You Can’t Run From the EVIL That Seeks Out the Competition. “Homewrecker” reviewed! (101 Films / Digital Screener)



Michelle is at the point in her life, struggling as a 30-something year old interior designer, where the urge to have children is strong.  When trying to conceive with her husband seems to be going downhill, she is befriended by an overly obsessive stranger, Linda, who has took an uncomfortably intense interest in her personal life.  An innocent enough invitation back to Linda’s house proves costly with Linda’s flickering infatuation for Michelle’s private business that turns quickly sour in a cat and mouse game of survival.  Trapped, Michelle must understand Linda’s madness in order to stay alive.

Ca-ra-zyyy!  That’s one of many ways to label Zach Gayne’s woman-on-woman scuffle in the comedy-horror “Homewrecker” that will surely turn many feminist heads at breakneck and contentious speeds with the better woman standing scenario.  Gayne’s freshman film tests the wills of two very different women and their counter mindsets while excavating a common core connection rooted subconsciously deep within them both.  A distinction that gives the 2020 riotous feature an edge is the two sole actresses, Alex Esso (“Starry Eyes,” “Doctor Sleep”) and Precious Chong (“Luba”), daughter of famed stoner comedian Tommy Chong, portraying Michelle and Linda are also “Homewreckers” cowriters alongside Gayne, equipping their characters with an authentic image by filling the roles themselves and getting out of the project exactly what’s desired.  The trio also produce the film in a coproduction with fellow producer Josh Mandel of Industry Standard Films and under the financials of Precious’s mother Shelby Chong, Chris Morsby, and Delaney Siren as executive producers.

Precious Chong, hands down, steals all the glory in “Homewrecker” with her wide-eyed, mentally unstable, zany, and stuck in the 80’s single white female that makes Glenn Close performance seem diminutive and more like an innocent and shy little crush in “Fatal Attraction.”  Linda epitomizes the very definition of crazy as a person unable to progress from an era of her peak youth being the most popular girl in school, judging by the VHS tapes, 80’s soundtrack, and outdated board games, I’d say Linda’s popular party girl inner nature hasn’t disembarked from the late 80’s to early 90’s train, and Chong delivers a singularity tweak of neurosis and delusion that frighteningly teeters from over exaggeration to real representation.  Unfortunately, Chong’s invasive, off-the-rocker performance overshadows Alex Esso’s more level-headed, amiable, and fight or flight Michelle and her unconventional responses and reactions to Linda’s incessant behavior in, perhaps, a more poorly written character.  Michelle is the too nice to the point where opportunities arise for escape or attack and she chooses the total opposite in trying to reason with an unreasonable person.  The motivation behind Michelle for even going to Linda’s house is rather slim so either something deep in her subconscious wills her to go (maybe Linda’s eagerness to lend an ear on a torrent of personal unloading) or she’s a just gullible to a fault.  Rounding out the cast is the man in the middle, Robert, played by Kris Siddiqi and the friendly neighbor Wilson, played by Tony Matthews (“The Craft: Legacy”), in a bit part that’s a clever homage to the Wilson character in Tim Allen sitcom, “Home Improvement,” as he peeps just over the fence to say hello as well as an contradictory play on the “Homewrecker” title.

Aforementioned, there is gray area in the character actions and rationales that thins much of the story’s harrowing affect and even seeps slightly into the more dark comedic moments.  Yelling (in my head) at the screen for Michelle to jump out the window (after lingering half out for clearly a minute) or taking advantage to overpower Linda (during a moment of long poignant embrace) was just a waste of my mental breath as the Michelle is frustratingly too timid, too nice, too afraid to cut the unseen bounds that holds her back from reinstalling balance in her upheaved life held in Linda’s unstable hands.  The pacing a bit of a drag as well by holding onto scenes, with various cuts, longer than necessary.  For a film slightly over an hour long, the conversing segments between the principle characters, Linda and Michelle, could last up to 20 minutes with more than most of the chat awry by Linda’s idiosyncrasies.   What works for “Homewrecker” is single day story set inside Linda’s home that really hones in and develops the snowballing turmoiled relationship between the two women. Being the film’s strong suit in unveiling the crux of the problem that’s not surface level crazy person versus sane person, the plot point revelation truly did blindside me and I was like, whoa.  Everything made sense without having to dig deeper into exposition to understand the minor details of what was happening exactly.  “Homewrecker” also has great brief climatic gore involving an emblematic sledgehammer and a pair of sharp scissors that, again, comes unexpectedly from a cat and mouse game that has been rather tame for most of the film.  Zach Gayne’s film pleasantly puts a blood red cherry on top of a deranged ice scream sundae dripping with fanaticism fudge in a scrumptious little fatal attraction.

Efficiently compact but just as aggressive as an overly jealous and overactive girlfriend plagued by psychosis, “Homewrecker” premiered it’s way digitally into UK homes by 101 Films back on May 24th.  The Toronto, Canada production is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio with a lean runtime of 76 minutes.  Co-producer Delaney Siren serves as the cinematographer for “Homewrecker’s” regular split screen and multiple angle shots denoting a clear sense of where each character location is without the film feeling like a typical slasher while maintaining the focus on telling both women’s side.  “Homewrecker” marks Siren’s first feature film as a cinematography, but has multiple credits in the genre for macabre inspired music videos under the Toronto based music recording and film production company, “Reel Wolf Productions.”  For a film that has completely and satisfactory bookends, there are no bonus scenes during or after the credits.  Quirky and dark, “Homewrecker” is a read between the lines comedy-thriller about abduction, devotion questioning , delusional obsession, and honesty.

When EVIL Runs The Show, That’s When the Reality Sets In. “Funhouse” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)

Eight C-grade social media celebrities sign a contract for a new reality show, Furcas’s House of Fun.  The reality show streams worldwide on all electronic devices in an exhibition of different and standoffish personalities locked together in apartment-size living quarters.  Contestants will have to face challenges and weekly viewer voting to be the last one standing for a chance to win a 5 million dollars cash prize  Instead of sexy making out sessions, drunken brawls, and contestant melodrama to boost viewer ratings, Furcas’s House of Fun is in actuality a syndicated snuff reality show where a contestant is voted out is a contestant receiving a brutal death in front of the entire world.  Survivors watch behind paned glass as one-by-one their castmates are dispatched in the most gruesome way possible, directed by a screen animated panda bear helmed by a sadist eager for the show to go on.

Ready to have a little fun?  The “Funhouse” is open for what is a variety show of horrors in this 2019 shot, 2021 released reality show of encroaching aggravation and gore from writer-director Jason William Lee.  “The Evil In Us” filmmaker plays his hand at personifying internalized resentful rage for hack, do-nothing, inconsequential to society celebrities by feeding them gladly and enthusiastically to the bloodthirsty wolves.  “Funhouse” isn’t your typical social media or tech horror film as Lee dishes out a thought-provoking disgust covered in a powdery sugar and popcorn veneer that’s surely to please the broad range of horror fans.  The co-ventured Canadian-Swedish story of shallow fame nihilism is shot in the Providence of British Columbia and in Stockholm, home base of Ti Bonny Productions under executive producer Henrik Santesson, in collaboration with Lee and producer Michael Gyorl’s Sandcastle Pictures.

With the surname Skarsgård, acting is in certainly in the blood.  Valter Skarsgård, the youngest son of “Nymphomaniac” and “Deep Blue Sea’s” Stellan Skarsgård’s first marriage and the brother of terrifyingly frighteningly Pennywise actor, Bill Skarsgård (“It”), branches out following his ancestral destiny by headlining as the lovable and misjudged Swede, Kasper Nordin, who leeched fame by being the ex-husband to a renowned singer.  Nearly the spittin’ image of his older brother Bill, Valter brings his name and family looks to the table while showcasing his own talent amongst a motley crew of nationalities.  That’s one of “Funhouse’s” main messages about social media stardom as a plague that has spread to every corner of the world symbolically infecting each contestant from a different country:  Dayleigh Nelson (“Island of the Dolls”) of Britain, Khamisa Wilsher of America, Gigi Saul Guerrero (“Puppet Killer”) of Mexico, Amanda Howells of the Philippines, Mathias Retamal (“The Source of Shadows”) of Chile/Canada,  Karolina Benefield of Poland, and Christopher Gerard of Ireland.  The roles of wannabe celebrities is an ostentatious representation of click bait influencers who will sell essentially their soul and show their skin to be noticed and this turns the clear antagonist villain, a merciless gamester and contract abider with business dealings more vile than from the Devil himself, to be a subtle antihero of sorts as the cast rounds out with Jerome Velinsky’s wickedly sophisticated performance as Nero Alexander that is urbane nihilism at its best. 

Outrageous, fun, and gory – “Funhouse” has all the hallmarks of a 90’s horror on cruise control.  With a bedazzling rudimentary shell of a panda bear avatar animation and blend of practical and digital blood over the simplicity of a small location and indie production, Lee is able to fly through the narrative at whiplash speed and still drop animosity-awarding and empathetic traits to believe in the cast of characters.  In the middle of the chaos of axe splitting heads and being dunked into a barrel of highly corrosive acid, a topical theme of the detrimental social media and influencer stardom to society really positions “Funhouse” on the frontline for inflammatory and anti-social media messages, harping on the noncontributing and unbeneficial role of these money-generating, like-focusing, click baiters in culture and society other than selling to their audiences sex, gossip, and violence.  Speaking of violence, I was pleasantly surprised by the right amount of gore that didn’t shoot for extravagant levels despite some smoothing around the digitally added sinew and guts, keeping a modest amount of realism to the dystopian gameshow construct.  Initially, there are dubious first act moments that quickly shuttle hapless soon-to-be-casualties into the same location, much like in “Saw II” when characters all wake up in the room together and we have no idea who they are, where they come from, and what their backstory is, but as the film progresses we learn more about them and the roles they play in the maniacal puppeteer’s design.  The twist, almost meta-like, ending leaves “Funhouse” on a low note that doesn’t fulfill any void for its existence, but a good chunk of the story is really meaty with a revolving door of plights and a small, yet efficient, compassion outpouring spicket.

Not your traditional participatory surprise-laden and mirror maze attraction, “Funhouse” will still bring old-style thrills with some new blood spills in it’s grand opening release in theaters and on demand on May 28th courtesy of Magnet Releasing. Shawn Seifert (“Dead of Night”) lays out a smorgasbord of cinematography techniques that includes rich, un-matted color filters, isolating characters in darker, dim rooms in making them seem centerstage for their own grand demise, and cultivates stationary, handheld, tracking, and some drone shots for an extremely vibrant and glossy approach and feel for reality television version 2.0. Lee edits the digital reel himself and, honestly, the pacing wanders quickly to the overly rushed section like a quick-spit-it-out story wanting to be finished before it even begins and is compounded with another intrusive quality in the hyperactive back-and-forth of shots that aims to resemble the irksome flight in and out of reality shows that speed up and slow down like a nervous teenager behind the wheel of their parents and continuously presses down on the brake pedal. Stay tuned after credits for a gag bit scene that ties into the main story but promises nothing more. No more being voted off the island or nixed by expert judges, “Funhouse” cleans house with deadly eliminations and a message of the unyielding power granted to many so easily through a rapidly reshaping medium that has become too influential on a braindead scale.

The EVILS of Trauma Band Together to Take Down the Bad Guys. “Riders of Justice” reviewed (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)



Estranged form his family due to war torn military deployment, Markus must now come home to take care of his teenage daughter after his wife dies in a violent train accident.  A statistic mathematician, Otto, aboard the same train believes the train accident was no accident at all but a hit on a high profile informant testifying in the coming days against the head of a ruthless gang known as the Riders of Justice.  Joined by his eccentric friends, a therapy-inundated hacker named Lennart and an OCD computer whiz named Emmenthaler, they present Markus a convincing theory that his wife was a casualty of a gang’s complex assassination.  Unable to resist, Markus and his newfound friends set a course to unearth and destroy those who they think are responsible for his wife’s demise. 

With my unhealthy man-crush on “Valhalla Rising” and “Hannibal” star Mads Mikkelsen aside, “Riders of Justice” initial plot teased very little interest in what seemed to be another wife or child dies kill-them-all revenge action-thriller.  “Riders of Justice” also marks the 5th time Mikkelsen and director-screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen collaborate on a project over the course of the Jensen’s entire 20 year directing filmography.  Jensen, who co-write the film adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower,” ping ponged the story idea of the Denmark production with fellow “The Dark Tower” writer and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” adapted writer, Nikolaj Arcel, in a story that brings tormented trauma victims together, latching on to idea they find themselves useful for, and inadvertently find the counsel they need through a dangerous operation in hunting down coldblooded killers.  Sisse Graum Jorgensen serves as producer under the Zentropa Productions entertainment banner and Sidsel Hybchmann debuts in her first producer role after a seasoned run as an associate producer alongside Graum Jorgensen on previous projects and between Graum Jorgensen and Hybchmann, “Riders of Justice” has a strong female producer contingent supporting a nearly all-male cast in bed with their lovable misfit characters that aims to be more about acceptance than revenge. 

Did I mention I have an unquenchable need to see every movie Mad Mikkelsen has starred in?  With “Riders of Justice,” Mikkelsen sports a long, skunk-colored beard with a shaved head in a not-so-typical look for one of, if not the, biggest movie stars to come out of Denmark.  Mikkelsen takes on this look for Markus, a military deployed father who rather be running covert drills and operations with his brothers in arms rather than being a father and husband in what becomes evident an underlining issue with his character.  As Markus tries to comfort his daughter Mathilde (“Andrea Heick Gadesberg) the only way he knows how as a regimentally stoic head of the house, but for being away so long, he knows very little of his now teenage daughter.  Mikkelsen’s natural gift for austere should be award-winning as becomes a lethal enforcer, a role he does extremely well, for a group of traumatically damaged outcasts looking for a righteous cause, beginning with Denmark’s Seth Rogan doppelganger, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, as a fellow train passenger Otto, a brainy mathematician who momentarily befriends Markus’ wife by offering up his seat that ultimately leads to her death.  Otto’s guilt, surging through him a pair of different ways, leads the brilliant mathematician to reach out to Markus with the help of his equally smart, yet equally maladjusted friends Lennart (Lars Brygmann “Flies on the Wall”) and Emmenthaler (Nicholas Bro “Nymphomaniac Vol. 1”). What ensues next are inadvertent events that spin Markus into a plot to assassinate an entire gang based off the statistics of one mathematician’s conspiracy theory evidence and along for the ride are the mathematician and his misfit buddies who might just be too smart for their own good. Every single performance is dead on spectacular with every character lush with tragic communal backstories and are clubbable in their own unconventional rite within the circle of Markus’s fearless vengeance at the center as they are drawn together by their own neurosis behaviors. Gustav Lindh, Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt, and Roland Møller round out the “Riders of Justice” cast.

The one sheet doesn’t do Jensen’s film any justice with a bearded Mikkelsen standing face front taking up much of the negative space, strapped with an automatic rifle around his back and a handgun in hand with the faded images of helmeted dirt bikers riding in the background. Let me tell you this: There were no dirt bikes in the movie. Not one. Mikkelsen looks great, as always, but the poster makes “Riders of Justice” reminiscent Mark Wahlberg’s “Shooter.” “Riders of Justice” stands outside that circle of militia or gorilla tactic action by being about 50% comedy and good comedy at that from Brygmann, Bro, and Kaas who elevate “Riders of Justice” from another run of the mill actioner about revenge, a subgenre plastic bag Liam Neeson can’t seem to escape from, to a heartfelt piece about belonging and mentally recuperating through helpful outreach with a standard whoop ass fare plotline.  Though some of the investigating work pinpointing the gang comes about far-fetched, I still believe “Riders of Justice” is one of the best films released this year, touching upon several multiplex themes of mental health, the urge to reach out for help to battle your issues, father and daughter relationships, and a sense of fitting in and having a purpose as an ostracized member of society. 

“Riders of Justice” has a lot of heart as well as a lot of brutal violence balled up in one remarkably empathetic film.  Magnet Releasing will be releasing the film everywhere May 21st with a limited run May 14th in New York and Los Angeles theaters.  Serendipity plays a huge role in Jensen’s vision of life against the odds and how people can ultimately rally together, sometime unexpectedly, to overcome obstacles often daunting for individuality with a sense of humor that can trump the dark behaviors of a depressive story core.  Kasper Tuxen’s cinematography in the hard lit scenes often confines the actors in a small car or around a table that not only screams cloak and dagger positioning but also exacts a sense of fellowship as they do everything together from planning, to surveillance, to assassinations, to even impromptu counseling sessions. The bookending story fable of happenstance leading from sadness to happiness christens “Riders of Justice” that debatable label, often argued with films like “Die Hard” or “Lethal Weapon,” of whether it’s a Christmas film or an action film. Fans will not have to stay for the credits expecting to see a bonus scene as there isn’t one; instead, enjoy the 115 minutes of fractured individuals coming together to be unlikely heroes in this hilarious shoot’em up ballbuster from Denmark.

Mobsters Can’t Stomach EVIL in “Witness Infection” reviewed! (Freestyle Digital Media / Digital Screener)

Two rival mafia families are moved mistakenly into the same small California city as part of a Witness Protection Agency relocation.  In order to avoid an all-out territory war between the two sides, who are already busting at the seams of confrontation, the two families devise an arranged marriage of peace between one kingpin’s beautiful daughter and another’s withdrawn from the family business son, Carlo, who rather work as a dog groomer with his friend Gina, but when a new sausage food truck starts selling out of their popular menu items with tainted ground meat, the overstuffed and gastrointestinal suffering customers turn into blood hungry zombies running rampant on the streets.  After Carlo and his friends nearly escape the clutches of an angry mob boss after refusing his daughter’s hand in marriage, his troubles didn’t end there as they must now trek through the zombie-infested town and battle hordes of the undead to save his own flesh and blood before they down a family size portion of contaminated Italian sausages and meatballs. 

Mafia families and the undead go together, right?  The two factions clash in a Guido versus zombie horror-comedy “Witness Infection” from a script by Nickelodeon-animation voice actor, Carlos Alazraqui, who had entertained many mid-thirty-something-year-olds in voicing Rocko from “Rocko’s Modern Life” and comedy writer Jill-Michele Melean of the “Zombie Marriage Counseling” shorts and “MADtv”.  At the helm is director Andy Palmer who, in the past, directed generically titled B-horror flicks with familiar names and faces, such as Courtney Gains (“Children of the Corn”), Danielle Harris (“Halloween 4 & 5” franchise), Robert Englund (“Nightmare on Elm Street”), and Clint Howard (“Evilspeak”).  For the pun-driven “Witness Infection,” Palmer finds much of his muses elsewhere in the form of voice actors exposing themselves (in a non-perverted way, you sickos!) for a mezza morta borgata!  Voice talent, ranging from “The Boondocks,” to the “Extreme Ghostbusters,” to the original “Inspector Gadget,” run in unison with an over-the-top bambino in the zombie cache, arranging a small time hit of laughs and gasses with some respectable gore moments submerged in the bloody sauce.  Produced by Alazraqui, Melean, and Warner Davis, co-owner of Petri Entertainment with Andy Palmer that serves as production company alongside Mob Goo Productions. 

Robert Belushi, yes, that iconic and distinct surname is the one and the same of his father Jim Belushi, stars as Carlo, a disinterested mob family son who wants nothing to do with organized crime and wants everything to do with living a normal, loving life.  The narrative plays into Carlo being protected by his mob boss father by shielding him from the unsavory and cutthroat dealings of mafia life, but when his father can no longer protect his dog grooming son, Carlo is thrust into an arranged marriage with the daughter of a rival family.  Belushi isn’t his father and doesn’t have the wily charm that can snap into macho in an instant; instead, the “Devil’s Due” actor enacts a softer side in a story crowded full of uncouth wise guys. Carlo is also a man caught between two worlds as a man who would do anything for family, but also standing up for his convictions and Belushi connects with Carlo’s tug-a-war discord. Jill-Michele Melean writes herself a character in Gina, Carlo’s pet grooming colleague studying to be a veterinarian. Gina’s the insinuated love interest championing Carlo’s fateful decision. Melean mixes chummily stepping into the love interest role who then characteristically goes into a tailspin arc to be in one instance frightened by a severed deer head but then okay with bashing the head’s in of undead acquaintances in the next. Together, the chemistry between Belushi and Melean felt flat with a more of a friendship zone interplay. Granted, “Witness Infection” doesn’t flaunt a range of emotional drives to feed off of in a clearly spaced three act story of assertion in not participating in an arranged marriage, a bar stronghold attack, and a race back home to save his family from deadly digestion and concluding with what’s finally a big spark between Gina and Carlo in their, what once, platonic relationship. Casting also stars an unforgettable comedian lineup beginning with this actress’s voice you know, but who you’ve rarely in Tara Strong (“Extreme Ghostbusters”), the versatile Maurice LaMarche (“Inspector Gadget”), the multitalented Carlos Alazraqui (“Rocko’s Modern Life”), one part comedian and one part break dancer Bret Ernst (“Cobra Kai”), and rounding out with Vince Donvito, Erinn Hayes, and Monique Coleman as the foxy anti-token, anti-trope black woman who won’t be just another unnecessary death in another horror movie.

What first popped out at me is “Witness Infection” using severe flatulence as a goofy symptom of turning into a boil-laden and baggy-eyed zombie.  An immediate turn off by the fart and poop gags after eating the tainted sausage that pays a disparaging homage to Jersey’s cultural culinary cuts of meat has the viewing pleasure be huffed at at the thought of getting through yet another zombie film using passing gas to get a comedic rise.  Luckily, and to my surprise, the initial buildup of the outbreak happens all at once, like a switch being turned on, and then the conventional chaos of zombie madness ensues and farting is left in the wind.  However, “Witness Infection” only garners a few chortles in a flat and tired banter and slapstick comedy.   Much can be said the same about the rest of the story that has Carlo, Gina, and cousin Vince go through what feels like a redundant motions of survival action against a mass creature attack, such as an assault on a bar stronghold where they encounter a blaxploitation vixen, Rose, in a fully-fledged satirical scene that barely cups the intended result with an unnecessarily pitstop with heavy exposition that brings no motivation to the characters.  Not all fails to impress as the clash with the undead dependably aggressive, especially when James Ojala’s special effects poke through with an eye-catching overly violent money shot.  Ojala, who has worked on “Dead Birds” and “Thor,” delivers a really impressive head-ripping decapitation scene involving a toilet seat and lots of blood.  The only downside to the scene is that most of it hit the cutting room floor, leaving only a milliseconds of material to be left in awe.  Though the zombies snarl asynchronously loud with the action and sound like one of the Tiger King’s famished big cats, the makeup is economically slicked on but does the job nonetheless. 

Strong, eclectic performances and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gore keeps Andy Palmer’s “Witness Infection” as a bat-swinging, deer-eating, head-smashing horror-comedy not to miss, capisce!  Freestyle Digital Media distributes the film come March 30th on Video-on-Demand and on Digital HD platforms, such as iTunes and Google Play, with a runtime of 82 minutes.  A Panasonic EVA 1 camera was used to shoot the film under the cinematic eye of Filip Vandewal’s stabilizing safe mode approach by not being too adventurous with the camera work, but there are some nicely framed scenes that pull together the actors during confrontational and down to the earth moments with a prime example being Carlo and his father running through the stern discussion, for the first time, of arranged marriage with a rival crime boss’s daughter who is dating his brother but because his brother is sterile, he can’t have children, ergo an heir to the mafia family.  Along with the solid acting from Belushi and despite some continuity mistakes in the scene, the backdoor being open and also being closed then back to open again, the blunt pleasantries that captures firm love between the two of them is sincerely present.  As far as bonus scenes go, there were zero bonus scenes during and after the credits.  “Witness Infection” chips away at the zombie genre’s plodding wall with a pin hammer dink by stirring in Mafioso drama and diabolical flashes of gore.   

The Greatest Trick EVIL Ever Pulled Was Convincing Couples the Perfect Marriage Ever Existed. “Happily” reviewed! (Saban Films / Digital Screener)

Tom and Janet have been married for 14 years.  By that amount of time elapsed, marriage has moved past the honeymoon stage and settled into routine with the spark having dulled and sex life becoming nearly, if not totally, stale, but for Tom and Janet, their libidos are the equivalent to hormone-driven teenagers.  Their marriage has happily sustained over the years, never veering off course, but when a couples’ retreat invitation is rescinded by their friends because of the envied desire for each other and a mysterious man arrives at their door step next day offering a syringe injection that will cure them into a normal married couple, Tom and Janet believe they’re a part of a sick joke by one of their so-called friends, leading to a dead body, a brief case of unknown substance, and a re-invitation to the couples’ retreat where they must figure out who is and who isn’t of the four other couples are on team Tom and Janet.  Yet, the trip founded on the idea booze and relaxation turns into a disclosure of lies, secrets, and deadly disconnections. 

What’s the secret to a long lasting marriage?  Good sex, obviously.  But can an ostensibly impenetrable marriage be flawless?  That’s one of the themes writer-director BenDavid Grabinski toys with in his inaugural feature film directorial of “Happily” that disparages the unsullied union of Tom and Janet by a quartet of couples, who are also Tom and Janet’s closest friends, who aim to stick it to the happy couple because of their own marriage and life failures.  Grabinksi, creator and writer of revamped “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” television series, incorporates that element of grim tale mystery for allegorical effect into the psychology of envious, mal intent friends projecting their negativity on Tom and Janet’s positivity and love.  “Happily” is a production of the Arizona based Common Wall Media, an indie record and film production labeled owned and operated by Chuckie Duff, and, perhaps, the reason “Happily” has a killer soundtrack that includes Tim Capello “I Still Believe.”  Jack Black (“Tropic Thunder,” “Goosebumps”) also produces the film under his Electric Dynamite Productions, Inc. banner in collaboration with Indy Entertainment (“Nightmare Cinema”). 

I find extreme difficulty seeing Joel McHale in anything remotely with a serious tone for someone who grew up with the comedian during his 12 season days of E!’s spinoff of Talk Soup titled simply, The Soup.  McHale’s range as a funny man is beyond being paramount with great comic timing and able to deliver an unlimited amounts of laughs in just his mere expressions and that has translated well into his filmic career from comedies such as “Ted” to “The Happytime Murders” and even well into his more earnest and darker roles in “Deliver Us From Evil” and, his most recent release which is “Home Alone” for a more mature audiences, “Becky.”  In “Happily,” McHale plays Tom, a loving husband to wife Janet who can’t keep their hands off each other and never fight for more than half a day in what’s staunchly considered a perfectly sickening marriage by their closest friends.  One thing I’ve learned from watching Joel McHale in this role is not only can he bear the weight evenly of an emotional thriller, but the guy is jacked!  Opposite McHale is “Penny Dreadful:  City of Angels” star Kerry Bishé, matching the sexual and profound tone as the wife, Janet. Bishé takes on Janet’s ever benevolent wifedom, elevating it to a whole new level as the working spouse, ready to gratify Tom by any means possible and in any compromising position possible, who’s also served hand and foot by the same man who knows how to reciprocate at the right moment. Bishé’s a favorable compliment to McHale as a power couple daring the odds together on the same page until losing they’re way because, simply, they’re inevitably human. Tom and Janet square off against four other couples under suspicion of a suspected prank-gone-wrong after meeting with a mysterious man played by “Office Space’s” Stephen Root. Could the pranksters be the flamboyantly affluent, but unaffectionate Karen and Val (Natalie Zea of “The Following” and Paul Scheer of “Piranha 3DD”)? Could it be the uptight lesbian couple Carla and Maude (Shannon Woodward of “Westworld” and Kirby Howell-Baptiste of the upcoming “Cruella”)? Or is it the carefree Patricia and her inhospitable husband Donald (Natalie Morales of “The Santa Clara Diet” and “Mastermind’s” John Daly)? Maybe its the anger unmanaging Richard and his newfound fiancé Gretel (Breckin Meyer of “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare” and Charlyne Yi of ” Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich”)?

Grabinski forcibly shoves the happily in “Happily’s” Tom and Janet’s marriage down our throats with a diabolical lustful half-exposition, half-hanky-panky action before title sequence intro into their infinity spicy life. The couple screw like two teenage rabbits hopped up on an aphrodisiac more than a typical mundane couple of 14-years should ever seen in their union’s lifetime, but, then, Grabinski throws in the proverbial monkey wrench into the gears. The question comes up, and lingers throughout, whether Tom and Janet are inherently broken, a defect in their existential creation, and that begins to snowball down the hill of insidious thoughts as the protagonists have their idyllic marriage tainted by the hair brain idea of a stranger, carrying two syringes of an insta-fix made up of unknown, illuminating material, who beguiles them with bureaucratic niceties to lie his way into their home and tells them he works for a higher power. Is this mysterious man God? Perhaps, the Devil? Grabinski smartly keeps that little detail under wraps and, for the first half of the film, stays a mystery upon itself. In time, each couple begins to unravel cankerous secrets, all of which have been targeted at Tom and Janet for their perfection and that’s perhaps where “Happily” struggles a bit as a story as Grabinski has a rolodex of past events being flipped through a plethora of interaction exposition, leaving morsels to try and puzzle the uneasiness of the morose couples’ retreat together. The long and short of the story is that the audience will need more morsels to chew on, get the creative juices flowing, to understand character motivations because, in the end, “Happily” is one big couples therapy session of divulging secrets to wash away, more or less, soul-deteriorating sin.

Before all hope is lost between two people, an intervention is warranted, even if it’s a divine one in BenDavid Grabinski’s dark comedy “Happily” heading our way to theaters, digital, and on demand come Friday, March 19th from Saban Films. The R-rated film runs for 96 minutes is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio that gets to showcase more of Adam Bricker’s luridly dreamy style. The “Starry Eyes” cinematographer instills a firm taste of precise, primary coloring tinting that evokes the intensity of the scene rather than pitching an outlined overlay on top of his soft lighting. The red “Predator”-esque vision through CCTV lens is a nice touch of also breaking up the more natural lit scenes for that ominous approach. Since “Happily” is coming to theaters, there is obviously no bonus material, but stick around for scenes during the credits and after credits. Lies, betrayals, murder, and the uncanny are soaked into “Happily’s” absorbent fibers as one of this years best dark comedies that hones in on ascertaining that nothing is perfect but the perfection that you make together.