All You Will See is EVIL if Blinded by Grief. “They Live in the Grey” reviewed! (Acorn Media / DVD)

Not the Blue, Not the Red, but the Grey!  “They Live in the Grey” on DVD!

CPS investigator, Claire Yang, struggles to cope with the untimely loss of her young son.  The tragedy forces her to push away her husband and have suicidal thoughts.  What’s also driving Claire further from the edge of sanity is her ability to see glimpses unhinged, and sometimes physically harmful, spirits.  When a child-protective case comes across her desk to look into the possible abuse of a young girl, Claire learns quickly that it might not be girl’s parents abusing her.  Tormented by an angry supernatural entity, Claire walks careful and hesitant thin line of keeping the girl with her family and attempt to prove that the parents are not responsible for the bruises and cuts, but when upper management pressures her to close the case at the school’s behest and a variety of ghastly come and go across her path, the churning burn of hurt and guilt grows inside her as she confronts her personal demons while trying to do the right thing for the abused girl in the middle of it all. 

“The Sixth Sense” meets “The Conjuring” in The Vang Brothers’ 2022 supernatural thriller, “They Live in the Dark.”  As the sophomore written-and-directed project for the Fresno, California raised Abel and Burlee Vang, following up on their 2016 release of the moderately successful supernatural and social media mashup debut, “Bedeviled,” continuing to venture off their solo work and into a collaborating unit, “They Live in the Dark” tackles various topical concepts and troubles with overwhelming grief and how it manifests negatively on an individual and family level.  Previously once titled as “The Uncanny,” the story is set in nowheresville, U.S.A., the brothers really set the tone that this story, or more realistically its themes and messages, are broad and non-exclusive and we also see that in the cast for the film, a segment that we’ll dive into further in the next paragraph.  The Shudder exclusive film, “They Live in the Grey,” is a production from Standoff Pictures in association with Whiskey Stream Productions with the Vang Brothers producing alongside former filmmaker-turned-film academic-turned-filmmaker Stephen Stanley.

Coming from Hmong ancestry, The Vang Brothers found personal importance to cast mostly Asian-Americans for the film.  Taiwan born Michelle Krusiec (“The Invitation,” “The Bone Box”) plays the lead and is the very first character we meet in an awkward and frightful position as a woman attempting suicide by hanging herself near the home staircase.  Immediately, we don’t know what we’re exactly in for, but we know when we’re introduced to the threadbare Clair, she has a major depressive factor that beleaguers her existence to the point of removing it from the equation all together.  The Vang Brothers thoughtfully shroud details into exactly what’s devouring Claire from the inside out and keep close to the chest in securing that ace of revelation in the back pocket until the time is just right in the story to unveil the dealt bad hand.  As the details trickle and we learn more about Claire’s disintegrating family life, we also learn of her ability to see lost spirits and how she handles those more than often visceral visions is dose up on medication that ultimately factors into her current state of mind.  Though I wouldn’t say the performance pops offscreen, but Krusiec does cruise through the role with meticulous character conditioning and the actress can tremble and look scared with the best in the business, anchoring Claire as the rooted principal and establishing a tone that works with the casted cohort.  Ken Kirby, who plays Clair’s estranged beat cop officer husband Peter, goes outside the usual comedy element for the Vancouver-born actor-comedian, walking the emotional pathway of a husband on the ousts by no fault of his own.  The heartbreaking tension that’s both expressed outward and internalized between the teetering from loss parents, husband and wife, fills the scenes with raw and relatable emotion and barrier-laden endeavor to fix what is thought hopeless. As Claire becomes closer to the case of Sophie Lang (Madelyn Grace, “Don’t Breathe 2”), nothing is as it seems from a family already on shaky ground with not only the school system’s case of suspected abuse, but also inwardly as past troubles fester toward a frenzy. Ellen Wroe (“Final Destination 5”), J.R. Garcia, Willie S. Hosea, and Mercedes Manning fill out the cast.

The Vang Brothers accomplish phenomenal representation in a female leading role with the talented Michelle Krusiec. Reaching back into my mind to access the cache of catalogued films I’ve watched over the decades, I find myself in extreme difficulty in recalling an American made story where an Asian woman female lead is not a martial arts expert. The Vang Brothers with “They Live in the Grey” expand the palette with a supernatural scenario that could curse not just the single white female rearing and protecting their child from a plethora of supernatural predators, but also afflict a person of color who has already suffered tremendously and who has to still have to find and work on themselves in the muck of overcoming a millstone. Instead of a double whammy, “They Live in the Grey” is a triple whammy of pitfalls that rival similar grief-stricken genre films like “The Babadook” and “The Orphanage.” “The Vang Brothers elicit a stillness in their shooting of an extremely melancholic yarn by not being too fancy with their camera footwork that doesn’t track or follow, no hand-held or drone, and is allowed to have a more natural tone with an unfiltered gravitate toward the austere and the tormented. Though nothing too striking to make a spectacle from Jimmy Jung Lu’s cinematography but each shot is carefully setup and the slow zoom in and out is effective enough in breath-holding moments. Early into the story, the first can be choppy and disorganized with the back and forth of present and past and though heavily focus or strict on the narrative’s virgin veneer, there’s distinguishable indication to the audience that we’re looking into the present viewfinder or the past’s. As a whole, the scenes blend together in a seamless patchwork that hinders more than helps.

“They Live in the Grey” extends that lack of light and vitality for the living and the dead. Now, you yourself can experience the saturnine of atmosphere of the film that lives on DVD from Acorn Media International. The region 2, PAL encoded, 124-minute DVD comes from our overseas friends in the United Kingdom with an 18 certification for strong injury detail – aka – stabbing and blood. Presented in a 2.39:1 widescreen aspect ratio, the 2-hour runtime coupled with a compressed presentation appears to have shepherd in some compression issues, such as banding and fuzzy details. The picture is not the sharpest it should be with old wooden house’s textures could have added texture to the nerve-wracking tension builds. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track represents a solid audio inlay with clear dialogue and a diverse depth and range. The musical soundtrack is subtle but works hand-in-hand with the story. Optional English subtitles are available. Bonus features include only a behind-the-scenes photo gallery. When it comes down to brass tacks, a strong story is a good story and “They Live in the Grey” may miss a few technical marks, but the horrid truth of grief is personal, potent, and packed full of demons.

Not the Blue, Not the Red, but the Grey!  “They Live in the Grey” on DVD!

EVIL Spirits and Japanese Internment Camps in “The Terror: Infamy” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)

Chester Nakayama floats through life living with his immigrant parents on Terminal Island in San Pedro, California during World War II. A photographer hobbyist who helps on his father’s fishing boat and studies at a university, Chester doesn’t have steady employment and has recently learned his girlfriend, Luz, is pregnant with his baby. But those are not the height of Chester problems, or his family’s, when the country of Japan declares war on the United States by bombing Pearl Harbor and mysterious deaths surrounding the Nakayama family point to ancient Japanese beliefs of a Yūrei, or a ghost, clinging to a grudge. As the years past, Japanese American citizens are move from one internment camp to the next with no end in sight being projected as potential spies for the country of the rising sun and for Chester, Luz, and his family and friends, the Yūrei’s scheme endangers Chester’s life and legacy.

Following the success of the Ridley Scott (“Alien”) produced AMC horror television series, “The Terror,” the second season aims to build a new path of dread with a storyline plucked from the late 1900’s of two stranded artic explorer British ships trying to navigate a Northwest passage and now placed in a whole new and different, massive turbulent story and setting laid out in the early-to-mid 20th century during World War II America with Japanese Internment camps.  The second season comes with a partially new title, “The Terror:  Infamy” along with a new cast and new crew as well.  The subtitle’s double entendre refers to the then era United States 32nd President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Day of Infamy speech given to the public after the assault on Pearl Harbor and also refers to another American infamous time of the mistreatment of the country’s own citizens, the Japanese Americans, placed into internment camps and constantly scrutinized as potential Japan spies.  “Infamy” showrunners Guymon Casady, David Kajganic, Scott Lambert, Alexandra Michan, Jonathan Sheehan, and David W. Zucker, along with Ridley Scott, return to the AMC, Entertainment 360, EMJAG Productions, and Scott Free Productions series.

At the tip of the ensemble cast spear, most consisting of Japanese heritage actors and actresses, is Derek Mio as the Yūrei plagued Chester Nakayama.  Perhaps the biggest role for the Mio, the role transcends Chester from a stagnant part-time fisherman on the dead-end Terminal Island settlement of San Pedro, California to a responsible man of action that sees Chester fight for his family, his wife, his children, and even fight for his country despite the maltreatment in order to course his loved ways safely through a plethora of evil.  While the character grows in an arc of accepting responsibility as a son, husband, and father, Mio never expresses the range of a story of his magnitude that takes him across various domestic terrains and on the other side of the conflict-engulfed world as he’s afflicted by a malevolent spirit.  Constantly confident and seemingly unafraid, Chester just simply endures the hardships along “The Terror’s” bombardment of grim reality.  Comparatively, the younger Japanese American generation are culturally more expressive next to the immigrated older generations in Chester’s father (Shingo Usami) and eldest family friend Nobuhiro Yamato (“Star Trek’s George Takei”) who we witness keep mostly in line with their stoic composures.  Takei, born in 1937, and his family were actually forced into living in converted horse stables and official internment camps across the country during the War and that gives the series a morsel of 100 times it’s weight in authenticity with firsthand experience. Along with the deep sympathies and an infinite amount of shame for the wrongfully imprisoned citizens of war, there’s also immense compassion for Chester’s wife, Luz, played by Chrstina Rodlo (“No One Gets Out Alive”). Rodlo runs the gambit of emotions that convey happiness with her time with Chester, to despondent loss, and to fear while on the run from the American government as well as an evil spirit who threatens her child. Just like the first season of “The Terror,” character staying power is often short lived as the horror and, well, the terror catches up to them in one way or another, but we see fine performances from Miki Ishikawa (“I Don’t Want To Drink Your Blood Anymore”), Naoko Mori (“Life”), Alex Shimizu, Lee Shorten, Hira Ambrosino, and Kiki Sukezane as the incessantly stubborn Yūrei and C. Thomas Howell (“The Hitcher”) with another flimsy performance as a hardnose major serving as head of an internment camp.

Subtly contrasting two very different kinds of horror between the yore of the fantastical Kaiden ghost stories coming to fruition with the Yūrei and the very non-fictional blight on American history that was falsely imprisoning American citizens with Japanese roots no matter what age. Both unsettling constructs are unequivocally provided equal weight in dread much like with season one that showcased the dog-eat-dog desperation of man isolated and trapped in extreme terrain with the supernatural forces of nature with a monstrous, polar bear like creature hunting them down one-by-one. Though the same dance, but a different song, season two has a very welcoming different take of blending of yore with lore that separates itself into a new entity, a new engagement, and a new facet of terror very befitting to the anthological series. Eventually, “Infamy” starts to lose steam when the Yūrei side of the story insidiously infringes fully into the fold when Chester and Luz have fled the internment camps and are living in nowheresville New Mexico. The camps fade away from the story and also from our consideration with only bits and pieces to chew on just to check in on principal characters and has a resolution that’s about as cheated as the Japanese Americans survivors given $25 by the American government to start a new life. Yet, “The Terror: Infamy” is poignant and informative, a better picture of what really happened on the American home front better any textbook could ever properly depict, and exposes the mainstream into the Kaiden-verse of Japanese culture.

The 2-disc, 10-episode Blu-ray set comes from UK distributor, Acorn Media International, with each episode with a runtime on an average of 40 to 45 minutes long and a total runtime of 419 minutes. The region 2, PAL encoded release is presented in a standardized for television widescreen format of 16X9 and the Acorn release doesn’t present a flawless picture with noticeable issues with severe cases of banding and compression artefacts around the darker portions of the scene and trust me, “Infamy” is plenty dim and leaden between John Conroy and Barry Donlevy’s cinematography unlike the previous season’s artic white landscape that brightens much of the frame. The Dolby Digital soundtrack produces a better product with satisfactory quality in all categories of score, ambient noise, and dialogue and is accompanied by well-synced and timed English subtitles. Bonus features include a look at the series part 1 (for disc 1) and part 2 (for disc 2) and the biographical and inside the head look at the characters through the eyes of their portrayers. “Infamy” is UK certified 15 as it contains the AMC edginess of bloody graphic content as well as some offensive language. “The Terror” series as a whole has remarkable historical insight commingled with soul-stirring, skin-crawling old wives’ tales. “Infamy” may not supersede its predecessor but is still one hell of an engaging and unique story that salivates us into wanting a third season.

A 10-Year-Old Girl Pieces Together an EVIL Tragedy. “Martyrs Lane” reviewed! (DVD / Acorn Media International)

Purchase ACORN Release of “Martyrs Lane” on DVD

10-year-old Leah is a curious, quiet child, living in a vicarage household.  Her nightly nightmares surrounding her mother’s necklace locket and her mother’s stern conduct along with her constant obsession with her necklace locket leads Leah into an interest in the ornament’s contents.  Inside is a lock of hair and Leah takes it and loses a day later, sending her mother into a tailspin of anxiety.  That same night, a little girl knocks on Leah’s window and provides Leah momentary comfort and friendship until every visit after that, the little girl grows sicker and more ominously enigmatic in her play, providing clues and the whereabouts of thought-lost items that will open up the truth about the mystery girl’s identity as well as her family’s dark secret.

“Martyrs Lane” is a thoughtful and empathetic drama with supernatural delicacies surrounding complexities in loss and grief of bottled-up family secrets.  The British film is the third feature film, second in horror, for actress-writer-director Ruth Platt (“The Lesson”) who has commented that “Martyrs Lane” is a plucking of aggregated events from her own childhood woven into the very fabric of the story. Platt’s 2021 release is a fined tune extension upon her 2019 short of the same title that recasts the core principal roles from original actresses Indica Watson, Phoebe Lloyd, and the live action adaptation of “Beauty and The Beast’s” Hattie Morahan and turned the short into a 96 minute closed book feature about a scrutinized and consuming locket and a slowly decaying little girl playing two truths, one lie with the main character during bedtime hours who then has to unravel the mystery behind it all. Ipso Facto Productions’ Christine Alderson, who also produced “Valhalla Rising,” “Alpha Alert,” and even Platt’s original short film, produces “Martyrs Lane” alongside Katie Hodgkin and partly funded by the British Film Institute (BFI) in association with Sharp Films, Lypsync, and LevelK.

Recasting the short’s linchpin framework actresses took an audition to bring to light exactly the kind of talent Platt needed to express the different levels of somber ambivalence toward a family obviously struggling to deal with something more than just the day-to-day tasks. Kiere Thompson took over for Indica Watson as Leah in her feature performance debut and Thompson smashes a complex role and gains high marks on the voyeur scorecard as the youngest child who watches as her mother ebbs and flows in various states of anxiety while serving a milder, yet vastly different, dish of dynamics with the levity being around her vicar father and to be always primed to deal with her tormenting much older sister Bex (Hannah Rae). The best chemistry is between Thompson and age-appropriate counterpart Sienna Sayer, taking over Phoebe Lloyd’s role from the short as the strange visiting little girl. You can see two youngsters’ genuine play and natural innocence come through their smiling faces, wide eyes, and contagious giggles and when the winch of fear washes over them, called for by the story’s puzzling rising of events, mirthless moments are quickly produced, snapping us back into Platt’s eerie cold quandary. Hattie Morahan is replaced by Denise Gough as the mother Sarah and though her performance is fine, there just wasn’t enough of the mother’s side of the story to evoke a sense of empathy or sympathy and ultimately just falls into right into apathy even though Sarah is a pivotal piece to the theme. Catherine Terris, Charlie Rix, Donna Banya, Anastasia Hille, and Steven Cree as the vicar and Leah’s father rounds out the cast.

A blend between “Let the Right One In” and “The Babadook” but with less blood and less malevolent atmospherics, “Martyrs Lane” offers an imposing exhumation of a secret told in a way that doesn’t carry the sensation of something being hidden from Leah or even the audience in general.  Instead, Platt invests into the thematic subtleties with the bigger picture on the supernatural element of a strange, orphaned girl who knocks on the outside of Leah’s second story window, wearing dress up angel wings and is slowly deteriorating health wise with each passing night.  Yet, despite her appearance and reluctance at times, Leah’s peculiarly drawn to opening her window, letting her in, and even play childish games with her and tell jokes but soon those games become clues, near riddle-like, for Leah to push the envelope that link her mother, the locket, and this strange girl together.  Platt tacks on a silent and tenebrous after-hours backdrop during Leah’s sleepless nights and the stillness is greatly encroaching upon into the terror senses that you find yourself holding your breath and jumping at the breakneck editing aimed to momentarily scare you until a sigh of relief for when it’s over.  “Martyrs Lane” is externally melancholic and mood driven from outside Leah’s perspective as she, herself, internalizes and absorbs the emotions of others, studies them, and puts the pieces together to unravel the truth.

Ruth Platt’s “Martyrs Lane” is a wistful, and often eerie, entry into the creepy child subgenre. UK distributor, Acorn Media International, releases the Shudder exclusive-streaming film onto a PAL encoded region 2 DVD.  Presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio, there’s virtually no issues with the compression as even the night sequences retain the thick and obscuring black levels with almost unnoticeable banding, and it’s a clean dark too with balanced contrast to really home in on and define the shadows.  Details and textures are good for Platt’s dreamy-presented cinematic approach of slight overexposure and blur are more a stylistic attribute than an issue with the imagery.  I liked the tactile details in the loose strands of hair around Leah and the mystery girl that plays on their differences, and sometimes similarities, really well.  The English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound retains no significant issues.  Dialogue track perceives slightly muted or distant in some scenes and clarity, though free from audio blemishes, can be straining.  English subtitles are available.   Bonus features include a behind-the-scenes with snippets of interviews from Ruth Platt and the cast, an interview with Ruth Platt (which contains the same segments pulled for the behind-the-scenes), and a behind-the-scenes photo gallery.  The Acorn DVD is certified 15 for strong supernatural threat and injury detail.  In the end, “Martyrs Lane” is a dead-end road to melancholy, a family-affecting affair that peripherally chronicles not only one person’s struggle to maintain a slither of normalcy but also profoundly hits innocent youth who know nothing of the skeletons kept in the closet.

Purchase ACORN Release of “Martyrs Lane” on DVD

EVIL Won’t Let You Just Kill Yourself Even If You Wanted To! “Violator” reviewed! (WildEye Releasing / DVD)

“Violator” on DVD from Wild Eye Releasing and MVD Visual!

Desperate to track down her sister Naomi who becomes involved in an online social media forum about mass suicide, a woman’s investigation leads her on a train ride to a small village on the outskirts of the city.  There she meets Red Sheep, an internet handle for the mass suicide form greeter for those individuals seeking to give up their life willingly.  Returning her to the abandoned house where congregated patrons of their own demise wait for forum members from all over to gather before stepping into the afterlife, but the beneath the surface of simply drinking the Kool-Aid together is a wretched plan of death and self-inflicted suicide is not in the ill-fated stars for the group now sequestered in an isolated town. 

When the film is titled “Violator” and the very first images on the screen are flashing title cards, warning of violence and depravity from what you’re about to see, then a graphic intensity bar has been firmly set with the expectation that disturbing content is afoot.  The Japanese 2018 released horror-comedy comes from the cyborg-splattering mind of “Meatball Machine” writer-director Jun’ichi Yamamoto and is a continued part of the tokusatsu horror genre peppered with familiar Japanese motifs of mass suicide, samurai sword, oral fixations, and all with a pinch of Kabuki!  Yamamoto is no stranger to the Kabuki culture as he works in a callback scene and line from his 2008 actioner “Kabuking Z:  The Movie” into “Violator’s” evil eviscerating and executing entrapment.      

I wouldn’t call “Violator” aces in acting, but I’m not speaking to the general known fact that Japanese portrayals are often over-the-top exaggerated, and I’m referencing more toward the lack of selling the bizarre by any means possible.  The cast more than often feels like a rehearsal and robotic to the point where picking out cues can be almost a game.  Most of the cast are once overs or have a select history in the indie-tokusatsu market.  The biggest name in the film also has the shortest screen time with Nikkatsu Roman Pink film actor Shinji Kubo as the leader of the pact who lures lost souls to the abandoned house of doom.  Kubo doesn’t make or break “Violator,” but his character is pivotal in turn of events that alters the course of a few particular principals. Mai Arai plays the worried sick and searching woman tracking down her sister Naomi (Sora Kurumi) before she makes a grave suicidal mistake. Along the way, Arai’s character bumps into a mixed company of varying personalities revolving around their own death – one early 20-something young’un treats her suicide like the next cool thing, another ostentatiously can’t commit, and while another couldn’t be bothered by anything else surrounding her and plays it cool. The small village inhabitants are just as diversified and as quirky as the emotionally haphazard suicidals but with special, supernatural abilities to absolutely mess with their minds until satisfying their morbid, high-on-death munchies. Shinichi Fukazawa (“Bloody Muscle Body Builder In Hell”), Shun Kitagawa (“Prisoners of Ghostland”), Kanae Suzuki, Anna Tachibana (“Corpse Prison”), Ichiban Ujigami, and Rei Yatsuka round out “Violator’s” cast.

With a provocative title and a stern, flashing warning for taboo content, “Violator” starts off slow and continues so until about 3/4s into the film. Yamamoto glides not the sliced underbelly with murderous rage and profane callous through sexually and wicked means. No, Yamamoto builds each individual character, giving the what’s usually throw-away victims the time of day with a prolonged preface before their death that sets in who they are, what mindset they’re in, and, instead of just being collateral damage, what catalytic action becomes their ultimate undoing. By providing singular personalities, Yamamoto instills a breadth of subconscious care amongst the audiences that unintentionally react with the pangs of sympathy for the less naive during their demise to a straight up I’m glad they’re dead death because of their horrible unprincipled being and them dead makes the world a better place. Eventually, Yamamoto turns the keys to rev up the havoc as the death pact suicide squad disband into distinct, slasher-esque junctures to make good on the promise of building the character to give them a proper cutthroat curtain call and it’s about this time “Violator’s” pre-film turpitude caution actually applies with strange ritualistic kabuki decapitation, a virginal last-gasp cunnilingus before a protruding vaginal spear pierces through the skull, and a toy doll becomes a literal eye-opener for a suicide documentarian. Idiosyncratic in their own right, the kills are a violent spectacle that make “Violator” memorable enough to not forget it, but there’s far worse inflammatory material out there in the world of cinema that “Violator’s” handful of okay kills doesn’t exactly set off our internal omigod alarms.

“Violator” is the kind of off market brand and violence-laden film that fits like a glove with indie distributor, Wild Eye Releasing, in association with Tomcat Films (“The Amazing Bulk,” “Mansion of Blood”) and is perhaps one of the best releases out from the shlock usually produced from the latter company. With a muted colored and basic arranged DVD cover mockup that evokes every suspicion of an unauthorized release, I couldn’t love this cover any more than I already do with the promising depiction of a hysterical bloodbath and the singular moments represented in the collage of carnage and madness don’t stray away from the truth. The not rated DVD is presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio with a runtime of 72 minutes. DVD image quality is not terrible with a rate of decompression hovering around 6-7 Mbps, but still a little fuzzy in particular scenes with more than one character present and a in low-lit show production, that can hinder the viewing. The Japanese language PCM stereo track has no real flaw to speak of with a good synchronous English subtitle track and no detectable compression issues other than the lack of surround sound audio strength. The metal soundtrack also didn’t align, or rather clashed, with the mise-en-scene, added for just the sake of adding to make the story edgier. Bonus features include only a scene selection and trailers on a variable menu. Coy and different, “Violator” thinks outside the box with a simple supernatural revenge narrative that penetrates slowly at first but then really rams in the sudden disarray without a precautionary moment to lube up first.

“Violator” on DVD from Wild Eye Releasing and MVD Visual!

At 42,000 Feet, EVIL Can Hear You Scream! “Row 19” reviewed! (Well Go USA / Blu-ray)



Don’t Miss Your Connection For “Row 19” on Bluray!  

Young Katerina survives a deadly commercial plane crash that killed her mother.  As the only survivor to miraculously to alive, she becomes the center of the public and media attention over the next 20 years.  Now as a grown woman with a young daughter of her own, around the same age of her deadly tragedy, Katerina is about to embark on a plane for the first time to visit her mother and though past feelings leave her tense and scared, her daughter and her being a psychologists help soothe her fears…to an extent.  The late-night flight during a snowstorm leaves half the cabin empty with only a few passengers and the flight dwindles the numbers even more when passengers begin to die off in mysterious random misfortunes.  Lines blur between reality and the past for Katerina who’s about the relive the worst day of her life. 

I consciously realize that all things Russian is likely on everyone’s blacklist at the moment with the unfounded war Ukraine, but anything not created by the authoritarian Russian governing body could be, more-or-less, independently controlled by the people of Russia who are, again more-or-less, against the bloody and unnecessary Putin-fueled conflict outside their country.  So, when I sit and analyze Russian native Alexander Babaev’s latest film, a mile-high horror known as “Row 19,” I’m objectively looking at the artist and his craft rather than the possibility of a stalwart countryman just doing his propaganda duty for the motherland.  In fact, there’s none of that latter statement present in Babaev’s paranormal 2021 thriller that touches upon regret and facing fears, penned in the debut feature film screenplay by James Rabb. “Row 19,” or “Ryad 19” and, in South America, “Passenger 666” is the high-flying, dark mystery of the air film from multiple production studios in KIT Film Studio (“Mermaid: Lake of the Dead”), Central Partnership, Monumental Film, and Red Media.

“Row 19” sets the stage with a handsome cast of ensemble characters boarding a sole frostbitten and nearly vacant plane bound for a destination that audiences know all too well will be a landing zone that is anywhere else, but the destination printed on their purchased tickets. A variety of character flavors is always a classic touch when elucidating an unexplained threaten situation. At the yoke is Svetlana Ivanova (“The Blackout”) playing the adult version of the Katerina who bested death being the only survivor of a deadly plane crash 20 years ago. Scarred not only on her leg but also in her head, Katerina vouchsafes herself into getting back on than massive flying steel horse with an internalized pep talk by way of her psychologist vocation who she also helps people with their own internalized issues. However, Katerina is not a very good psychologist when the cabin goes into a tailspin of unexplained death and disappearances. The impression from the film is that the script, at one point or another, had Katerina as a medical physician as she’s often called upon and looked toward by the other passengers to know what to do when a passenger faints or another passenger is burnt to a crisp. She also doesn’t help the matter when she claims to be a doctor (and neglect to mention she’s a mind doctor. I believe that warrants a case for malpractice.). In the adjacent row is the hunky former combat news reporter Alexey (Wolfgang Cerny, “The Red Ghost”) who makes small talk with Katerina and her daughter Diana (Marta Timofeeva) and yet, the suspected sexual tension between them became never present and never materialized. Instead, Katerina and Alexey go back and forth on their mental blocks that causes drug use and shaky hand syndrome, a welcoming change to a rather routine love interest path that’s been overtrodden in other films in similar plots. However, there’s never a full understanding of Katerina’s role in this topsy-turvy spin through realities that only suggests that Katerina has a mighty will that can’t be contained even for her own good. Anatoliy Kot, Denis Yasik, Irina Egorova, Viktoriya Korlyakova, Ivan Verkhovykh, Anna Glaube, and Yola Sanko as the Witch (yes, there is a regular Baba Yaga-esque in the character list!) round out of the cast.

The sky is the limit with airplane horror as the concept of inescapable terror above the clouds can be the most frightening experience for not only acrophobia or claustrophobic individuals, but for average joe passenger looking to earn extra flyer miles on their fear membership cards.  We’ve seen zombies on a plane (traditional and Nazism), we’ve seen gremlins on a plane, and, hell, we’ve seen snakes on a plane.  Now, Babaev introduces the spell-casting witch confined to the rows of the tightly packed, small, and uncomfortable airplane seats and served the Salisbury steak with a side of rancid bag peanuts.  I can see why a witch would be pissed off as well.  However, there’s more than what meets the eye in Babaev’s witch that isn’t just on an obvious killing spree because her inflight cocktail was a little watered down or because of something a little more worthy of a massacre.  “Row 19” aims for misdirection in trying to get the audiences thinking one way by using sleight of hand but really a behind-the-scenes motive is kept in the dark for most of the runtime.  Babaev keeps the momentum fairly charged by setting up individual character personalities with just enough of a touch of odd behavior to make the atmosphere feel foreboding and keep interest in the next key scenes of story progression and at the climatic reveal is where the director’s momentum takes a nosedive, losing the altitude and the cabin pressure of smooth flight with a bow-wrapped-gift exposition that takes all the air of the suspension. 

Fasten your seat belts. Secure all lose items. Lift your tray table and lock it in the upright position. “Row 19” is about to take off and take flight on a Blu-ray home video release from Well Go USA Entertainment. The not rated, region A Blu-ray is presented in a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio with a decompression of around 20-26 Mbps, rendering picture quality of this AVC encoded release better than expected from Well Go USA. Image is sharp, well-delineated, and abundant with the right amount of color, appropriately denoting flashbacks with a filtered color reduction with only the slightest of change by director of photography Nikolay Smirnov. The Russian language 5.1 DTS-HD master audio track is crisp and clear. A solid track, well-established, full-bodied fidelity track that hits all the right channels with the right balance. There is an option English dub as well as available English subtitles on the Russian track. The subtitles synch well, though fast, and are transcribe with no errors detected. The 79-minute feature comes with a static menu, scene selection, and zero bonus features, which is typically the case with these U.S. distributed Russian releases. “Row 19” is visualized phobic fear, a self-flagellation of trying to change the past with what ifs, and director Alexander Babaev instills a shadowy creepiness inside the cockpit of consternation, but stalls at the height of the film’s storytelling success with a wrap-it-up quick and loose ending.

Don’t Miss Your Connection For “Row 19” on Bluray!