A Major Book Deal Isn’t Worth This EVIL. “Writer’s Block” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)

Skip Larson has become a one hit wonder in the literary field.  The aftermath of his initial work, a best seller success, has never again been duplicated as Larson’s wretched and dispassionate heart and mind hit an unscalable writer’s block that can’t afford to pay the ever mounting bills.  When a stranger approaches him at one of his dismal book signings, an opportunity presents itself to meet serial best-selling novelist, Chester Everett McGraw, at his private ranch where Larson has to decide whether to sign McGraw’s rigorously partisan and severe contract for wealth, prestige, and a chance to co-author McGraw’s next big novel after being cut off from the outside world for six months or walk away from everything without penalty and return to his mundane life struggle.  Larson agrees to McGraw’s extreme terms and begins working chapter after chapter on McGraw’s next literary masterpiece, but as the days turn to weeks and each draft is ridiculed and critically trashed, an irritated Larson itches to leave but the snake-tongued McGraw, his brutish bodyguard, and even the beautiful maid, who has suddenly taken a liken to him, keep tortuously motivating him back to novel drawing board whether he likes it or not. 

Putting pen to paperwork with a looming deadline on the horizon is already stressfully hair pulling, but when the cold steel of a gun muzzle is pressed against your sweaty temple, the pressure grows tenfold to get the creative juices flowing before the contract is up in Jeff Kerr and Ray Spivey’s co-written and directed 2019 exploitation thriller, “Writer’s Block.”  The independent feature is the second collaborated project between Kerr and Spivey following their 2016 documentary, “The Last of the Moonlight Towers,” about the obsolete street illumination system, the last of its kind, of electric light towers in Austin, Texas.  Continuing the trend of holding their filmmaking shop in their home state but not exploring non-fictional antiquated monolithic engineering marvels, the directing duo concentrate their Texas-based shot film toward being a cinematic turn-pager saturated with perfidious suspicion and crackpot characters that keep the road toward a clandestine endgame alluring and mysterious, unfolding in a similar regard to that of its general context of an exceedingly multifarious murder mystery novel.  Kerr and Spivey’s Sharp Town Productions serve as the attached production company.

Kerr and Spivey shop locally when choosing their downtrodden literary hero, Skip Larson, plagued with a wretched past and the desirable callings of the bottle.  The filmmakers settle on “Fear the Walking Dead’s” Craig Nigh who can sell smartass with the best of them and be as tough as nails when push comes to shove.  On paper, Larson’s a forlorn gambler risking his chance at life by accepting a seemingly glamorous, one-in-a-life, game-changing deal by a fellow writer he admires, but with a number of fishy, tall-tail signs of deception and corruption by McGraw and his goon, Digger, Larson can come off naïve, especially when he sticks around still after his free will fractures under physical violence and threatened to be shot.  The oppressive McGraw obviously has an ace up his sleeve in his proposed partnership with Larson and, never once, feels sincere in building Larson’s library with his dreams.  I found Mike Gassaway’s performance as McGraw to be one-note.  “The Next Kill” Gassaway tussles with sly intentions of a manipulative best-seller author, devolving into an unintentional weaker ranch obstacle that dwindles down McGraw to be more of a façade behind the true game being played against an unwary Larson.  Though McGraw as the brains, the cowboy hat wearing former oil rig worker, Digger, provided much of the muscle whose anxious temperament kept him from seeing the final stages of McGraw’s malevolent game.  Chris Warner finally lands a principle role that isn’t a short lived bit part that’s labeled Flatbed Driver or Prison Guard.  Instead, Digger Haskell seems like a teddy bear good old boy that Warner can inherently step into without having to get lost in a new persona and Warner fleshes out Digger’s hasty disdain in how the slow progression keeps him for enjoying what he loves to do best – being a hired goon – but the character rarely established a definitive connection of servitude toward McGraw other than the notable writer taking the oil rig injured man under his wing, causing some unresolved character development.  Cataline is perhaps the most underwhelming character as the immigrant house cleaner who falls in love with Skip Larson.  Played by Jeannie Carter-Cruz (“Sasquatch!  Curse of the Tree Guardian”), Catalina bashfully wills herself around the house, not really cleaning much in the audiences scope of her profession, and becomes discreetly entangled with the struggle writer for unknown reasons she herself couldn’t explain, leaving her, and Carter-Cruz, exposed in an under-seasoned character course. Katusha Robert, Avery Lewis, and Natasha Buffington rounds out of the cast.

“Writer’s Block” shoves an easily relatable theme of success never comes easy right into audiences’ laps as Skip Larson’s humiliation exhibits as much through literary famed Chester McGraw’s browbeating tactics ranging from verbal assaults to unwanted sexual persuasions. Not by McGraw. That would be gross. Yet, in essence, the actual frustration condition of writer’s block for an author in any facet is akin to the sensation of conquering in what seems the impossible. Once Skip Larson tips the odds into his favor, the woebegone writer’s line graph to success skyrockets off the chart after a bit of tough love motivation stemmed by McGraw and his boot camp, side-hustling ranch. However, “Writer’s Block” suffers from the titular misgiving in the form of pacing irregularities, a loitering third act, and a paper thin Skip Larson backstory that only dabbles into his post-family tragedy alcoholic stupors and his peradventure subversive dealings with his gangster cousin. The gangster cousin tangent is by far the most offshoot subplot underlined only in flashbacks and at the finale that introduces a character that has seemingly never been a functional part of the story but is pivotal in Skip Larson’s corner. The crux of the story’s issues is that it tries to incorporate too much whereas the basic building blocks, the pure premise, would have sufficed and have been modestly more successful if stuck to instead of throwing a curve ball of horror into the macabre construction of McGraw’s collective work of best sellers as trophies that becomes synonymous with his obsession for hunting, if not more so conquering, the wild game he annihilates.

When a wordsmith’s mental typewriter stalls and the hands hang still with fingers dangling above the alphanumeric keys, waiting for inspiration to flow through the very fingertips that provide financial stability and creative vigor, use the Gravitas Ventures released “Writer’s Block” as a tool to unstick the tacky words, pry open the oppressive blockade of the expression dam, and let the flood of literature be unbridled. Released earlier this month on November 3rd, “Writer’s Block” is now available on VOD and streaming platforms, such as Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Fandango Now, and Google Play as well as all major cable and satellite platforms. The 98 minute film is shot in the capable hands of Alex Walker who stays put mostly in natural lighting, swerving almost unnoticeably at times into various colored lighting (mostly blue or purple) and utilizes the story’s drone to capture effective aerial shots. There were no bonus features included with the screener nor were any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Writer’s Block” is a tousle survival-thriller careening toward a grisly surprise that requires a little more spick and span shaping for a grittier exploitation.

Own “Writer’s Block” on Prime Video!

 

Pass or Fail Weekend is Evil’s Playground. “Camp Twilight” reviewed! (DarkCoast / Digital Screener)

On the verge of failing and having to repeat a grade, six students are given the opportunity to spend one technology free weekend at Camp Twilight with their homeroom teacher, Ms. Bloom, and principal, Mr. Warner, as chaperones.    Planned with a series of outdoorsy, bonding activities, the weekend will serve to boost their grades to the cutoff line for graduating and, for some, maintaining their spot on the high school sports teams.  A local urban myth has haunted the camp’s reputation based off a grisly scene of murders a few years back, but the revamped park now serves as a community safe zone overseen by three dedicated, and also quirky, park rangers:  Art, Bob, and Chief Tom.  On a weekend where none of the students wanted to attend, forced by the threat of academic failure, an ominous figure revives the camp’s notorious past as one-by-one campers, teachers, and park rangers fall victim to a hooded killer’s impulse for blood.

Summer camps and masked serial killers are as synonymous as the vast ocean is with the dreadful thought of man-eating sharks.  “Friday the 13th, “Camp Blood,” and “Sleepaway Camp” have made a fortune and a franchise off the backs of the hapless summer campers, hacking and slashing away at the pre-martial sex crazed, the love struck wimps, and the overconfident jocks to build a flawless, ultimate killing machine series.  Will director Brandon Amelotte’s debut slasher, a horror-comedy entitled “Camp Twilight,” claim stake in the genre being the next persevering serial killer franchise?  For starters, the USA-made, indie feature releasing later this month has a leg up with “Sleepaway Camp” scream queen Felissa Rose headlining a cast that also includes a few other genre favorites as well as co-written the script with Amelotte.  Shot on the grounds of the palm tree lined Markham Park, “Camp Twilight” trades in mountain bike trails, disc golf, and it’s outdoor weapons range for machetes, lots of machetes, and is a product of Rick Finkelstein and Brandon Amelotte’s Florida based Entertainment Factory productions and, also Amelotte’s, Pelican Films.

As mentioned, genre icon Felissa Rose ditches the awkward teenage camper from the finale traumatizing “Sleepaway Camp” for a hyped-up, goody two shoes high school teacher in Ms. Bloom.  The top billed Rose brings the energetic know-how of her fully present, larger than life, broad range persona who audiences will never know exactly where her character stands until it’s lethally too late!  Rose is joined by more fresh faced, incredibly automaton co-stars in the roles of the six students and principal, played by the executive producer Barry Jay Minoff.  Minoff and Rose are supposed to be a couple concealing an affair, hiding their lustful courtship very poorly around the students, but both roles are completely under written, unexplored, and unfulfilling in the grand scheme of their pivotal plot point.  Little can be said differently about the students with a range of interrelationship intricacies that tried to be fleshed out as psychological terror triggers in lieu of their already conventional teenage sensitivity struggles.  There are other cult genre vets alongside Rose but in minor, more cameo-esque roles.  Linnea Quigley (“Return of the Living Dead”), Camille Keaton (“I Spit On Your Grave”), and Vernon Wells (“Innerspace”) add more or less star power to the fold, supplementing virtually nothing to the narrative but campy slasher fodder for fans to gobble up.  More impressively is Dave Sheridan bringing forth a version of “Scary Movie’s” loveable dimwitted cop, Doofus, with Ranger Bob, adding a great deal of the substantiated comedy toward “Camp Twilight’s” campy ebb and flow.  Cougar MacDowall, Thomas Haley, Hayleigh Hopkins, Harris Sebastian, Dondre Tuck, Brooklyn Haley, and Steven Chase, with “Truth or Dare’s” Jessica Cameron and Sport’s Illustrated model-turned-film producer, Tracy Lear, filling out the troupe lineup.

I wish I could say that “Camp Twilight” is a campsite of entertainment, a paradisal slasher of genius design, offering up a new breed of deranged psychopathy to the likes we’ve never seen.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t make heads or tails out of Brandon Amelotte’s derivative and tired trope-laden slasher rippled with loose and forgotten subplots and characters while at the same time being a heap of longwinded exposition that still way after viewing can’t fully explain the turbulent core of the story.  I hate to knock anything Felissa Rose touches, but I would be doing an injustice and a disservice if I tried to play up a slack script that starts off picturizing a campy horror-comedy but plays out the third act with critical revelations without a hint of funny bone material. The kills follow the trend of a lighthearted horror comedy, albeit the pelting of F-bombs, with “Camp Twilight’s” holdall of off screen deaths, barely scratching the surface with on screen kills rendered only by closeups, and not particularly bloody, intense, or nearly as menacing by a black hooded killer in jeans creeping up on prey in a well-lit campground with lots of room to run. The same company, Entertainment Factory, behind the horror icon drenched disappointment, “Death House,” should have been a clue into “Camp Twilight” critical success, but much like the “Death House,” both films are a totality of mess.

Not a fan of the outdoors? Hate bugs, snakes, and all things that go bump in the night? Does your fear of an unclear, inaccessible toilet seize you up? DarkCoast has you covered with their digital release of “Camp Twilight,” arriving onto digital platforms come November 1st, 2020 – Day of the Dead. The release platforms will include InDemand, DirecTV, FlixFling, Vudu & Fandango. The A/V qualities will not be reviewed due to the digital screener provided for this new film release, but I will say much of the soundtrack sounds stock file-ish (and there is no composer listed which would be a dead giveaway) and the Adam Beck cinematography is too well-lit, benumbing any kind of intense emotions that would correlate with the action. There were no bonus features included with the release nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Camp Twilight” plays into it’s own title as a dim denticulated slasher that’s far too breathy and far less spirited and so the question stands, will “Camp Twilight” be the next slasher hit to spawn a lengthy, decade spanning franchise? The answer is no.

EVIL Begins With A Simple Pizza Delivery in “Chop Chop” reviewed! (Kamikaze Dogfight / Digital Screener)

Married couple Liv and Chuck Matthews are enjoying a quiet and romantic night in at their apartment complex.  That is until a pizza delivering psychopath, who relishes chopping off the heads of his victims, knocks at their front door, interrupting the Matthews’ serenity with his own homicidal desires.  The skirmish puts forth the Matthews onto a series of misguided and bizarre encounters with an underground criminal syndicate that upends and jeopardizes their very lives, but the Matthews are not as innocent as they appear and harbor a dark secret of their own that just might get them out alive, barely. 

Flying under the October release radar this year, amongst a swarm of horror films that we thankfully have this unprecedented Halloween season, ekes in the debut feature film, a USA-made, independent horror-thriller entitled “Chop Chop,” from writer-director Rony Patel.  Co-written with Andrew Ericksen, the sleeper film echoes notes of Lynchian themes embroidered with idiosyncratic personas toiling uncomfortable tensions that are dryly humorous.  The Temple University educated in film studies Patel is no stranger to the metaphysics of the genre, pulling influences from and expanding upon his short film catalogue over the last decade with narratives that revolve around the dread of situational surrealism and detour from tropes of traditional tangible horror.  “Chop Chop” is a production of the Patel founded LA based company, Fairwolf Productions, LLC.

Jake Taylor and, the uncanny Zoe Saldana lookalike, Atala Arce, star in their first principle roles as a seemingly normal husband and wife, Chuck and Liv, who are introduced into the initial beginnings of date night that turns into a stay-at-home night of relationship bliss, but as the story progresses, even before the psychotic pizza boy’s entrance into their lives, setting off a string of deadly incidents, a latent secret itches within them as if toiling an escape plan from a previous unsavory life connected by the unexplained red spade symbol tattooed on both of their bodies.  Ambiguity fills the air between the mysterious tattoo and Taylor and Arce’s sanctum mind and side-eyed performances that convey very little of their unspoken plight and reveal very little about their existing purpose in an organization comprised of odd, but dangerous, jobs and dubiously offbeat and clandestine characters.  However, the face of “Chop Chop” draws an intense paroxysm of eye popping curiosity from the character actor David Harper (“Sick Boy”) in a dual performance as Teddy, the head chopping pizza delivery man, and Teddy’s mute twin brother who wields a samurai sword with a glaring look conveying malevolence.  Harper’s distinct face becomes transfixing when the scarred skin and bedecked with silvery braced teeth jut out from the bowed lips of a sinister smile.  To continue the trend of eccentric, quite rememberable, dark characters, Mikael Mattsson (“Scariest Night of Your Life”) and Nicholas Correnti contribute warped opposition encased inside an intermittent individual of horrid killer instincts reinforcing the already loaded with tension thriller.   “Chop Chop” rounds out with Jeremy Jordan, James McCabe (“Drifter”), Natasha Missick, and Lizzie Chaplin to wring Liv and Chuck’s out, whatever that might be from, even more life-and-death.

“Chop Chop’s” immensely cryptic diagram tones more evocatively by the uniquely rich characters planted from moment to moment inside Liv and Chuck’s inescapable conundrum of cascading misadventures.  Whereas Patel and Ericksen scribe persona diversity that’s interlinked to the fermenting innards of the scene, these characters would not be as fruitful if not exuberated by the actors who portray them, instilling a symbiotic coexistence of selling viperous rouges. Mysterious elements don’t solely lie with the veiled married couple, but also with Terry and his brother who are said, and is shown to an extent, to have powers with the abilities to walk through walls and be clairvoyant; yet, cliff notes of the beyond elemental are nixed and the omission of faculty talents are obliquely positive.  Where the characters flourish in a cesspool of strange and usual criminal activity, the story steps back as a murkier shadow game that’s about as translucent as pea soup and while understanding Liv and Chuck’s more exact role in the whole scheme of events isn’t a complete necessity, Patel and Ericksen’s narrative shell loses the cohesive glue to hold and sustain everything in into a diatonic cadence to the end.  Viewers will be kind of left stuck on the precipice by the finale led up by a perpetual tease of haphazard affairs thinly connected by one inexplicable common source that was surrounded by spies, murderers, and a malicious carcass disposer.  Evading a near total fumbling of the story, “Chop Chop” whips up fresh, new characters for the fray scattered throughout the playing field, keeping the loosely lassoed narrative structure from disastrously crumbling down into hollowed heap.

Ding, Dong! Pizza’s here! “Chop Chop” is a deliciously devilish dish from newcomer Rony Patel, landing onto Digital HD and Cable VOD on October 20th to rent or own on Amazon, iTunes, Comcast, Spectrum, Vudu and more, distributed by Kamikaze Dogfight in partnership with Gravitas Ventures. Since a digital screener was reviewed, critiquing the A/V aspects will not be covered. There was also no bonus material available and no bonus scenes during or after the credits. The cinematography scenes from Ryan Emanuel and Carter Fawcett produce striking setups that immediately dictate an artistry of vest-pocket anarchy that stick out gorgeously from the more darker laden respite between meetups. The English audio mix entangles the dialogue into murky territories underneath the swathed action, creating minor clarity issues to chase when trying to understand Liv and Chuck’s subdued spats that are telling of who they really are in “Chop Chop’s” lethal, but still trippy, Alice in Wonderland variation. Keep an eye on Rony Patel’s future cinematic endeavors as the young filmmaker’s tenebrous thriller, “Chop Chop,” has a meticulous sound design and a marvelously simple flare for character prototypes that energizes the rough enigmatic mystery.

 

EVIL Presses the Reset Button For Killer Results! “To Your Last Death” reviewed! (Quiver Distribution / Blu-ray)

Miriam DeKalb has just survived a bloodbath inside her tycoon father’s high-rise, walking out shaken, bloodied, and carrying an axe.  When the police detain her in the hospital, construing a case against her for the death of her siblings and father based off her previously unhinged mental state inside a psychiatric institute, Miriam is visited by an otherworldly being known as the Gamemaster.  Miriam is given two choices:  stay at the hospital to be pursued as the murderous villain in her harrowing escape from near death or restart her traumatizing experience to save her siblings in an intergalactic wager by infinite being gamblers eager for amusement, blood, and a clear winner.  Miriam’s foreknowledge of how the events play out should give her an edge in saving her family, but the restart is the Gamemaster’s game with the Gamemaster’s rules as timelines and outcomes are determined limitless. 

“To Your Last Death” is a science fictional brawl of Darwinism in this eviscerating adult animated survival horror from director Jason Axinn.  Originally titled as “The Malevolent” during the crowd-funded Indiegogo campaign, which raised 114% above film’s budget, “To Your Last Death” is Axinn’s first full length feature from a script co-written by Jim Cirile (writer of horror-comedy “Banned”) and is the first credited work of Tanya C. Klein, both who’ve previously collaborated on the superhero short “Liberator” in 2016 starring the original Hulk himself, Lou Ferrigno  With an animated direction similar to that of FX’s “Archer,” Cartoon Network’s “Metalocalypse,” or an even slightly more advanced version of “Space Ghost Coast to Coast,” but, in fact, the hand-drawn, puppetry style animation is the first ever 2-D animated horror under the meticulous art direction of Carl Frank along with lead artists Luca Romano and Vicente Saldivar, who interned on “Metalocalypse,” that keeps in tune with the adult themed animation trend, but levels up the explicit nature that kisses the sordid substance of “Heavy Metal” with strong bloody violence and some nudity.  “To Your Last Death” is the first feature film of Jim Cirile and Tanya C. Klien’s Coverage Ink Films, a subsidiary of the screenplay analysis and development service group, Coverage Ink, and Quiver Distribution (“Becky”) with Cindi Rice, Paige Barnett and Jason Axinn taking on a producer role. 

The voice work is comprised of some of the most distinguishable voices in genre land; voices that carry the unparalleled weight in intensity, tenor, and madness to their darkly depicted illustrated characters.  You can almost feel the veins throbbing out of Ray Wise’s neck when spewing the murderous insanity of warfare kingpin and diabolical businessman, Cyrus DeKalb.  The “Dead End” and “Jeepers Creepers 2” actor’s inhumane avatar, who looks just like him, devises a plan to solidify his company’s legacy by eliminating his four children who, if banding together, can derail his egomaniacal runaway train.  His children are distinct individuals themselves, beginning with the BDS&M buff and death metal rocker, Ethan (Damein C. Haas), a pill-popping wrist cutter, Kelsy (Florence Hartigan “Phoenix Forgotten”), and a mirror-image disappointment and homosexual, Collin (Benjamin Siemon “Thankskilling 3”).  The fourth child, Miriam, is the principle lead.  Voiced with perpetual mixed reactions by Dani Lennon, a regular from the videogame-themed horror comedy and zombie apocalypse television series, “Bite Me,” Miriam’s complexities stem from a web of junctures that lead her to being a control freak amongst her siblings, an obsessive activist against her father, and a certified schizophrenic, but Miriam is also pragmatic with the strongest will to see through and survive her maniacal father’s abhorrence.  While everyone’s voice work is solid, Steve Geiger’s Eastern European accent replicated for the sadistic, warmongering henchman, Jurek, imprints a nightmare man unabashed by his decadent desires.  You wouldn’t think just be reading this review, but Bill Moseley (“Devil’s Rejects”) and William Shatner (“Star Trek” franchise) also have voice roles that are more cameo resembling as Moseley voices a short lived, facially disfigured hired gun and Shatner is the narrating voice in between the void as the Overseer, filling in with cryptic exposition of the Gamemaster’s existence, much like his narrative work on the reboot of the children’s show, “The Clangers.”   Mark Whitten, Bill Mishap, Rom Lommel, Paige Barnnet, Jim Cirile, Tanya C. Klein, Ruairi Douglas, Jason Axinn, and “Deadpool’s” Morena Baccarin as the Gamemaster round out the cast.

The way “To Your Last Death’s” story is structured runs along the same quivering line that’s equal to pure madness and this narrative path of unstoppable carnage is purposefully trekked to dislodge any judgements about what we, the viewer, think we know about the Gamemaster’s macabre game for galactic gambling.  Is the whole “Saw”-like designed bloodbath really a part of Cyrus DeKalb’s hatred and vindictiveness toward his children or is the lucid experience just a figment of Miriam’s break from reality?  Remember, Miriam was depicted to an ex-committed, living with and within the pressures of her father’s ever present, looming shadow. Miriam finds herself repeating moments but blueprinted differently than before or is manipulated by the Gamemaster’s gamer’s high for the adrenaline voyeurs betting on the outcome. The story’s effervescently fluid in pivots, tactics, and style; yet, the constant modify and rebuild was, perhaps, done one or two many times as staleness begins to set in and I eventually find himself anxious for a more linear goal for Miriam and her siblings to be out of limbo, out of being hacked to pieces on the fourth or fifth go-around, and reach the final stage, the final boss, to not be jerked back (or jerked around) to the beginning or midpoint like in unendurable game of chutes and ladders. Soon after that sensation of being uninterested in another rewind, the feeling immediately washes away as the story finally did progress, climax, finish, end, close, and put to sleep a rotunda of violence engendered by cosmic sadists that is “To Your Last Death.”

Like some warped version of “Clash of the Titans,” the insouciant Gods in “To Your Last Death” are not generous or kind in their gamble of human entertainment on this Blu-ray release distributed by Quiver Distribution. The feature is presented in a windscreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio with rich colors through but favor toward scenes splotched of dark red or saturated in full tints of blue. The animation can be a little jagged at times but tolerable and only one scenes stood out compromised with two character stuck still for a few seconds too long and color banding rear its little ugly head on their animated faces. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound renders equally gratifying that includes a pulsating and terror riddled soundtrack by Rene G. Boscio. Typical with animation, ambience is generally underused as the filmmakers control much of what’s in the frame and the same can be said with this film, but with the much of action stationary inside the building, the confinement fills in the auditory gaps in conjunction with lucrative and well timed effects, such as a ripping roar of gas guzzling chainsaw, the squirting sounds of blood sprays, and even with the lossless details of minor necessities, such as Jurek whistling, to build upon character development. Dialogue is prominent, clear, and syncs okay with the marionette animation. The Blu-ray case is sheathed in a cardboard slipcover, both arranged with the same front and back cover image and layout. The bonus features are lack as the bare bones release only comes with a high definition trailer of the film. “To Your Last Death” is this year’s cinematic graphic novel to knock back and lap up, loaded with transcendent selfish twists and second-chance carnage with dysfunctional family issues spot lit on center stage.

 

Pre-Order “To Your Last Death” for a October 6th release!

Nurses’ Put Up With All Kinds of EVIL in a “12 Hour Shift” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)

In the dwindling days leading up to the turn of the century, Mandy is about to start a 12 hour nursing shift at an Arkansas Hospital.  As a side gig, Mandy must supply fresh internal organs to her dimwitted cousin and organ mule, Regina, to earn a little extra cash to pay for her narcotic habit, a condition prolonged and sustained by a front desk colleague.  When Regina misplaces the bag full of internal organs and doesn’t deliver them to her ignoble black market boss, she returns to the hospital desperate and corners Mandy into coughing up more, even if that means killing a patient or two.   When Mandy profusely refuses, but reluctantly complies, Regina still takes matters into her own reckless hands and as the bodies begin to pile, Mandy has to stave off police interrogation and suspicion long enough to get through the long night shift of twisted circumstances and peculiar characters.

As if nurses didn’t already work tediously long hours on normal circumstances as it is, Brea Grant’s pitch black comedy, “12 Hour Shift,” is a cardiac inflamed melee of drug users, a convicted cop killer, and black market goons slaughtering it out with hapless patients caught in the middle.  “12 Hour Shift” is the sophomore film written and directed by Grant, released 7 years following her feature debut of the apocalyptic drama, “Best Friends Forever,” in 2013 as Grant also costars alongside Vera Miao as a pair of BFF journeywomen.  Now, Grant steps fully behind the camera, cherry picks real life headlines, and blends them with urban myths to inject cynicism right into our plump veins with pulpy anti-heroes and a graphic violence backdropped with a Y2K hyperbole.  Shot on location in Jonesboro, Arkansas, the film is produced by Matt Glass and Jordan Wayne of HCT Media and alongside actors, Tara Perry and David Arquette, and David’s wife, Christina McLarty Arquette. 

“May” star Angela Bettis jumps into scrubs as the steely junkie, Mandy, who teeters on benevolence after a streak of merciful killings of terminally ill patients for vital organs in exchange for addiction withdrawal averting cash. Mandy is stuck between a motley nursing staff, unpredictable cops, and a pair of bad guys as the coupling link scrambling to tread above water.  Bettis brings her harried eyed fortitude as a sarcastic and solitude-immersed nurse who is a jack of all trades contending internally with paper thin sympathetic motivations paralleling her self-preserving abilities.  Mandy’s calculating, on-the-fly smarts comes under threat by Regina’s halfwit, caution to the wind, sociopathy, housed under blonde teased hair sitting upon a model’s thin frame from the build of Chloe Farnsworth (“Crying Wolf 3D”) who dons crazy like a dunce cheerleader of a Renaissance slasher of an 80’s throw back, but instead of being the chest-baring victim killed while having prematernal sex in the woods, Regina is a scrappy and determined go-getter with more Cheeto dust on her fingers than braincells in her brain.  Grant paints a hefty list of colorful characters, written to ooze their own sanctimonious nature or Podunk refinement, a pair of inglorious splendor fallacies of small Southern townsfolk.  Dusty Warren plays one of those roles in the tactless ponytail wearing Mikey, the right hand muscle of the organ trafficker, and Mikey has nerveless feelings toward those that surround him except for his boss and, then, there’s Tara Perry’s Dorothy, a religious chatty-Cathy nurse who is essentially the most good, but less influential character of the whole rotten bunch.  “12 Hour Shift” cast rounds out with Kit Williamson as the cute, but hopelessly funny beat cop, Nikea Gamby-Turner as Mandy’s side hustling quasi-employer/colleague of drugs and organ, Brooke Seguin as the tireless nurse shift supervisor, and a pair of wrestlers, the only and only Mankind, Mick Foley, and the actor-turned-wrestler, David Arquette (“Scream”), who I must note is perhaps in the best shape of his life for this film.

“12 Hour Shift” comes off as like a big, crass joke on Southerners with a bloody knuckle one-two punch domino effect of disaster after disaster mayhem.  Grant satirically captures the hackneyed perceptions of a small Arkansas town from the late 1990s, complete with tube televisions and really bad hairstyles, that doesn’t the support the age old Southern mantra that is Southern Hospitality.  Every character touts an awful version of themselves.  Even Mandy, a junkie who commits unauthorized euthanasians with bleach in exchange for cash, crowns being perhaps the absolute worst of the entire character pool, but endeavors through the chaos as an anti-heroine we want to cheer for but is nowhere on the brink of amiability.  A strong point for Grant is giving every character, from scarce to principle, a once over and also touching on them periodically throughout to keep the minor parts existing in the back of the mind  Only David Arquette’s convicted death row inmate, emitted into the hospital due to self-harm, is the only role that feels half-heartedly fleshed out as a small story outlier or maverick whose dynamic is to only add another layer of obstacle fear without becoming too involved with the heart of the organ trafficking plotline.  The comedic air is dry, bloody, and not egregiously over the top in savoring enough plausibility of the abstracted truths to be told in a verse narrative that relies much on Matt Glass’ cymbal, bass, and snare drum soundtrack to provide an unique rhythm for a feminist story.  The two female leads absorb, react, and solve the issues on their own without male assistance; Mandy’s very own half-brother lies comatose for all of the duration and he’s even the reason for Mandy’s pounding addiction, but she still exhibits compassion for family, as we also see with her cousin by marriage, Regina, in the last act, and will do anything to guarantee his safety.  The attributes of the male characters are inversely heroic with qualities like whining, coquettish, uncouth, and gullible running rampant amongst the behaviors; ergo, female characters Mandy, Regina, and even Nikea Gamby-Turner’s Karen have room to grow in the timespan of Brea Grant’s “12 Hour Shift.”

 

Magnet Releasing and HCT Media in association with One Last Run presents “12 Hour Shift,” stat, releasing this Friday, October 2nd in theaters and video on demand.  The black comedy from the United States clocks in at 87 minutes of a shift from hell.  Since the screener provided was of a new theatrical release, there will be no A/V specs listed and critiqued.  The only bonus feature outside the any kind of physical release is an extended last scene after the principle credits role that encourages more hospital mayhem, but will alas leave open ended about the destruction that would ensue.   Aforesaid, Matt Glass serves as the composer on the film, but the multi-hatted filmmaker also serves as the director of photography, producing tactile scenes with a lot of rich, natural lighting on a slightly higher contrast scale and with pockets of brilliant, soft hues to exude more dastardly situations. “12 Hour Shift” goes to show you, in extreme measures and unpredictable circumstances, much like real life hospital scenarios, the rigors and pressures of nursing can be unfathomably taxing, but under the gun (literally in the movie), the nursing staff can overcome all obstacles and filmmaker Brea Grant, in her own style, honors with a gritty, black comedy for the profession that, in many instances, goes unappreciated and thankless.