that washes key pieces of exposition that might explain more as the scenes fleet away in the rushed paced 103 minute runtime. Aside from a brilliantly detailed DVD cover robust with a glowing eyed, half-decaying Nazi soldier as centerpiece amongst flying, weaponized sharks and Robert LaSardo and Lynn Lowry cameoing off to the left side with a half-naked female warrior on the right, the DVD has no bonus features included. After the credits, a fake commercial for “Sky Frogs,” starring that half-naked female warrior I just mentioned, is a satirical happy ending full of even worse, 80’s caliber, visual effects worlds and frogs. Though not at the top of the food chain being one of the grossly ostentatious and shoddily visual effects films ever, the mindless, search and destroy, crudeness of “Sky Sharks” chums our oceans of entertainment with some of the bloodiest fun we’ve seen in a long time from a Nazisploitation.

Own Umbrella Entertainment release of “Sky Sharks” on DVD! Click the poster!

Keep the EVIL Family Drama for Your Mama. “Abigail Haunting” reviewed (High Fliers Films / Digital Screener)

While searching for a life in Reno, Katie reluctantly becomes an accomplice in a heist job with her abusive boyfriend, scoring a small brown paper bag packed with stolen money.  In the middle of post-heist uncertainty, an opportunity to escape a troubled relationship presents itself and Katie hightails it to her hometown of Prescott with the loot, leaving the dark life behind her in Reno.  Unsure of her next steps, she hides away by moving back into her childhood trailer home with foster mother, Marge, who has nearly deteriorated into a completely catatonic state over the last few years.  As the days pass and Katie catches up with Brian, rekindling a relationship with a high school crush, her secretive past becomes plaited into Marge’s sinister skeleton in the cupboard that pulls both of them into the supernatural wrath of a tormented spirit haunting the trailer home, merging the past and present with a shocking conclusion.

Cursed.  No, not the vengeful spirit who resurrects to plague havoc on the still breathing, flesh and boned to set their tortured, spiritual planed souls to rest.  The curse I speak of involves putting Haunting into the title of any ghost film that has been released in, oh let’s say, the last 20 or so years culminating into being one mediocre release after another of mainstream and independent films that has, frankly the lack of a better word, cursed the subgenre.  Type haunting in the IMDB search field and just glaze over as hundreds of films crash over you in a tsunami of stale capitalism ever since the remake of Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” in 1999 with Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones.  “The Haunting of Connecticut.”  “An American Haunting.”  “23:59:  The Haunting Hour.”  Being one step behind the hackneyed “possession” in nearly every title about, well, possession, these post-2000 ghost films are just morsels of the bigger crapola pie that investors love to sink as little of their money into as possible because the return is greater because ghost film don’t necessarily a R rating unlike other subgenres and, sometimes, piggyback off a successful film with the parlance.  PG-13 in slashers is an oxymoron, if you ask me, but in with ghosts, fear of mysticism and the unknown has enough power to scare if done correctly, i.e. the original “Poltergeist.”  This unbecoming setup leads us to the 2020 release of the revenant thriller “Abigail Haunting,” the latest Kelly Schwarze written and directed full length film after tackling an Area 51 inspired bloody battle beyond the stars set in our backyard with “Alien Domicile, and before we go into whether the Schwarze film, co-written alongside Charisma Manualt, can tame an unbridled use of title-exploitation with a first rate story, the Indie Film Factory production will receive full benefit of the doubt until the end of the review.


The story follows a small town girl, Katie, from Prescott, Nevada who falls into small time crime with a lowlife boyfriend that quickly turns sour and deadly after an armed cash grab, presumably from a Reno casino.  Chelsea Jurkiewicz fits that small description recipe of stuck in a rut local girl without much cause for disbelief.  As Katie, Jurkiewicz’s able to be the part of a young, harried woman running from a checkered past and into the flames of a paranormal bombardment.  The then early 20-something, “Stalker” actress kept Katie balanced between her cash stealing time in Reno, integrating back into what was a rough patch with an unreasonable and abusive foster mother, and dealing with unexplainable occurrences of nightlights turning on by themselves, her room being ransacked, and succumbing to disturbing visions while reminiscing of being a scared child hidden behind a makeshift potato sack mask that becomes a reoccurring object throughout.   While Schwarze loosely ties all the facets together in a nice, tight bow that leads to a climatic unraveling of Katie’s past, the visually assaulted Katie suffers as the centerpiece punching bag that connects them altogether.  To top Katie’s mounting pressure, a face from the past tries to pry his way into her life.  A lost fling in Katie’s fleeting existence is Brian, played by Austin Collazo in his debut film performance, forcing himself into her life in what reeks of single parent desperation.  A moment involving Katie looking through a photo scrap book shows the two smiling together in a lone picture, as if she’s reflecting upon a previous romance or friendship that has since fizzled, but that’s about the extent of their history that doesn’t dive deeper into the reflection or explain the spark from the sudden interest from Brian.  At the crux of the story is Marge (Brenda Daly), a dirtied, nightgown wearing middle-aged woman who fostered abandoned at 4 months old Katie in what only has been, in Katie’s sole exposition, a terrible experience.  Schwarze instinctively ties the trailer home and Marge together as a single entity, enacting as one to push Katie around in a fit of unmotivated hysteria.  Katie doesn’t seem too eager to lift an investigated finger any of phenomena that has plagued her in the home, in the back shed, or even follows her out on a date with Brian.  Instead, Brian initiates digging into her past that sends Katie down Marge’s rabbit hole of hidden secrets in an off kilter directional take where a protagonist stands indifferent or remains stagnant after multiple Abigail encounters that would seemingly rouse up curiosity or for the sake of proving sanity.  Rounding out “Abigail Haunting” is Michael Monteiro, Christopher Brown, and Taylor May as the titular ghost.

Not a positive start with flat, often time dunce, characters in “Abigail Haunting.”  The mindset behind Katie’s involvement with the Reno robbery and a scoundrel lover strains to play a bigger role into the eerie defense she’s positionally locked into at Marge’s dreary trailer home.  Schwarze remains on the fringes around the preoccupations that descend Katie into this dark place in her life between searching for her real mother that abandoned her as an infant, the deadly robbery in Reno, and the abusive ex that all seem to be weighing less on Katie’s shoulders than the duffle bag of a couple thousand dollars that would typical skewer one’s psyche, manifesting more than just the typical side effects of pressure.  Instead, Schwarz doesn’t fold in well enough the incorporation of our angry spirit, Abigail, whose unexplained appearance out of the Nevada blue sky in between Katie’s leaving and returning to Marge’s home denotes not one single explanation of when and why Abigail chooses to be a resurrected, phantasmal spite.  More jeopardizing toward Katie’s past and present life is her obsession with the stolen money versus living a decent life with possibly Brian and his dissociable, divorce struck kid, who the former is clearly obsessed with her, but the story more so saturates with a free floating, full torso phantasm, as the Ghostbusters would say, that undermines the subterranean psychology at work here and clouds the ghost foundation built on deceits, lies, and ugly truths. What “Abigail Haunting” succumbs to is being about as rudimentary as they come with a climax too riddles with plot holes that squish much of good establishing camera work and some decently laid jump scares. Haunting, as in a title, still curses the horror subgenre with middle-of-the-road dynamism.

Death clings to us all. In “Abigail Haunting,” death clings to vengeance in this supernatural thriller dropping on DVD in the UK on February 8th courtesy of High Flier Films and ITN Distribution. The region 2, PAL encoded DVD will be presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with a runtime of approx. 85 minutes. I initially had high hopes for Abigail to be at least be a derivative carbon copy of “The Conjuring” as “Scare Me’s” Michael TusHaus’s shows off impressive camera work that organically flows through Marge’s tight quartered trailer, as well as in other scenes when applicable outside the trailer location, with generous use of a stepping in-stepping out steady cam. TusHaus’s hard lighting also creates stern atmospherics with full bodied shadows that symbolically keep secrets and spirits in the dark. The digital release had no extra bonus feature available with none displayed on High Flier Film’s website. There were also no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Solid cinematography and palatable performances couldn’t plug up all the plot holes that stiffen “Abigail Haunting” into a two-bit carnival attraction that looks cool upon entry but not worth the money on exit.

 

In the S.H.U., The EVIL Comes From Within. “Caged” reviewed! (Shout! Studios / Digital Screener)

Psychiatrist Dr. Harlow Reid is sentence to life in prison after being convicted of murdering his wife.  With his assets frozen and his legal representation dropping him as a client, Reid is forced into being his own legal counsel.  To make matters worse, a female prison guard’s perverse pleasure is to slowly torture him while in her custody at solitary confinement.  His only means to enter general population is to behave and confess to the crime he contests, but he continues to maintain his innocence by refusing to sign the confession, remaining alone and withstanding abuse until he can write a formal plea to a judge to reconsider the facts in his case.  As the days turn to weeks and weeks turn to months, the usually stable minded Dr. Reid, alone with his thoughts, has his fortress of reality buckle under the heavy burden of isolation compounded with the maltreatment and his personal demons that struggle with the actual events in his wife’s sudden death, questioning himself that her death might have been at his hand.

Inside the clink is a maelstrom set in a pressure cooker. Ready to explode at any moment are cons of, mostly, unsavory personalities simmering with pent up anger, desperation, and ill-will positioned by equally fraught guards harried by timebomb temperaments and undervalued in training and payment. In Aaron Fjellman’s written and directed debut feature film, “Caged,” the strain festers toward being hell behind bars in a ruthless determination of survival. Also once known as the working title, “The S.H.U,” Fjellman constrains his American-made, and inspired, big house thriller with a minimalist approach set with a backdrop of chiefly the solitary housing unit to lock up viewers in, as witnessing accomplices, with a protagonist’s downtrodden path of mental degradation as well as being humanly degraded. Aaron Fjellman produces his film for production company Panic House Films and Shifty Eye Productions with the latter a company created by the film’s star, Edi Gathegi, serving on the board as executive producer.

It’s no big surprise that Edi Gathegi dons the prison house jumper and clanking shackles in this social commentary thriller. The “Blacklist” and “X-Men: First Class” actor knows a good role when he sees with, especially inside the body and mind of one Dr. Harlow Reid. Gathegi regularly has to battle with himself filtered through the madness of the S.H.U. mind-breaking solitary with a little fanning of the flames from sadistic prison guard, Officer Sacks. In an extremely ghastly transformation, Melora Hardin goes from a classic beauty with a big smile and high cheek bones to baring an unflattering lumpy posture with hair pulled back in a tight, short ponytail overtop a demonizing trope of a scar down the left side of her face and an assured cockiness symbolized by the gum smacking that’s sometimes becomes the only thing in the camera frame. As Gathegi masters the ideals of a convict presuming himself innocent, Hardin lurks beyond his cell door as the devilish guard over his shoulder. Officer Sacks defines a face with a story and her story has a hard on for power over prisoners, especially affluent ones or, maybe, those of African American descent in a tinge of racist undertones as Fjellman notes on the racial injustices in the prison system. A smidgen of that notion is supported shown in Officer Sacks behind-the-back passive aggressiveness toward Warden Perez. “Annabelle’s” Tony Amendola truly delivers being a heartfelt ally, yet sturdy firm handed warden with Reid. Perez, an expressed Catholic, seeks Reid’s redemption through the admittance of wrongdoing and that becomes the steadfast barrier Reid has to hurtle that will test his convictions and his sanity. “Caged” rounds out with Mick Jagger’s son, James Jagger, as Reid’s unhinged S.H.U. bedfellow who speaks in hyperbole of inmate hauntings in an opaque analogy of guilt mixed with madness, and “Westworld’s” Angela Sarafyan told through flashbacks and supernatural induced psychosis as Reid’s wife, Amber.

To tell an inmate’s nearly yearlong story succumbing to the brutal and segregating abuses surrounding him in solitary confinement is a tremendous feat working into the mental cracks and exploring the fallacies. Yet, Aaron Fjellman made his fictional interpretation look easy by relating a surreal, but telling story in just 80 minutes, gripping with metaphorical concepts of an overcrowded prison system preying on uncontested obedience, even if the lengths taken to obtain complete compliance is trauma exacting torture of draconian policy, by primarily privately funded institutions with little-to-no funding or resources to manage. “Caged” is very fleeting with montage upon montage of Harlow Reid’s day-to-day, but never becomes a monotonous roundabout vivarium of Reid sitting hopelessly-looking in his cell. Gathegi’s put to work as a man determined to challenge the system that engages Reid to keep sharp and in shape by working out in various exercises, entertain an unhinged neighboring inmate with his ramblings and blurbs of crazy talk truths, and feverishly work on his legal case by any extraordinary measures, including using his own blood as ink. Yes, “Caged” can elicit a genuine sense of horror, a perspective on psychological terror, and be an eye-opening gasp of real life prison dread when good versus evil is mirrored in reverse with the good guys not being the prison guards. Fjellman imprisons us all in “Caged” by culminating the fact that no matter your social circumstances, the S.H.U. breaks everyone.

Orange may be the new black, but Aaron Fjellman’s bleak fretting “Caged” jars with somber authoritarian power. The new thriller released by Shout! Studios premiers unrated on VOD and digital January 26th. “Caged” is film by director of photography, Jessica Young, with an Arri Amira camera and presented in a widescreen format, 16×9 aspect ratio, and, typically, the Amira camera versatility is in the use for low-budget films, perfect for “Caged” in it’s nearly singular setting and two-tone, steely gray and black, atmospherics that naturally have devoid color vibrancy. CJ Johnson, who will soon see his musical scores in a pair of upcoming Friday the 13th fan films, lines “Caged” with a soft, building industrial score that tunes the disquiet in Reid’s racked inner conflict. With this digital screener, there were no bonus materials or any bonus scenes during or after the credits. Through the use of visual and audible horror tropes and with potent performances from Edi Gathegi and Melora Hardin, “Caged” is a ghost story told for the unspoken voices victim to long-term confinement.

Click the poster to pre-order “Caged” at Amazon!

Being Slobby Drunk Doesn’t Excuse EVIL Deeds. “Promising Young Woman” reviewed! (Focus Features / Digital Screener)

On a weekly basis, Cassandra hits the night clubs and drinks herself into a stupor.  A male “Good Samaritan” will come over to assess her well being only to be selfishly determinedly for her to return to his place for a nightcap.  When on the verge of passing out or too immersed in drunken lethargy, the man makes his move with uninvited, unwanted show of handsy affection.  That’s when Cassandra springs her trap.  Feigning inebriation, the clearheaded Cassandra rouses a sobering, befuddled moment of blank expression, misplaced justification, and anger when the man’s seemingly easy lay catches them in an unsolicited sexual violation.  Her traumatizing past has molded her to become very good at pretending to be vulnerable until hearing a familiar name of a man, long thought to be out of the country, sends Cassandra down an itemized path of vengeance that not only includes ruining the life of the source of her unorthodox, yet necessary, campaign but also clump in every facet associated in with his shining existence.

If you needed a slap across the face in order to reassert yourself from the painful numbness of incessant news stories of young women being the vilified victims of sexual assault then “Promising Young Woman” is a stinging hot whack of four fingers, a thumb, and an open palm of wake the hell up!  From Emerald Fennel in her debut written and directed full length feature film comes a blunt narrative of systemic injustice involving rape and the social delusions stemmed out of grades of maturity, lengths of time, and levels of alcoholic drinking.  Coming off fresh from her recent role on Netflix’s period biographical drama, “The Crown,” Fennel draws motivation for her black comedic thriller from the infamous Brock Turner case of sexual assault on Chanel Miller that turned into a conviction judgement with abhorrent caveat in his early release for good behavior that the white, educated, star athlete’s life shouldn’t be destroyed because he’s a promising young man [sic].  “Promising Young Woman” targets every broken system that is meant to protect violated women despite their socializing determined conscious or unconscious state of affairs and has some mega star powers producing the social commentary material in such with “Suicide Squad” and “Bombshell” star, Margot Robbie, under her co-founded LuckyChap Entertainment along with the film’s star, Carey Mulligan, as executive producer. FilmNation Entertainment’s Glen Basner and Ben Browning fully finance the first real award contender of a 2021 release.

“Promising Young Woman” has an all-star, diverse class of actors surrounding principle lead, “Drive’s” Carey Mulligan as the methodically standoffish Cassandra, caught in a web of denial, self-depreciation, and straight up ignorance of the hurt caused directly and indirectly to whichever means to satisfy their own different shades of gray conscious. Mulligan is terrific as a coarse character rare to be juxtaposed against a veneer of bubble-gum chic with a reserved demeanor outside her burning the midnight oil working hours and coming out like a ferocious grizzly bear when calling out club scouting douchebags on their objectionable behavior. When Cassandra crosses paths with Ryan, comedian and “Eighth Grade” writer and director, Bo Burnham, Mulligan’s range is tested to take that disinterested and glassy eyed crusader and turn to a state of daily conformist complacency, the very dangerous thing Cassandra seeks to rectify one man after another, that slips Cassandra out temporary from her anti-heroine role until her dolled up, doughy eyes snap toward the camera and into a kill mode that goes straight for the pervert’s throat. An inclusive cast speaks volumes on not only how “Promising Young Woman” incorporates different ethnic and genre backgrounds and ages, but also doesn’t throw man to completely under the bus as Satan’s puppet on Earth with performances from Laverne Cox (“Orange is the New Back”), Alfred Molina (“Spider-Man 2”), Jennifer Coolidge (“American Pie”), Clancy Brown (“Starship Troopers”), Adam Brody (“Jennifer’s Body”), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“Kick-Ass”), Alison Brie (“Scream 4”), Connie Britton (“American Horror Story”), and Molly Shannon (“Hotel Transylvania”).

“Promising Young Woman” wields a powerful theme to shed a brilliant light on everything that is fragmented with the way sexual assault accusations, trials, and punishments are handled.  The film also probes deep into the soul in how people who are not directly affected digest sexual assault but become accomplice in proximity in a range exhibited from complete, unnerving guilt to locking away the events in their mind in order to forget.  Fennel plausibly fashions a motif of passing judgement from assailant to victim while chiseling out the flawed logic in each deplorable excuse as to why a University Dean, a defense lawyer, and a good friend could cold-heartedly denounce, and frankly not lift one single finger threaded with moral fiber about, a young woman’s accusations.  The unpleasantry core of “Promising Young Woman’s” topical subject is nestled inside a sparklingly and colorful cladded showcase, housing an energetic and upbeat arrangement around a dark tone that, in a way, reflects the pretense goggles most see through to avoid any responsibility or conflict.   Empathy never seems to run it’s course as Fennel treads without fear on a mission to take back the blasted to smithereens dignity by deconstructing and exposing every unjust particle in this atypical rape-revenge thriller robust with heart paraded on by an ugly truth.

Remember when I said this film is a slap in the face wake up call? It’s more of a gut check, a conversation starter, and a watershed moment rolled up into one and now “Promising Young Woman” will land right into all the living room smart television sets in America with a Friday, January 15th VOD release from Focus Feature films. The rated R, 113 minute runtime release presented in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio will available for a 48-hour rental on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Vudu, Fandango, and Google Play, but if you don’t want to wait and want to brave a pandemic climate, select theaters have showings available. Benjamin Kracun’s camerawork, shot on an Arri Alexa, offers a lush and delicate milieu surrounding Cassandra who, with a Panavision lens, gleams in the scene and the soundtrack, comprised of early 2000’s pop inspired from Spice Girls, Paris Hilton, and even a strained violin rendition of a Britney Spears track, cues moments of levity before annihilating the live of the blank conscious. As far as special features go, there were no bonus materials or scenes included. “Promising Young Woman” revamps the way women approach vigilante justice with a candy coated shell and the maestro behind it all, Emerald Fennel, aims to redact or nullify the expression promising young man to no longer be a part of the conversation.

Pre-order “Promising Young Woman” on Blu-ray or DVD. Watch it on VOD come January 15th