The EVIL Next Door Invites the Urban Decay. “Terrified” reviewed (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)



A young boy is hit and killed by a bus.  A housewife is found hung in her bathroom.  A man has disappeared in his home.  Three incidences, three houses, three souls have one thing in common.  They’re neighbors.  The unusualness surrounding each tragedy grabs the attention of former forensics investigator Jano who’s own experience with the paranormal thrusts an unquenchable desire to examine the supernatural.  In a matter of coincidence, Dr. Mora Albreck, a vocational psychokinetic researcher, follows up on the disappearance of the man who called her countless times for help, but then just vanishes.  Accompanied by Dr. Albreck’s assistant, Dr. Rosentock, and Detective Funes, a weary, on-the-edge officer with a bad heart, the divide themselves to stay the night in each house and experience the paranormal phenomena calling from the beyond, but the entities calling just might terrify them. 

Hailing from Argentina comes the shivering, cross dimensional unknown from writer-director Demián Rugna’s 2017 properly titled, “Terrified.”  Originally known as “Aterrados,” the Buenos Aires filmmaker, who’s helmed hell bound thresholds previously with his introductory feature film, “The Last Gateway,” remains inside the grindhouse and horror bubble with another slit between realities thriller.  This particular bubble bursts with a whirlwind of nebulous outbreak of terror while providing microbe commentary about the potential dangers of Latin America’s water system and a perspective theme that speaks volumes on the issues of duality in what really happened and what the general public is told. Don’t trust your eyes! Nothing is what it seems! That’s the whole premise of “Terrified’s” knee-quivering appall, produced by Fernando Díaz under Machaco Films and the Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales (INCAA).

Rugna’s paces “Terrified’s” entropic buildout near the edge of an anthology, ghosting us the one reason for a neighbor’s supernatural experience for the next to eventually bring the heart of the cast together as a motley group of paranormal investigators. Starting with retired forensic specialist Jano who has a morbid curiosity for the unknown that fascinates him more than the abnormal mortifies him with fear. In his first feature length performance outside of television, Norberto Gonzalo understudies the very concept of the character Jano with objective eye for curiosity and knowledge much like any scientist. Jano is invited by Detective Funes, played by another television regular, Maximiliano Ghione, to the investigation of a recently deceased boy’s corpse having returned to his childhood home and is now a rigor mortis statue sitting upright at the dining room table. Though through exposition about their training and partnership over the years, Jano and Funes sit on the opposite sides of the fear spectrum with Funes’s engendered nervousness to the whole uncanny event and mentioning his bad ticker which comes into play later on in the story. Opposite side of the street, in walks into frame Elvira Onetto, an appropriate name for the film at hand. The “Jennifer’s Shadow” actress is Dr. Mora Albreck, renowned paranormal psychologist checking in on a manic patient who recently disappeared. Rugna really appreciates the mindset of the kindred spirits in Jane and Dr. Albreck with their sense of childlike giddiness toward the whole matter while those around them – like Funes or the boy’s mother – shiver with fear or break psychologically. While Jano and Dr. Albreck naturally work their way into the story, Dr. Rosentock is left with being the odd eccentric out. While just as enthusiastic about the phenomena that’s swallowed souls around the neighbor, Rosentock just appears as Dr. Albreck’s assistant who has traveled from a great distance to study…something like what’s happening…so is said in the film. Played by George L. Lewis in his only credited role, Rosentock is as much as self-assured, unafraid, and matter-of-fact as he is a caricature of old Hammer Horror style scientists when dealing with otherworldly entities, imposing a need for a little weight to his story, but, unfortunately, his participation lives and breathes only as participate to Albreck’s project. There are many fine performances around with the ebb and flow of minor characters, played by a talented cast that includes Julieta Vallina, Demián Salomón, Agustín Rittano, and Natalia Señorales.

“Terrified” is one of those movies where the silence and the stillness can have a higher affect on the spine-prickles.  Rugna’s gold standard patience establishes a tense tone without the supplementary tumultuous, ear-splitting chaos that usually grinds teeth and curls toes as the sediment of panic begins to settle at the pit of the stomach.  Marcus Berta and Lionel Cornistein’s blend of practical and visual effect are near seamless, but ultimately land the one-two knockout punch of anxiety-riddled scares with tall, crumpled monsters skulking under the bed shadows, glowing eyes peering through wall cracks, and a the stiffly rotten decomposing boy popping into frame in a split second.  Cornistein’s composite designs are not too shabby for the editor and visual effects artist’s first feature rodeo let alone generated a complex olio of otherworld oddities.  In regards to “Terrified’s” themes, in my travels to Central and South America, I’ve been advised to be cautious in drinking the tap water that’s filtered differently compared to the U.S., leaving local microorganisms to swim in the guts of those unaccustomed to them, and Rugna points in that direction by consistently focusing on the water taps, drains, showers, the action of drinking water, and, also, literally spelling it out for us by Dr. Albreck to not drink the water in these spirit plagued houses due to microbes traversing from beyond through the water system.  Dual perspectives becomes important as well.  After the gruesome discovery of the boy corpse sitting at the dining table, Funes needs a rational explanation to report in contrast to the unexplained grisliness, something that makes sense and wouldn’t frighten the daylights out of him, his colleagues, or the general public.  Coincidingly, Rugna creatures also exist on two different planes, sliding between the panes, and not always visible; this is another verbally illustrated facet that unsuitably reaffirms the theme.

“Terrified” scales the expansion of dimensions with bottomless creepiness and shock value, rifting from Shudder’s streaming service and right onto a UK Blu-ray home disc distributed by Acorn Media International.  The region 2, PAL encoded, BD25 disc houses a presentation displayed in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with a 15 rating for strong horror, bloody images, and language. The 1080p, HD resolution is an indifference concern with the already blemish free digitally shot film, but director of photography, Mariano Suárez, heeds every shot taking Rugna’s perspective theme to heart with lowlight and obscurities as fear-fodder. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix flexes a full-bodied, channel defining muscle with clear, prominent dialogue, a diabolical range in sound design, good depth, and an off-key canorous soundtrack because every horror fan eats up an inharmonious and creep tunes. Unfortunately, much like the “Belzebuth” release, “Terrified” comes with no special features other than a menu with the animated trailer of the film. “Terrified” is the chef’s kiss of Latin American horror, an epitome of jaw-clenching terror that’ll have you sleeping with the lights on tonight.

Buy “Terrified” on Blu-ray (Region 2) from Acorn Media International!

A Cop, a Paranormal Investigator, and a Priest Walk Into an EVIL Extermination Plan! “Belzebuth” reviewed!



The joy of a new baby is cut short for Detective Ritter who bares the tragedy of his little boy viciously killed in a massacre of nursey infants by a psychotic nurse before taking her own life.  Five years later, and losing not only his child but also his wife to severe depression, a disheveled Ritter is called in to investigate a mass murder involving a 12 year old boy slaughtering young children in a preschool classroom.  To him, the two events don’t spark similarities, but to a paranormal investigating Catholic priest, Ritter’s tragedy and the events in the classroom are linked by the unorthodox priest’s examination.  All the evidence points to an excommunicated Catholic priest practicing demonology that sends the two men down a path of unholy darkness in a series of murderous catastrophes influenced by the rebirth of the Messiah.

When the first scenes from “Belzebuth” open with a maternity ward nurse stabbing with vigorous force every single infant child in their crib with a scalpel, you know nothing wholesome is sacred and everyone is fair game in what is to be a grim story of infinite barbarity and darkness.  “Belzebuth” falls in the line of fire of Mexico City born writer-director Emilio Portes with an augmented, dark humored social commentary loaded with evil entities and grimace-laden gore.  The “Meet the Head of Juan Pérez” filmmaker cowrites “Belzebuth’s” irrational rational for the unfortunate real world trend of mass murders and touches upon, sensationally, the evolution of Catholicism extremities to battle evil in the world with first time feature length film screenwriter Luis Carlos Fuentes.   The Mexico/American film is produced by Rodrigo Herranz, Michelle Couttolenc, and Jaime Basksht, with Ana Hernandez as executive producer and Pastorela Peliculas in cooperation with patriotic promotion from the Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografia, aka IMCINE, serving as the production companies.

If you Google Mexican actors, the power of artificial intelligence and ignorant manual input couldn’t separate Mexico form any other Latin American country as the powerhouse search engine provided me results like Danny Trejo, John Leguizamo, Jennifer Lopez, Javier Bardem, and Penélope Cruz.  Now, while I respect each and every one of these performers who provide a variety of lush character and emotional erudition to each of their roles, not one of them is born in Mexico.  Some that listed do not even share the same heritage.  But do you know what the most astonishing, most outrageous, and most shameful aspect of my search was this?  The Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico born Joaquín Cosio was not among the top 50 results.  From captivating television with Guillermo del Toro small screen adaptation of vampiric apocalypse of “The Strain” and the intense drug-fueled drama of “Narcos: Mexico” to his Hollywood presence in the star-studded, James Gunn directed “Suicide Squad” to his humbler beginnings that includes Bond, James Bond, in “Quantum of Solace,” Cosio’s a strong and versatile candidate for intense thrillers and “Belzebuth” is right in the actor’s wheelhouse as a downhearted Detective Rigger with a short fuse.  As a supernatural skeptic, Ritter’s forced into confronting his past demons with the demons of the present by tracking down rogue priest Vasilio Canetti (Tobin Bell, “Saw” franchise) with the help of Father Ivan Franco (Tate Ellington, “Sinister 2”) of the Paranormal Forensic Department, which sounds kind of silly because Franco’s squad is an extension of the Church.  Bell brings his delightful deadpan bedside manner as the excommunicated priest in guerilla warfare with a determined, demonic evil trying to massacre as many children as possible to find the reincarnated Messiah in what would be the Third Coming as the Second had come and failed during the Crusades.  Bell is the yin to Cosio’s yang until circumstances rear-end last ditch efforts and all Hell breaks loose in a drug smugglers’ tunnel.  Aida López, José Sefami, Yunuen Pardo, and Liam Villa round out the cast.

If possession-fueled carnage and the antiheroic archetype weaponizing demonology for good tickles all the right places, “Belzebuth” can be the feather tickler of dreams.  Fans of Clive Barker’s “Lord of Illusions,” Peter Hyams’ “End of Days,” and the graphic novel “Constantine” can indulge into Portes’ explicit nihilism and lack of public conviction in religion in the director’s allegoric telling of something really big and really satanical happening right under people’s noses while a small motely crew of conversant peons try to stop a wall of Deviltry.  Portes also consistently touches upon Mexico’s unsystematic corruption, even among Ritter and other protect and serve officers, and the once firm-handed political system of the Institute Revolutionary Party (PRI) as potential cause for all the suffering enacted demon-rooted abscessations.  The mentioning of drug cartels pop up frequently, too, symbolizing the seemingly random acts of violence are just never just random acts, but an perpetrated hit on a human target much like the cartels’ unsavory methods to either take out competition, eliminate obstacles, or to silence whistleblowers.  Portes does a phenomenal job using his film as an allegory in making a political statement but lacks balance in favoring gore over profile with some characters who rather feel written in just for the sake of a broader English audience.  Father Ivan Franco is such character with interesting combinational vocations as a paranormal investigator and a holy man of the cloth.  Yet Franco, who wields a gun and has supercool video and audio recording specs, spearheads a larger suborganization shielded away from the public eye and, unfortunately, the viewer eye that never feels like a cog in the entire “Belzebuth” machine.  Franco and his team of spook-sleuths, who, by the way, vanish completely from his side early into the investigation, supposedly follow and investigate peculiar tragedies connected to misaligned presences leaving spiritual residue on the real world plane, but how his team comes about connecting the dots exclusively to just the first two tragedies, five years separated, is a bit of stretch and a letdown in fabricated continuity and weight behind Franco’s existence to be involved.  Pockets of plot holes pop up here and there on other facets but generally speaking, “Belzebuth” works black magically as a spiritually and culturally vivisecting detective thriller.

The Shudder original 2017 release, “Belzebuth,” scares up onto an UK Blu-ray release from Acorn Media International. The region 2, PAL encoded, single layer BD25 presents the film in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with a runtime of 109 minutes.  Ramon Orozco’s cinematography flashes with a gorgeous red and blue color palate that fits the iniquitous tone and adds an ethereal, hazy backlighting to only enhance the tone to more sinister levels.  Acorn’s Blu-ray sharpens Orozco’s already byzantine schemes that enriches the details in the skin as well as a the sacred relic artifact-cladded locations that become claustrophobic and entombing.  Even Juan Martínez Espín visual special effects casts a solid effort of barely a smooth surface computer generated phoniness, especially in one crucifying scene of psychological torment.  You’ll know it when you see it.  “Belzebuth’s” powerful Dolby Surround 7.1 audio track is an assault on the eardrums of the best kind with a husky, industrial melodic soundtrack and hefty sound design with accompanying diverse range and proper depth that could be described as literally placing every creak, stab, and cackling laugh sound right into the darkest corners of your ears.    An unfortunate surprise about the Acorn release is that there are no special features aside from the animated menu that is essentially chaotic “Belzebuth’s” trailer plastered with menu options.  Possession films tend to stale at a dime of dozen, but Emilio Portes’s freshly terrifying “Belzebuth” entertains and scares to the very last morsel.

Honey’s Sweet, But There’s EVIL in the “Royal Jelly” reviewed! (Uncork’d Entertainment / Digital Screener)



Bee careful what you wish for in this apiary tale that tells a story of high school misfit, Aster, an easy target for unsympathetic pubescent bullies, including the continuing at-home abuse from her half-sister, Drew, and pitiless stepmother.  With neither school or home being a safe retreat, Aster finds comfort in an unorthodox and brash substitute female teacher who has taken a shine to Aster and provides her shelter when she’s distraught after discovering her collection of apiary beehives was maliciously destroyed in an act of malice.  After living with her teacher and her son for some time, they exhibit strange behaviors, develop skin rashes, and Aster begins to notice that she doesn’t quite feel like herself either as her safe haven is unveiled as a façade for her grooming to become the next hive queen.   

“Royal Jelly” isn’t exactly the killer bee movie you’d be expecting.  Writer-director Sean Riley invites a new take of the Apiformes horror subgenre outside the beehive of being per se a creature feature with his new film, “Royal Jelly.”  And, yes, even though tiny in size, bees are still tiny creatures with mighty (painful) stingers.  Those not familiar with the term royal jelly, other than it being an unique title for Riley’s sophomore feature, royal jelly is the honey bee secretion from glands located in the hypopharynx and is the chief nourishment for colony’s larvae.  See!  Who says horror movies can’t be education?  Somehow, someway the Baton Rouge, Louisiana-born director found malefic inspiration secreting from his metaphorical hypopharynx domiciled glands and packages with it a paralleling an all too familiar fairy tale crowdfunded by Indiegogo backers, second feature funded this way behind his breakout directorial of the comedy “Fighting Belle,” and Riley’s Integral Motion Pictures.

Now, who is this leading lady willing to be misled into a turned-out humanoid life sized queen bee?  The University of Southern Mississippi Fine Arts graduate Elizabeth McCoy, of course.  The Greater New Orleans actress slips into an quasi-goth cladded outcast Aster sporting fishnet stockings and a black graphic t-shirt promoting the band Queen, a bit of fitting foreshadowing if I’ve ever come across one.  Before being bequeathed the hive throne, McCoy has to render Aster a meek existence made small by the death of her beekeeper mother backstory and surrounded by loneliness stemmed by an abusive sister and stepmother and a coward of a father.  The only joy made clear in Aster’s life is her bees.  When her apiaries are decimated, that is when high school sub Tresa (Sherry Lattanzi) flies in and shelters Aster under her wing that makes for an odd couple combination that’s one part predatory teacher fraternizing with a vulnerable student and one part comical motherhood to see McCoy tower over a short Lattanzi who is in this insect sovereign role. Doesn’t Darwin always say the strongest always survive? I guess there’s nothing in Darwinism about the tallest. Lattanzi expresses Tresa about as audaciously enigmatic as they come with little-to-no story arc to move in accord with as Tresa just shows up, out of the blue, and after a scene where Aster’s teacher has had his throat slit and I’m still trying to fathom the plot hole of how the hell Tresa entered the frame so quickly, as a substitute teacher, without ever laying eyes on Aster until stepping into her classroom. Sparse is the name of the game as Tresa, as well as Aster, are poorly written without much density and neither actress can pull off miracles adding layers to already rotten onion. The rest of the cast includes Raylan Ladner, Lucas T. Matchett, Fiona McQuinn, Jonas Chartock, and Jake McCoy.

Pulling inspiration from Roger Corman’s “The Wasp Woman,” Riley’s “Royal Jelly” ditches the experimental cosmetics for timeless folk lore while still vaunting a Corman class cinema gooey with bee secretion center. Instead of an enchanting tale of rags to riches, this loose Cinderella adaptation comes with all the classic hallmarks like an evil stepmother, a wicked stepsister, and a fairy godmother manifesting Aster’s dreams on the spot, but instead of a magical wand and a pointy hat, this fairy godmother comes in the form of a personified bee queen wearing a façade of a presumptuous substitute teacher. Riley’s openly emblematic killer bee story could go one or two ways. 1 – Aster is actually being groomed by a bee queen to take over her hive as a homolog event to Aster’s earlier class presentation on the eusocial bee social organization or 2 – Aster has snapped due to bullying and she’s daydreaming, hallucination, or dead and the bee-havorial chaos she’s experiencing is either in her head or is sardonic Hell. I like the second theory better over the first as I don’t find Aster’s sprouting of inorganic and rigid Halloween costume bee wings and a makeshift stinger, that appears more phallic than necessary, to be enticing me with a freakish reality. I still can’t get over the possibility of a predator allegory as a big truck cruising Tresa targets Aster to mate with her “sons” “Henry” or “David” to produce a heir of sorts. Either way you slice into Sean Riley’s “Royal Jelly,” little feels right story-wise with the delimited, bareboned farmhouse and apiary analogy and with the flighty characters leaving all their aces on the table which Riley scarcely goes back to address, such as with Aster’s family who just disappear from the story altogether though scenes of her snide stepsister showing slithers of guilt and sympathy go unfounded.

The bee invasion has landed with Uncork’d Entertainment’s release of Sean Riley’s “Royal Jelly” this September on all digital platforms From the unhinged “Homewrecker” to the love you to death “Cupid,” Uncork’d Entertainment distributes a wide berth of independent horror, stretching to all home entertainment platforms, and acquires the bee-horror “Royal Jelly” that fits into the company’s catalogue. Since released digital, the audio and visual aspects won’t be given the once over. Jonathan Hammond (“Attack of the Southern Friend Zombie”) serves as cinematographer who’s overexposed day scenes are starkly contrasted by the night scenes’ hard lighting slathered with an unforgiven blue tint. The inconsistent visual styles and slips, such as unfocused, blurry scenes at the dinner table near the beginning of the story, clash in the 94 minute runtime. Joe Hodges lays down a common brooding industrial score that’s not half-bad as the melodies change with the extent of the solid sound design. Stay tuned post credits scene for a millennial targeted public service announcement to protect and support the bee way of life by scanning a QR code to receive information on how to exactly do that. Pleasantly informative and certainly unusual, “Royal Jelly” evinces more the echelons of bee society and lot less the terror of horror and that takes a lot of the sting of Riley’s film, making this bee killer movie a total buzz kill.

Own or Rent “Royal Jelly” on Amazon Prime Video

Fortuity Can Be EVIL’s Plaything. “Like A Dirty French Novel” reviewed! (Blvd. Du Cinema Productions / Digital Screener)



An organized crime and deceitful milieu sets the stage for a missing bag of stolen cash, an unscrupulous bunch of characters, and a mysterious omnipresence being persuasive behind the curtain of a rotary phone.  When ex-lovers Crystal and Hue are not in heated spats over past infidelities, trapped inside their quaint apartment, Crystal moonlights as an adult cosplaying model secretly having an relationship with a stranger while Hue locks himself away in the bathroom conversing secretively and flirtatiously with an unknown woman he knows nothing about.  They become entwined in a heist gone wrong by a group of halfwit robbers that leaves a trail of death, lies, and an evil charting their fates in the shadows. 

Desultory pulp basking in noir fiction, “Like A Dirty French Novel” flaunts a chicly awkward and brazenly unmethodical black comedy and crime drama front from Cuban-American writer-director Mike Cuenca.  The “By the Wayside” and “I’ll Be Around” auteur stitches together a vivaciously satire and minuscule budgeted drama comedy shot in the zero hours of a time crunching, less than a week, schedule with an editing style, edited by Cuenca himself as one of his many production hats, of five chaptered, non-linear tale of sectionalized cynicism and infringing transgressions.  Cuenca co-write the script with Ashlee Elfmann and “I’ll Be Around” co-writer, Dan Rojay, with Cuenca self-producing under the filmmaker’s East Los Angeles-based, DIY encouraging production company, Blvd. Du Cinema Productions.

With an ensemble cast, “Like A Dirty French Novel” spreads out with five chapters, two interludes, and a prologue that begins with three men walking in a desert and approached by a mysterious woman in a chintzy, but intrinsically detailed, Japanese resembling Oni mask.  Before we can invest into these bewildering circumstance that leave the three men screaming for their very lives, Cuenca whisks up away right into Chapter One, introducing bickering ex-lovers Crystal (Jennifer Daley, “Blood Born”) and Hue (Rob Vally, of gay themed Steven Vasquez pictures such as “Angels with Tethered Wings” and “Dancing on the Dark Side of the Moon.”) snooping into each other’s hidden extracurricular activities that leave Crystal daydreaming about romance and Hue surrendering to smutty phone talk.  Not much is revealed in the first chapter before segueing into the second with Forrester Dooley (Grand Moninger), an unhappily married man who switches places with his twin brother and the recently unincinerated Bugs Dooley (also Moninger), but, as fate would have it, Bugs turns out to be a standup, wonderful guy whereas Forrester need for a break ironically places a bullseye on back and he ends up stranded in the desert with two unsavory fellows, circling back to the film’s vague prologue.  The cause for their stranding is because of Lane, a manic drifter delightfully captured by “We Take The Low Road’s” Amanda Viola.  Lane is approached by cool cat Jake (Aaron Bustos) and what ensues next is a montage of innocent dalliance before he suddenly vanishes and is seemingly dead to the world.  Remaining chapters unravel more about the principle players, spilling their hidden agendas and their scheming roles surrounding a duffle bag of thieved cash pinched from a local ruthless kingpin Filmore Demille, played by Cuenca himself donning yet another hat.  The cast rounds out with Dominic Fawcett, Samantha Nelson, Laura Urgelles, Claire Woolner, Dan Rojay, Joey Halter, Miles Dougal, Steven Escot, Arko Miro, and “Murder Manual’s” Brittany Samson as the interlude’s stammering and obsessed fanatic of the masked and sexy graphic novel cosplay model.

“Like A Dirty French Novel” pulsates with pulpy fiction with hints of Lynchian notes through Cuenca’s back and forth pacing of connecting the dots to his equivocal crime thriller.   Cuenca’s gray area, faltering more than any other, lies in making that relating and understandable so important connection of reverting scenes back to earlier ones in order to have actions make sense.  A once over is not enough to fully grasp “Like A Dirty French Novel’s” abstract features and to be recursive would not be a sign of weakness or simplemindedness on our part.  Still, smoothing out the rough patches like with the peculiar finale, which I’m speculating to be the grounds of Hell, would have made “Like A Dirty French Novel” more of an easy read than a confusing one as well as completing most characters arcs with a satisfying tell all fate. Cuenca’s filmic message of what comes around, goes around comes across more clearly with those who reap what they sow. A faux book entitled Porter du Fruit or Bear Fruit yields to positive results and, in which this case, none of those characters who go to the grounds of Hell are saints by any means. Constrained by a shallow pocket budget, settings are simple outdoor public areas, small apartments utilized with polygonal angles, and, if you’re working in L.A. much like this shoot, then more than likely a scene or two, at the very least, is filmed in the desert, but seasoned cinematographer, Jessica Gallant (“The Control Group,” “Shevenge”) spruces up scenes with neon red lighting, dabbing in black and white, and centralizing characters with focal spotlight, adding little classic techniques that still pop in the camera’s eye. Gallant’s wide berth of techniques, from hot pink tints to emulating grindhouse celluloid grain and scratches, keeps a stylized profile wanting to be watched. However, most cast performances are not so debonair as they come across a bit prosy, staged, and without too much magnetism that usually trends with pulp-noir trademarks and, of course, trashy novels érotiques bon marché.   With the exception of the underused Amanda Viola and Cuenca’s solo-scene monologue, sleeping at the wheel performances drives no other standouts in this cast.

“Like A Dirty French Novel” premiered this past August at the independent showcase, Dances With Films film festival, held in Los Angeles at The Chinese Theaters as part of their Midnight lineup; however, no current confirmations on when the first home release – whether physical release or digital releases – will be available yet. Briskly paced at 78 minutes, Cuenca squeezes into one more hat among his list of production duties as author of the eclectic sometime brooding and sometime high energy score along with Carlos Colon composing the pieces that could resemble the minor league notes of Michel Legrand. Alas, Michael Cuenca’s “Like A Dirty French Novel” aims to be more bourgeoisie than an obvious low cut of a few francs with an ingrained pulpy style and more twist and turns than Grand Prix race car driver, but lacks that tour de force it strives to assimilate as because of stiff performances and a wildly untraceable storyline.

Reap the EVILS You Sow. “Wired Shut” reviewed! (101 Films / DVD)

The failings of a once famed novelist, Reed Rodney, have come calling after a horrific car accident leaves Reed with reconstructive surgery and his mouth wired shut.  Stuck in remote mountain home, sipping pain meds through a straw and hitting terrible writer’s block after the critically trashed last novel, fortune and distinction never seemed so lonely until his estranged daughter, Emmy, shows up at his front door, looking to spend some time with him before going to school abroad.  Their hoary embattled relationship, built on alcoholism, lies, and abuse, urges Reed for a change of heart, willing to reconnect with Emmy by any way necessary, even if that means being a punching bag for her bottled up emotional outpourings.  When an unexpected intruder exposes a callous secret and lives are at stake, Reed and Emmy must rely on each other to survive a twisted prowler’s sadistic games. 

“Wired Shut” is the teeth-clenching, family quarrelling, sociopathic surviving inaugural full-length feature from Vancouver born director Alexander Sharp.  The home-invasion thriller too hails from Vancouver, Canada with an old-fashion tale of an inside job story co-written by Sharp and the director’s steady collaborator Peter Malone Elliott in which the project is also the first full-length script for the two writers.  “Wired Shut” houses a single location with a small cast but indulges varying levels of crazy and a good amount of bloodshed initially pie-eyed by the immense build up of downtrodden characters.  Singed family relations, the ebb and flow of trust, and the untangling of an ugly knot to retether a stronger bond becomes the parallel of reconnecting in this GoFundMe crowdfunded film under Lakehouse Productions and Alexander Sharp’s Sharpy Films presented by Motion Picture Exchange or MPX.

In a role where you have to keep your trap shut at all times because you’re playing a former self-centered rake who crashed his Lamborghini and had to have your mouth wired shut, Blake Stadel (“Rise of the Damned”) has one of the easiest parts in all of move making history.  Thank about it.  Zero lines of dialogue, you’re feigning an ego that is as shattered as your character’s jaw, and you write or type if you have to communicate.  Now, I’m not belittling Stadel’s once famous novelist, Reed Rodney, as the actor has to absorb the pity, the verbal abuse, and the overall confinement resulted by his injury as a sort of surrender to unfortunate happenstance.  Reed’s moment of life-altering clarity came pre-introduction when crashing the Lambo that left him vulnerable and alone, two bad, pre-depression dispositions of mind and being.  Across the table stews the stark opposite with Reed’s daughter Emmy, played by Alexander Sharp’s sister, Natalie Sharp (“Baby Monitor Murders”).  Pent up with anger and seething with intent, Emmy is executed with these qualities with perfection by Sharp.  However, Emmy extinguishes her fiery eyed hate too quickly in the fate upturning twist that creates a dubious bubble around her and not in a good way.  Emmy’s defining moment of clarity is weakly pawned off just for her and her dad to have a slither of reconnection in a breakneck transition without any struggle or sacrifice to change her mind.  Her blurry change of heart quickly becomes moot by Behtash Fazlaili’s (“The Evil In Us”) unhinged performance as Emmy’s delinquent boyfriend, Preston.  Preston eclipses the entire father and daughter dynamic with a clichéd villain by monologuing and squandering wasted opportunities to end it all and getaway scot-free.  Fazlaili’s performance also doesn’t inspire terror or much of anything at all except for frustration with the cavalier, walk-on act that’s supposedly a mentally broken man fallen to and reshaped by life’s hard knocks.  What’s on screen is Joker-esque mush relating little backstory that drives him to scheme and to be completely off his rocker whereas, in contrast, we know what motivates Emmy and we know what motivates Reed.

The slow burn of “Wired Shut’s” first two acts attempts to humanize Reed as a dejected and alone with Emmy sparking life into an object he can now be fixated on to mend his meaningless, post-accident existence, but Emmy, herself, lugs her own daddy-issue baggage giving way for the two to buttheads in exacting their feelings upon one another.  Sharp fishes for sympathy but keeps loose with expressing Reed and Emmy’s contentious relationship; a relationship that truly never existed with an alcoholic Reed’s persona no grata behavior around Emmy’s mother and her that extends his jet setting lifestyle with the next mistress.  Though loose, you can see both stand and the foreseeable twist coming because of it in an unsurprising turn of events.  What is surprising is Preston’s sudden Jekyll and Hyde as if Reed’s salivated score is Sharp’s theme that for the love of money is the root of all evil.  The theme is peddled and not exactly discerned in Fazlaili’s character who’s more concerned with the cat and mouse game of unbelievable hilarity.  Part of the absurdity has to do with Reed’s three story house with a built-in elevator and if you’ve ever ridden an in-home elevator, the cramped, smaller versions of a regular Otis are slow as Hell dripping with molasses.  Yet, somehow, Reed and Emmy happen to beat Preston down a meager two stories with the push of a button while Preston stops to take an injury breather at the third story landing.  Getting in the elevator should have been easy pickings when exiting, but in entertainment for some, keeping the audience attentive is pinnacle even if that means sacrificing the story for cheap thrills by stretching the realism just a little bit.

“Wired Shut” will leave you speechless with a pedestrian anticlimax after watching the DVD. Distributed by the United Kingdom’s 101 Films, the region 2, PAL encoded, 91 minute thriller is presented in an anamorphic widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio on a DVD5 and thoroughly soaked in a sea of tenebrous blue tint as the first, many firsts for these filmmakers, feature length cinematography for Martin Taube. Crystalized sleek and fresh with a modern, straight-edge finish, Taube main objective centers around personal space and to detox comfort with the strain and psychopathy, using close ups and up or down angling to exact an uneasy position during strenuous moments. The continuous tinting from start to finish could have been done without as it chokes the story in nearly an unviewable consumption. The English language Dolby Digital Stereo AC3, 5.1 surround sound mix, is a LFE sound cannon with a bass-heavy rattling industrial soundtrack by Oswald Dehnert and Rayshaun Thompson. The soundtrack’s sonorous tone crackles at the format’s compression, leaving granulated pops when the volume levels peak, which is really surprising for today’s digital and format spec cautious handling. Dialogue levels render nice and clear and the sound design’s not bad either with a complex range of soundbites inside a single setting, especially when Reed pops the wires when forcing open his mouth. The DVD is bare bones with special feature and the DVD cover itself is poorly misleading with a hooded figuring, standing backlit in the woods, with a large blade in hand. There is no such slasher figure in the movie. “Wired Shut” is not a slasher. I repeat. Not a slasher. “Wired Shut” is rated 15 for strong threat (gun pointing, knife to the throat), injury detail (stabbing, slicing, and surgical fastening coming undone), and language (Yes, foul language is present). As far as home invasion films go, “Wired Shut” says nothing new about the subgenre, but offers an intriguing ingredient of incapability and the strength to push through to the other side with the if there’s a will, there’s a way mentality underneath intruder chaos.