Never Had An EVIL Friend Like Me! “Come Play” reviewed! (Focus Features / Digital Screener)

Elementary student Oliver has autism that impedes his speech, requiring near obsessive use of the phone and tablet to communicate with touchtone words as well as using the device for recreational binge watching of SpongeBob SquarePants to calm him when agitated.  Unable to make friends, Oliver’s loneliness causes him to sink deeper into his devices while his parents bicker amongst themselves on the endless topic of caring, treating, and assisting with Oliver’s needs, such as speech therapy and daily routine.  On another dimensional plane, looking inside-out of Oliver’s devices, is Larry, an equally lonely, misunderstood monster trying to break into Oliver’s world and take him away to be forever friends.  It’s up to his overprotective mother and insouciant father to stop Larry’s aggressively desperate out reach into Oliver’s world and pluck him forever from a life of being misunderstood. 

Forget the monsters lying in wait underneath the bed!  Forget the monsters lurking inside the dark closet!  The monster in your phone, capturing your attention span on a glossy-eyed level, should be the monster we all fear from Jacob Chase’s written and directed tech creature feature, “Come Play.”  “Come Play” introduces Jacob Chase into feature filmmaking after being involved wearing multiple hats in a series of short films, spanning over in the last decade and half, with his 5-minute long short film, “Larry,” plotted out as one third shift bored parking lot attendant who discovers an abandoned iPad inside the lost and found box located in his booth and releases a disfigured titular creature that lumbers toward him after reading through  “The Misunderstood Monster” children’s tale on the device, becoming the foundational work inspiring a 96 minute, fully fleshed out narrative with dangerous undercurrents of voyeurism and loneliness coinciding with an equally-hazardous theme in the detriments of being a helicopter parent, hindering the independent growth and maturity of youth. “Come Play” is a co-production of Amblin and Reliance Entertainment.

When they’re in a career hot zone, child actors flourish and grow inside a broad base of horror, being nurtured either from or by the creepy child sub-category or from or by being the unlikely hero that has the save the oblivious adults (just look at the kiddie cast of “Stranger Thingsfor example). Azhy Robertson falls into the latter as the epitome of innocence in playing Oliver, a young boy with autism unable to communicate clearly the monster stalking him from a stratum between two existences. “Marriage Story’s” Robertson continues to gleam versatilely as an actor who can use his imagination to not only react to a rendered behemoth creature but also submerse into the characteristics of autism and not oversell beyond what’s needed. Robertson also continues his girth toward a well-rounded career that now has a notch for horror under his broadening belt. Like many monster-plagued kid horror, the parents are always oblivious and dismissive to the situation and “Come Play” continues the trope with a pair of quarrelling parents in the midst of separation that undoubtedly adds to the extramundane energy fueling Larry’s need for Oliver. Gillian Jacobs (“Bad Milo”) and John Gallaghar Jr. (“Underwater”) butt heads sorely on one topic: Oliver. As their marriage dissolves through unspoken subtleties under the Oliver epicenter, that missed mightier connection could have been more powerful on how the split up affects the reactionary consequences of Oliver’s developmental disorder, an affect so tremendous that it componentizes Larry and his aggressive and brazen abduction tactics that are not so discreet. However there characters are perceived, Jacobs and Gallaghar modestly pack a punch in what has been laid to be the Azhy Robertson show of a vulnerable, yet smart, child versus a relentless and grotesque monster. Winslow Fegley, Jayden Marine, Gavin MacIver-Wright, and Eboni Booth round out the cast.

Jacob Chase has proven to be able to handle building breath-holding suspense and tension with the otherworldly plane Larry, a Slenderman-like in appearance and character inspired villain lumbering around not only in Oliver’s house, coursing through the electrical currents in his sub-plane world, but also by peering from out of closets, shying away in the darkest corners of the house, and looming around in a parking lot’s graveyard shift hours only to be perceptible through the phone and tablet camera lenses and, at times, manifesting a translucent presence that has force behind, the latter being an added side dish, transcending from Chase’s short film, to Larry’s predacious tech-manipulating arsenal when obstacles stand in the way of his BFF.  Even if “Come Play’s” superlative thrills ride on the heels of potent jump scares and unnerving silence with bated breathed, hiccups do arise in a more alleviated roller-coaster that shreds holes into the well-established terror instead of nurturing the tone.  Now while I understand the rating is PG-13 to secure a wider audience and, maybe, be a little lighthearted at times, an awkward diluted dread douses the credibility of the characters in strife with actions, such a scene include Oliver’s parents striking down upon his tablet with alternating hammer blows.  In what almost seems like a joke with an archaic technique that old-timey railroad workers use when nailing in track spikes or when carnies – one being a clown – hammer in spokes in unison to erect the big top, the scene is just out of focus in regards to the rest of the scope and there are other scenes like these sprinkled in throughout that raises character quandary concerns.  Why not just one parent whack away on the destruction of the dag’on device?  A handful of the reactionary actions to protect Oliver are glazed with an unreasonable, panic-stricken defense that begs the question whether they’re fit to actually be parents, which, if looking on the flipside of the argument, might also play into more of the unbeneficial family structure that originated the Larry intrusion.  Speaking of originating and the monster, Larry’s exact origins is obscured from the audiences as no plot points touch in depth upon Larry’s background and, you know what, that’s okay here; the more mysterious path is sometimes the best and, in “Come Play,” Larry’s inexplicable being as a child seducing abductor relates much more frighteningly and unfortunately in real world occurrences. 

Predators come in all shapes and sizes.  In this case, Larry’s atrocious presence, trying to obscure his real identity innately, symbolizes the very personalities of the real monstrous predators living among us, trolling online to prey on the vulnerable.  “Come Play” is an oxymoronic subtle hyperbole that serves as a cautionary warning for parents and children molded with pure monster in the closet entertainment in mind releasing theatrically on October 30, pushed from its original July release due to COVID-19, courtesy of Focus Features.  Serving as director to photographer is French cinematographer and serial shadow worker, Maxime Alexandre, who was worked with acclaimed horror director Alexandre Aja on “High Tension,” “P2,” and “Crawl.”  Alexandra manipulates the space, melding wide, full and closeups, to work the perceptions toward a post-production visual design in adding Larry into the frames and honing in on the lighting to just show enough of the space to make the allusion of Larry’s presence even more ominous. The back and forth of the underused practical Larry and the mostly CGI Larry sparsely have any difference between the final product outcome. The visual effects team of Mr. X saunter with what could have been a clear disaster of composite creature imagery with all the trademarks of synthetic splicing; instead, Larry matches well to the point of an indistinguishable challenge between what’s real and what’s not. The score by the “Don’t Breathe” and “Evil Dead” remake’s Roque Banos does the job to subversively infiltrate the security earmuffs to wring your cochlea to an inch of its life, but doesn’t resonate with you much more than the length of the film; however, Larry’s clicking and snapping of his appendageal joints and his guttural clatters emanate vicinity apprehension, as if the audiences can hear the dun dun hook as a tall tale sign of a circling shark in the water.  Sound design is half the fun in the film as the monster is more than half there when it’s on screen. No bonus material accompanied the release and there were no bonus scenes during or after the credits, but I’ve included Chase’s short, “Larry,” below for your own comparison and enjoyment!  “Come Play” boosts many unsavory themes between the parameters of technology and children underneath a mask of a faceless friend willing to frighten and fight anyone into submission to obtain complete, domineering companionship to end his chilling fairytale story.

Larry: Short Film

EVIL Hoodooism is No Mumbo-Jumbo! “Spell” reviewed! (Paramount Pictures / Digital Screener)

Marquis E. Woods is a powerful defensive attorney good at his job, attaining wealth and position to the likes he’s never had as young boy raised by a fervent and abusive father in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky; a life now he always wanted he can now share with wife, Veora, and pass to their children, Samsara and Tydon.  The news of the death of his father sends him and family on a flying to the rural part of Kentucky to pay their respects in Marquis’ personal small aircraft.  A terrible storm forces down the plane down in a remote wooded valley and an injured Marquis wakes up in attic on a farm ran by a proclaimed rootwork old woman, Ms. Eloise, with her husband and oxen-strong farm hand.  Trapped and concerned for his missing family, Ms. Eloise slowly nurses him back to health with a Boogity, a Hoodoo figured representation of Marquis comprised of his flesh, blood, and other DNA elements, but her Southern hospitality isn’t for good intentions as she mends and prepares his wounded body, brewing a sinister spell upon his soul, for the forthcoming blood moon that lies days ahead.

Experiencing Hoodoo dark magic horror back on a bigger production scale is on the same extraordinary gamut in discovering the lost city of Atlantis.  Well, maybe not as profoundly archeological as discovering Atlantis, but still immensely impactful. Films like the Mark Tonderai directed “Spell” hit like a ton of brick-shaped talismans, fettering the imagination with hexes that bewitch fascination and captivation, and roots through an endless torrential fountain of ancient beliefs to scour the dark side of the practices for celluloid terror. “The House at the End of the Street” director Tonderai moves away from restraints of PG-13 horror before heading into a stint of helming television episodes only to make a glorious return back to features with the R-rated black magic action-thriller, “Spell,” penned by Kurt Wimmer who knows a thing or two about action-thrillers as the writer of the gun-toting, martial arts dystopian, “Equilibrium,” and bloodily vindictive thriller, “Law Abiding Citizen”.  Filmed in Cape Town, South Africa that, through the slight of hand of movie magic, turns South Africa into rural Kentucky, “Spell” is a co-production of Paramount Pictures, LINK Entertainment, and MC8 Entertainment as well as being a product of puncturing the rarely topical social class and racism division within the same race.

To play a determined and savvy father and husband on the ropes of survival, “Power’s” Omari Hardwick steps into the detained role of Marquis E. Woods, surely prepping himself against Ms. Eloise’s wicked dark magic before battling the flesh hungry undead in the upcoming Zack Snyder zombie-geddon horror, “Army of the Dead.” Hardwick is the ideal actor for a role that, at times, can be physical; his athletic build suits also Woods’ affluence though not required as scene with the brawny farm hand that introduces South Africa’s very own fitness entrepreneur, Steve Mululu.  Woods is pitted not only against formidable muscle, but also has to outwit the four or five lifetime smarts of an old root woman, Ms. Eloise, diabolically portrayed with a legendary entrenched Southern vernacular by the “Urban Legend” actress, Loretta Devine.  On the downside of the character, Ms. Eloise is rich with historical saturation that goes unchecked and unexplored and she seems a little more slapdash with her rituals and her captives.  In what really is a mind game of wit and Podunk wizardry between Hardwick’s Marquis E Woods and Devine’s Ms. Eloise, the remaining cast for “Spell” shoulders only little to annex more substance toward the tensions between the two principles, including performances from Lorraine Burroughs, John Beasley, Andrew Jacobs, Tumisho Masha, RJ-Karlo Handy, Hannah Gonera, and Kalifa Burton.

Aforementioned, “Spell,” between the domestic xenophobia opulence dividing the Woods family, the quaint, yet tangible body horror, and the abhorrent mysticism surrounding Hoodooism, teeters on loose ground with not only Ms. Eloise’s foundation, but also with main character, Marquis E. Woods, who suffers continuously from trauma-induced nightmares of his abusive father. Through flashbacks, Marquis is beaten with verbal assaults and even, seemingly, being stabbed or mutilated by his father. Yet, that’s about as far as the flashback dynamic progresses the thread bare bond until a minor moment at the climax is when Marquis then embraces his father’s aggressive nature, tuning more into a theme of stative stance that Marquis and father might not have seen eye-to-eye, but the son learns to survive through amplified evil by way of his father’s tough, tortuous care. The relationship circles backs with Marquis’ entitled children, whose piggyback wealth has molded them indifferent against the benefits given to them and partisan toward the backwoods people of color, and “Spell” becomes an insidious allegory creeping into the fold with a little tough love from your parents, in this case father, will go a long way. “Spell” also rarely pulls any punches with a welcoming cringe of ghastly violations of the human body (that pulling, inserting, and then re-pulling out the spike in the bottom of the foot gag will make you actually gag!) and inside the rustic and isolating confines of Ms. Eloise’s Kentucky farm compound, there’s a rough-hewn atmosphere that elevates the subgenre, shaking it to the core at times.

“Spell” is terrific urban horror tinged with “Misery” but driven by historical oppression stemmed Hoodoo, releasing just before Halloween on October 30th distributed by Paramount Players, a division of Paramount Pictures that’s still very much in it’s infancy. Jacques Jouffret (“The Purge” franchise) has a tight knit and jarring cinematography that puts the audience in the front, debilitating seat, empathizing the mind-warping effects that Marquis faces with a violent plane crash, nerve seizing torture, and banding Hoodoo hallucinations. Plus, there is fancy crane camerawork that marvels to capture multiple actions between characters. The score from Ben Onono fulfills the tension-riddle need with incessant zest, complimenting the narrative tenfold. Since “Spell” is a brand new release, there were no bonus material included and there were no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Don’t belittle the Boogity in this year’s most unique and contending horror movie that casts a “Spell” over the rest of the competition.

Pre-order “Spell” 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.

Youtubers EVILlog a Malevolent Presence Inside Their Home! “8ight After” reviewed! (PovertyWorks / Digital Screener)

Vlogging husband and wife, Vince and Deanna, digitally showcase their married life to the world from their vacation travels to exotic coastlines to the day-to-day, mundane tasks that includes home renovations.  When they demolition a wall in order to install a French door in the master bedroom, they discover a mysterious box containing a Portate (carrying) cross hidden within the wall.  Every night since then, Godfearing Deanna has felt a profound presence in the house, experiencing supernatural phenomena, such as grabbing at her feet and possessing her body, almost on a nightly basis, especially 8 minutes after 1:00 AM.  The compilation of footage from Vince and Deanna’s vlog cameras around the house capture the seemingly malevolent events, but Vince, being the ever agnostic skeptic, tries to invalidate any paranormal occurrences, passing them off as more feasibilities explanations.  Yet, the bumps in the night continue to place Deanna in inexplicable danger, forcing Vince to reconsider his position on God in order to save his wife.

CCTV horror has been quiet over the last few years, but 2020 has seen a fair share of the stale, declining genre that’s become more repellant than a draw for audiences; yet these new ventures into CCTV horror have splashed into a Lazarus pool, rejuvenating a slither of lifeforce within genre, with limited theatrical and VOD releases into the volatile cinema market.  Vincent Rocca’s written and directed multi-camera spectral thriller, “8ight After,” is a found footage horror-comedy that is an analogue releasing on the heels of moderate success, following the making-of an active shooter thriller, “Mother of Monsters,” and the hellish hotel imprisonment of souls of “Followed,” another apparitional aghast blending CCTV and handheld footage in a vlog style.  Rocca’s sophomore directorial comes nearly a decade and half after his 2006 feature film debut, a comedy entitled “Kisses and Caroms,” and is produced by Rocca’s less-is-more production company, PovertyWorks Productions, that aims to produce funny and profitable films and shorts on a miniscule budget.  In “8ight After’s” case, the production cost totaled a whopping zero being Rocca’s own actual camera footage of and around his home and the use of handheld’s and phone cameras when out and about. I’m also positive he didn’t pay his wife a dime.

“8ight After” fits right into the PovertyWorks’s comedy portion of its business model, especially with Vincent Rocca in the lead role as a practical joker-goofball of a husband (who really has the vocal projection of the late Bill Paxton), leading the charge of the voyeuristically invasive vlogging lifestyle as well as being a religiously laidback soul with an atheist belief set.  In stark contrast to his convictions is his wife Deanna, played by his real wife Deanna Rocca, who brings a knowledge of faith for a subplot of inner family squabbles about their mixed relationship to God.  When I say “8ight After” is invasive, I mean the film is a truism of invasiveness that not only is a near tell all of Vincent’s life as a videophile and Deanna’s vocation as a zoo vet but also fractures into the story their recorded travel escapades from their VinceRocca Youtube channel show, “Life Doesn’t Suck,” that discusses and logs their destination highlights of various locations from around the world.  The energy from their Youtube channel transcends over into the scenes committed to the necklace narrative with a bout between comedy and horror that peers Vince and Deanna’s religious fervors.  Deanna shoulders more of the in character plights with the subtle, but effective, person plagued by a unremitting presence and has to become possessed, sleepwalk, and look menacing toward her husband when the time is right for the all-seeing camera.  

Compiled like a documentary (or mockumentary?) and presented in a meta format by spinning and weaving the Rocca’s exuberant régime of life and love into an undercurrent of hidden terror, “8ight After” has unique cinematic properties, utilizing his reality television fluff techniques and editing, and tackle themes of family upheaval contentious topics like religion and gun control, to wrap “8ight After” complete on a zilch budget that rides the seams of fact and fiction.  For the most part, “8ight After” tenderly progresses organically with little staged affect as the high school sweethearts play to their most innate strength – 20 years of marital bliss – and chips in sparsely the sarcastic wit of Vince Rocca (did I mention he sounds exactly like Bill Paxton?) through a tech-recorded compiled story that’s well built up initially with convincing acting and strange and spooky incidents that, like most found footage films, point to specifics pieces important to the narrative. There are even a couple of homages to great horror classics like “Jaws” and “Exorcist III.” But then in a turn of sudden events, the revealing climax fizzles like the air wheezing quickly out of an inflated balloon.  The finagled ending stinted completing something uniquely branchlet from the found footage genre and something that had solid momentum and steam of an escalating snowball toward the essence of a presence, but became grounded by the acute conclusion to the matter in such a matter-of-fact fashion that it completely killed the mood, tone, and disposition “8ight After” carried in preponderance.

Become wrapped up in the lives of a pair of vloggers and see them suffer the wrath of a stubborn spirit in “8ight After” that was released October 15th on various digital retailers, including Amazon’s Prime Video. The film is unrated and has a runtime of 97 minutes and has an accompanying English language 5.1 surround sound audio mix with optional English subtitles. There were no bonus material included, but you can live vicariously through Vincent and Deanna’s touristy adventures of swimming with manatees, paddle boarding, and visiting breathtaking waterfalls. Also, you can purchase Vincent Rocca’s journal notes put into paperback, of the same title as the movie and also on Amazon, that goes hand-and-hand with the film; it’s also available as an audiobook. “8ight After” tempers with a well braided blend of found footage comedy and horror from a pair of seasoned Youtubers that then suddenly trails off, leaving us holding the baby in trying to make sense of an nonsensical ending.

Watch “8ight After” on Prime Video!

 

Read or listen to the book on Prime Video!


EVIL is Out For Blood! “Attack of the Unknown” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)

A Los Angeles SWAT team raids a syndicate congregating big narcotics deal that leads to the arrest of the local high profile drug lord named Hades.  In transporting Hades into federal custody, massive alien ships suddenly loom over the city, beginning a merciless extraterrestrial invasion that forces the close knit SWAT team, Hades, and a handful of low on the totem poll federal agents to take shelter at an inmate detention center housing dangerous criminals as everyone outside, fighting for their very lives on the streets of an ablaze metropolis, are swarmed and killed by tentacle spearing, blood sucking aliens.  Running low on ammo, cut off from any kind of rescue, and aware that an attack on them is imminent, the survivors must band together to plan their continuous survival and understand what the aliens want from them before being raided for their blood.

“Independence Day” meets “Assault on Precinct 13” in the blood marauding mayhem of the alien invasion action film “Attack of the Unknown” from writer-director Brandon Slagle (“House on Manson,” “The Dawn”) based off a story by producers Michael and Sonny Mahal of the Mahal Empire production company. The American made, Los Angeles and Las Vegas shot Sci-Fi embattled entanglement labors an intensive visual effects heavy bombardment that bares an unbiblical similarity of the David versus Goliath parable.  Instead of using stones and a slingshot to bring the formidable giant down, gunfire and hand-to-hand combat serve as the nearly useless weaponry of choice against these spacemen, with a slight inspiration of H.R. Giger’s biochemical flare, searching for the junkie’s high of medicinal hemoglobin.  Alongside the Mahal Empire, the company behind the artistry of supernatural-sins, “Art of the Dead,” Spicy Ramen Productions (“Murder Van”), FilmCore (“Clownado”), and Blain-Y-Bootleg Films also stick their producing tentacles into the narrative that entails expropriation of human blood by otherworldly beings.

“Attack of the Unknown” reunites “Art of the Dead’s” Richard Grieco and Tara Reid once again in a non-scene sharing feature, but, this time around, Grieco lands the lead role of Vernon, a long-in-the-tooth cop going through a brutal divorce, going through cancer, and must be the person to save during the invasion…wait, what? Yes, forget the women, children, and possible any other last hope for mankind, Vernon, through the eyes of his SWAT brethren, becomes early on the favorite for survival, but only later into the story does the fact of Vernon’s fatalistic, cancerous blood is the cure for dominion dominance, something that should have been noted when Vernon is labeled as must live. Grieco’s austere soul for Vernon disposes a man without a care or is unpredictable and while the role is overall solid, Grieco is a bit theatrical with the performance. On the short end of the stick is Tara Reid whose barely in a folklore tale told by Hades as a severely brief conclusion on why these malevolent space invaders have landed on planet Earth. Former “Hellraiser: Revelations'” cenobite, Jolene Andersen, and typecast bad guy, “Strangeland’s” Robert LaSardo, without an alternative, had the most intrigue without having a lick of depth with their characters. Andersen is the only female SWAT member, Hannah, with an unexplained connection between her and Vernon other than being colleagues, but Hannah is a bit of a Jane of all trades able to hold her own in a humbling kind of way, making her more likable. On the other hand, the mysterious temperament challenges us to figure out what LaSardo kind of person is Hades; obviously named after the lord of Hell, the drug kingpin isn’t devilish in the least and has the tendency to be more of a stubborn and angst tween. The cast list is huge but the main players involved rounding out the cast list is Douglas Tait, Robert Donovan, Paul Gunn, Mouine Omari, Clay Trimble, Gerardo de Pablos, King Jeff, and, not forgetting to mention as Featured Dancer #1, adult actress Tasha Reign.

Slagle has to reign over and rein in the slew of competing talents and the story’s first act of an indeterminate direction. When the narrative finally settles upon the alien encircled detention center with the survivors’ back against the wall, a harried subplot with two, nearly off the clock San Fernando cops encountering a crashed ship in the desert on the outskirts of town is pushed aside; instead of a smaller, parallel story alongside the SWAT’s predicament, the two cop encounter becomes a bookend story that feels sorely out of place and sheepishly wrapped up. Another out of place aspect, an unfillable character arc within the core story, is with an out of element survivor, a vlogger from Texas, who is the only unqualified defender against an attack and supposed to be on this tangent of earning his “got your back” badge (anyone from Texas, the Alamo state, should know a thing or two about a last stand), but by the time the vlogger musters the courage to shoot back at the bloodsucking tentacles during an elevator escape, the moment is way too late and way too underwhelming to make an impact, leaving his presence wasted amongst a motley crew of rough and tough officers and criminals. Luckily, the Mahal production has plenty of capital to go around to render a bolstering blend of practical and visual effects that tags “Attack of the Unknown” as Slagle’s Michael Bay attempt of a Sci-Fi action film. The visual effect composites are verisimilar in comparison to big budget Hollywood and the practical work, whether be with the fleeting gruesome deaths (ripping off the crown of the head scene was pretty nasty), the alien spacesuits, and the alien’s classic bug eyes and small mouth, harped back on a throwback science fiction alien attack sans the ray gun trope.

For an indie production, “Attack of the Unknown” has a palpable core story with promising visuals that has invaded all major VOD platforms this past August courtesy of Gravitas Ventures. The A/V qualities will not be reviewed due to the digital screener provided, but just to comment on the rigors of budget films, the depth perception issues in the composited effects and the sounds effects not always necessarily syncing properly with the action (i.e. explosions), cold cocks us back down a peg that “Attack of the Unknown” is an indie film. The music score is provided by Scott Glasgow (“Hatchet III”) and the shots are provided by Michael Su, who I thought garnished really neat scenes with smoke and brilliant light. Bottom line, “Attack of the Unknown” just ekes out being entertaining enough but the space vampire’s ground assault traverses a rocky road of dry performances and unfocused bearings that cultivates earnest dramatics progressing into one ginormous space ship-sized cliché.

Available to Rent on Amazon!