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

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.

An Elite, EVIL Assassin Loses Herself as the “Possessor” reviewed! (Neon / Digital Screener)

Tasya Vos is the top professional assassin employed by a hire-for-murder agency who uses surgically implanted brain transceivers to insert agents’ consciousness into a person’s body who can get close to their intended kill target. The no contact procedure has been successful with some severe drawbacks, such as the potential for slipping out of your own identity in being, in one way, a part of many distinct personalities. When Vos’s next assignment is to insert herself into the mind of the soon-to-be son-in-law of a powerful tech CEO, her individuality begins to crumble, losing her grip as the primary inhabitant of the body. The commingled souls share thoughts and memories and when Vos takes a backseat in a body that’s no longer under her control, her life becomes vulnerable to a confused and unhinged man seeking vindictive measures to evict the assassin from his mind.

Like an existential extension of his father’s career, writer-director Brandon Cronenberg’s foothold within sci-fi horror is anchored by functional practicality, substantial social commentary, and a knack for exhibiting cynical undertones in his sophomore film, “Possessor,” a gripping tech-thriller avowing the soft-pedaled ambiguous identity and corporate invasiveness. “Possessor” is the blood soaked corrosion of individualism that strips morality and replaces it with unapologetic nihilism in a film that feels very much David Cronenberg’s “eXistenZ” merged with Paul Veerhoven’s “Total Recall” with that plug-and-play dystopian coat of paint that’s being brushed over the quickly disappearing free will. Studios involved in the making of “Possessor” include Rhombus Media (“Hobo with a Shotgun”) and Rook Films (“The Greasy Strangler”) in association with a WarnerMedia division company, Particular Crowd.

“Possessor’s” leading lady, Andrea Riseborough, is no stranger to idiosyncratic roles in equally atypical films having starred in “The Duffer Brothers'” “The Hidden” and played the titular character in the avant-garde horror, “Mandy,” across from Nicholas Cage; yet, from her experience with big-budget studio films, such as “Oblivion” starring Tom Cruise, the English actress felt the uneasy atmospherics to be pressurizing and uncomfortable Riseborough has thus exceled with films such as Cronenberg’s “Possessor” that’s pivots into an alcove just off the main halls of horror and science fiction. Riseborough looks nothing like herself from “Oblivion” by sporting a stark white hair on top of a thin frame, which could be said to be the very counter-opposite of what a typical, bug-budget assassin should look like, but Riseborough delivers stoic and uncharitable traits of a character on the brink of losing herself. Christopher Abbot delivers something a little more chaotic when his conscious retreats back into the depths of his psyche only to then seep back into his mind where he stumbles to catch up on current events. The “It Comes At Night” Abbott disembodies himself not once, but twice, becoming an avatar for Tasya Vos to play, picking up where Abbot’s Colin left off, and then Abbot has to regain control, splicing Colin back into the cockpit where Tasya commands the yoke. The dueling dispositions cease being unique as one attempts to control the other in a mental and corporeal game of chess, confounding audiences of who is in control during certain scenes, especially when Colin goes into a blackout murdering spree of people Colin himself knows and trusts. As a puppeteer moving a marionette, pulling as an influential strings behind company lines, is Girder, a poker-faced agent head seeking the absolute best in the company’s interest, who finds her thimblerigger in Jennifer Jason Leigh. Leigh, whose experience with David Cronenberg’s “eXistenZ” brought a high level of cognizance to “Possessor” having been an cerebral deep virtual reality trouper previously, folds in the nerve of any level of management that would guilt someone else into doing the work necessary to get the job done. Girder opposes Tasya’s external humanity in a silent, but deadly manner by appealing to the killer instinct in Taysa, letting red flags of the out of body experience fly by the waist side that ultimately wears away at her star pupils moral conscious and turn her into a stone cold killer. “Possessor” cast fills out with Tuppence Middleton (“Tormented”), Kaniehtiio Horn (“Mohawk”), Rossif Sutherland (“Dead Before Dawn 3D”), Raoul Bhaneja, Gage-Graham Arbuthnot, and “Silent Hill’s” Sean Bean in a worthwhile role just to see if his role will succumb to a typical doomed Sean Bean character as the undesirable tech CEO.

Its safe and sufficient to say that Cronenberg’s “Possessor” is not a feel good story; the amount of tooth-chipping, eye-gouging, and throat stabbing gore takes care of any hope and ebullient energy that one could misperceive. Yet, while the disgorged grisliness stands on it’s own, Cronenberg possesses a factor of tropes that multiply the film’s bleak, icy landscape inhabited by unpleasant characters that ultimately seek and destroy the little good exhibited. The obvious theme is the disconnect from one’s own identity. Tasya Vos mental capacity nears the breaking point being an inhabitant of numerous bodies and with each callous, bloodletting assignment, Vos’ indifference for the things she should hold dear strengthens immensely drowns in the persona of another person and the psyche breaking acts of violence. Her latest assassination attempt even blurs the lines of her sexuality as her feminine body parts merge with Colin’s masculinity in one of the craziest sex scenes to date. Colin’s individuality is too threatened but from Vos’ intrusion, equating the quiet, strange behavior to a sudden vagary toward a person’s dejection, being estranged from their own life, on the outside of “Possessor’s” alternate reality of science fiction’s hijacking of one’s brain. On the subject of intrusion, a not-so obvious theme, but certainly has a strong motif, is the severe invasion of privacy. Vos’ spying on Colin and his lover for personality intel, Vos’ inspection of the entire Colin body while inside inhabiting him, and the data mining of Sean Bean’s character’s tech company, which pries itself through the optics of people’s computer cameras to garner information, such as the fabric of window curtains in this case, divulge an uncomfortable message that privacy is a luxury we are unable to ever grasp. There’s even a scene where Vos, in Colin, becomes a voyeuristic participant of a couple’s explicit sexual intercourse during data mining work hours. Despite the breadth of technology that are brimming near our fingertips today, “Possessor” has a very analog approach with dials and switches of seemingly antiquated electronic circuits, thus rendering the story grounded in nuts and bolts rather than being lost in the overly saturated and stimulated advanced tech. Beguiling with a somber serenade, “Possessor’s” a highly-intelligent work of diverse, topical qualms seeded by years of body horror and existentialism and is released into a world that’s perhaps not ready to come to terms with much of the themes it will present.

Come October 2nd* to select drive-ins and theaters, “Possessor” will be distributed uncut by Neon, implanted in the midst of horror’s biggest month of the year. Since not a physical release as of yet, the A/V attributes will not be critiques, but the film is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio and is under the cinematography direction of Karim Hussain, who has previously worked with Brandon Cronenberg on his debut film, “Antiviral.” Hussain adds rich two-tone coloring for a symmetry of sterilization that is, essentially, white and black with every shade of both in between tinted slightly with a dull hue on the spectrum and with the blood being that much more graphically illuminated against the backdrop. There are moments of composites that could render a person disabled with epilepsy, so be warned. The audio is a smorgasbord of a jarring ambience and soundtrack, adding to “Possessor’s” fluxing turmoil, but the dialogue discerns a little less sharply across; there was difficulty in understanding characters’ monologues or discourse who came across mumbling through scenes of fuzzy earshot. There were no bonus materials to mention nor were there bonus scenes during or after the credits. Perhaps the best movie you won’t see this year, “Possessor’s” an impressive follow up feature that reaches out beyond the outlining border of a vast and prolific filmic shadow looming over the filmmaker, but Brandon Cronenberg contrives new vitiated wonderments and is capable of casting his own umbra that would eclipse to throw light onto his soon to be seen cathartic body of work.

 

* Release date correction (9/29/20)

EVIL Fillets Family Strife. “Broil” reviewed! (Well Go USA Entertainment / Blu-ray)

Chance Sinclair is a rebellious 17-year-old closeted lesbian and Catholic student.  After a couple of school related incidents she didn’t instigate, Chance’s parents send her to live with her despotic grandfather, August Sinclair, despite her parents’ reluctance.  August rules with an iron-fist not only with his grandchildren, but with his entire family of powerful elitists who have a dark secret – they’re actually soul harvesting demons preying on the malintents around the world and is headed by August.   When Chance’s parents want out of the family business and reclaim their daughter from August’s authoritative grip, they hire a culinary prodigy with a skill for assassinations for a grand dinner that’ll have the whole family in attendance.  Chance is ignorant of her family’s history and the balance of power is not the only stake served on the menu, but also Chance’s very soul hangs in the very midst of the Sinclair’s family game night of internal carnage. 

Like a Gothic storybook enclosed with deception, murder, and unhallowed demons at their last supper, “Broil” is a going to hell in a handbasket supernatural feast and an unholy coming-to-age sophomore feature from by the upcoming “Cosmic Sin” writer-director Edward Drake and co-written alongside Piper Mars.  The 2020 Canadian murder-for-hire thriller vies against the stylish similarities of the “Twilight” saga with well-groomed, well-off, and sophisticated groups of strangers bound as family from supernatural circumstances, but distills itself out the frivolous teeny-bop pulp and teen heartthrobs for a modestly R-rated cutthroat kindred melodrama by the netherworld’s most notorious soul-suckers, shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  “Broil” Is produced by “Cabin Fever 2:  Spring Fever” executive producer, Corey Large, and first time producer Kashif Pasta with 308 Entertainment (“It Follows”) and Good Complex serving as production companies. 

“Broil” doesn’t denote a lead character at the heart of this story, but pinpoints principles along a chaptered structure, signifying their importance by following them with an objective point of view.  The whole setup begins with the granddaughter, Chance Sinclair, who a bit rough around the edge and doesn’t play with her schoolmates, especially having an affinity for the same sex while being a student in a Catholic school, but that factoid doesn’t blossom into thing though be noted a couple of times.  Instead, Chance, played by Avery Konrad in her first principle character role, struggles with her teenage angst and hormones like any more adolescent, but she finds her educational woes pale in comparison under her family’s archaic secret ruled by the patriarchal domination of August Sinclair, a ruthless enforcer and head of the family business brought to an autocratic fruition by Irish actor Timothy V. Murphy (“Snowpiercer” television series). While Chance and August strongly convey a presence in the first act, Jonathan Lipnicki reins in the latter acts in an unexpressed spectrum performance of Sydney “The Chef” Lawson, a calculating killer taking out the transgressional trash informed by a mentor and father-like man named Freddie Jones, “Jason vs. Freddy’s” Lochlyn Munro, who may or may not have ulterior motives in exploiting The Chef’s gift for murder. Lipnicki’s work is a culinary delight in as much as The Chef’s actually culinary expertise, braising the character to eventually be the mainstay character. There are other exigent roles that seem important, but are only keystones that hold more principles roles from crumbling, such as Chance’s parents, June (Annette Reilly “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”) and December (Nels Lannarson “The Cabin in the Woods”) Sinclair, who initiate the murder-for-hire spark that set things in motion. Rounding out “Broil” is Corey Large, Megan Peta Hill, Abby Ross, Jenna Berman, Phoebe Miu, Alyson Bath, David Hennessey, John Cassini, and Kyra Zagorsky.

Playing out in chapters, “Broil” feels like a murder-mystery adapted from a on fleek novel written by a panache author from Switzerland, but from what I’ve researched, “Broil” is an original narrative only to be segmented to amass refined character details and redirect turn of events as they unfold. However, the chaptering aspect veers the narrative off course, careening “Broil” more toward edit oblivion that doesn’t layer the foundation properly causing as much confusion as the inhuman characters trying to decide whether the Sinclairs are either vampires, demons, witches, or some kind of incubus-succubus blend for a better part of the film. A theme that doesn’t withstand the pressures of Drake’s zigzag directional layout is the unholy atmosphere the Sinclair’s protrude into the world. Chance, who is ignorant of her lineage and of what she really is, turns crosses upside down, turns crucifix necklaces ablaze, and her family sends her unusual gifts like parceled decorated daggers as seen on sacrificial stones, but the satanic tropes cease to do little more than be hints bound to expose the Sinclair’s true selves and really nothing to do with Satan himself, leaving much of the Sinclair powers left unexplained, like their lightning speed and pulsating purple glow that illuminates in patches under the skin (another “Twilight” element?). The acting is palpable, even if it’s melodramatic and under a slew of unlikeable characters, and the story does throw a few notable curve balls, some wickedly diabolical knuckle curves involving eating a child, to intrigue an inch by inch progression of the story. “Broil” unsheathes moments of Gothic schadenfreude, but the moments are fleeting, too short and far in between, to swimmingly bask in the horror of demonic soul snatchers in the throes of a murderous coup d’état.

A delicacy unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, “Broil” is served onto a Blu-ray release as the plat de jour distributed by Well Go USA Entertainment. The unrated film is region A coded and presented in high-definition, 1080p, of a 16:9 widescreen format. Details on the image render very soft, undiscerning outlines that infuse where a person ends and the background begins, but as the lighting choices change from flared hues to more hard lighting, profiles are to take more shape. Director of photography Wai Sun Cheng, making his introduction into feature films, keeps the focus primary in the foreground, obscuring the backdrop just enough to make it still perceivable and mixes well in the extreme close ups with wide angled shots to not be a one trick cinematographer. The English language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio has severe troubles with Hugh Wielenga’s score tremendously overpowers everything else with a profound overlap. The composition is so unbalanced and loud that the resonating LFE completely drowns out the dialogue at times. “Broil” does not contain any feature specific special features other than a static menu containing upcoming previews of other Well Go USA films. Despite the title and the infernal nature, “Broil” is a dish served too cold with an unsavory plot of a young woman’s coming of age tribulations in midst of family squabbles and treachery that Edward Drake couldn’t quite fuse together.

Pre-order “Broil” at Amazon.com

A Lake Swimming With EVIL Off of “Mermaid Isle” reviewed! (WWMM and MVDVisual / DVD)


On a nearby island with an infamous past, four friends come to dock on the island from a pleasure craft cruise to explore the adjacent and serene lake surrounded by woods. What was supposed to be a fun, relaxing, and romantic getaway turns frantic when one of them accidently falls into the lake and is bitten by a mysterious unseen creature in knee high water. With a storm brewing and the bite affects worsening, the group takes shelter inside a seemingly abandoned lakeside cabin receiving an unwelcome and surprise greeting from an old woman who immediately wants to kill the injured party, but is bitten during the small skirmish and kills herself in total fear. Bewildered, the group remains in refuge from the storm, sleeping through the worst winds and rain only to wake up to find the injured and one other friend missing. Their search brings them back to the lake where they discover once bitten, there’s no saving you as the lake is a breeding ground for vicious, blood hungry mermaids, spreading their transformative contagion with a single bite. As the survivors contemplate next steps, the old woman’s delinquent adult son returns home to find mother dead and sets out to kill her murder.

Popping my mermaid horror cherry with the Jason Mills’ ravenous take on the mythical half-human, half-aquatic creature feature, “Mermaid Isle,” released in 2020. The writer-director debuted his first genre feature back in 2009 with an attic dwelling creature terrorizing an unsuspecting and already fragile and distraught family in “Above Us Lives Evil,” also more commonly known as “They Came from the Attic,” but it wasn’t until 2015 when “Above Us Evil Lives” came across our critical lap and was reviewed rather favorably for the filmmaker’s first credited venture with the following excerpt observing Mills as a “promising” director with “attributes that can contribute to the horror community” through the “strategical” use of knitting visual FX work with practical prosthetics to supply an effective heinous attic monster on a penny pinching purse string. Over a decade later, Mills continued his successful ability to turn around project after project of independent b-horror that includes the markings of spiraling madness with “The Changing of Ben Moore,” a joint home and alien invasion thriller with “Alone We Are Not,” and even tackling the mysterious and carnage-laden mythical sasquatch in “Bigfoot Country.” The director’s latest sea-faring fiends maintain the basic principle features of a fabled mermaid: an alluring, half-naked maiden on the top half with a marine flipper-tail at the bottom. Yet, “Mermaid Isle” explores the darker side of the mermaid mythology with a schlocky, self-funding of the plagued island concept with his own production company, Millspictures Studios.

“Mermaid Isle” is very character dependent to push the story along and toward the secluded residing lake since the story concept doesn’t involve any victims to be wound up stranded, buoying in the water, and surrounded by deadly and infectious mermaids creating a filthy amount of dire circumstances of harrowing survival. Instead, we doggie paddle along with bland, monotonous, and uninteresting characters played by bland, monotonous, and uninteresting actors riding the only wave of substance of the lead character (Mark Reinhardt) being rejected upon his proposal to his short term girlfriend (Kristina Soroff). The other two in the group, an assertive goth (“Bigfoot Country’s” Kiana Passmore) and tagalong friend (Samuel Buchanon), offer little to warrant their survival as they’re targeted for either mermaid chum or to be marked for warped evolution. The young cast never click together as on screen friends or form a frantic group with a correlating enemy, but rather seem underwhelmed by the lake inhabited by evil mermaids being the source of their dilemma. There was much more interested in the double sided danger foreboding around the old woman (Elinor Walker) and her bad new son (Dan Martinez), whose mysterious ruffian background surfaces to the top as he’s eager to turn his newfangled life of a straighten arrow path is squashed back into the miscreant he was once was by hunting down those responsible for his mother’s death, but that also fizzles into oblivion. Hope for the character emerges when he declares, “time to do some bitch fishing,” as an oath to, once again, contain the mermaid contagion from spreading by some noble crusade of, oh, I don’t know, spear fishing the hell out of the creatures or taking a dive into the depths of the unknown and do a little hand-to-flipper combat. Sadly, “Mermaid Isle” continues to miss chances rewarding viewers with potential much needed plights. The film rounds out with Liam Tait, Austin Richards, and Garnet Campbell in some unresolved, barely associating epilogue set four months later.

“Mermaid Isle” struggles to come up for air as an exalting mermaid horror, especially being released in 2020 amongst a sea of competing indie interests. Yet, Mill’s story spans over three and half decades beginning with a backstory, told through the words of newspaper clippings from 1983, honing in around a prefacing story of a father and son being murdered by a mermaid bitten daughter and transforms to ravage portion of the family. While the news clipping claim hoax, the mother, the old woman, who we visit in the story later at the cabin, is shuttled off by authorities to a psychiatric ward because of her rant and ravings about killer mermaids. While the slightly crafty, yet also chintzy soaked way to setup the film is engrossing enough to keep us interested at the start, the small budget stiffens any kind of any remotely rudimentary devices to then mingle man versus unnatural nature in a project too big for the budget’s britches. Further reaffirmations assume the assigning of multiple hats amongst the crew and cast, including Kiana Passmore is also the first assistant director, Garnet Campbell is the line producer, and the Mills and the Passmore families extending their services as credited Crafty and Location scouts. The story logical capsizes the moment the movie is popped into the player. For instance, the movie is entitled “Mermaid Isle,” but the Island is adjacent to a river and on the other side of that river is a lake so the premise really has nothing to do with the island, but rather a lake. The DVD back cover mentions the four friends attempting to conjure (spelled conjueron the back cover); yet, there’s none of that conjuring jazz and nothing to affix the detached epilogue to the rest of the film, as previous stated. Lastly, the DVD front cover has more gore, more skin, and even a shark in the water. Low and behold, none of those enamors exists. I will say this about “Mermaid Isle,” the mermaid itself looks convincing, obscured enough around the seams and the physical fish tale to pull off an effective mermaid creature with pitch black eyes and a face flush with hunger.

If feeling adventurous, jump into the deadly waters of Jason Mills’ “Mermaid Isle” on DVD courtesy of World Wide Multimedia Entertainment, an affiliate of Alchemy Works, and MVDVisual. The not rated, 80 minute feature, is presented in a widescreen presentation, 1.66:1 aspect ratio, and the overall video image quality is not too terrible, but lacks breadth of color, compressing the details of the woods, the rocky lake shore, the old cabin, and the snow-covered trees more favorably than would have expected. Some aliasing during more actiony sequences in the water with the mermaid swimming. The English language 5.1 surround sound mix is a complete lackluster in regards to dialogue. The muffled vocals are nearly indiscernible levels for more than half the dialogue track and heavily overshadowed by ambient mix and, a bright spot on the release, the Thomas Beckman viola that almost feels too Renaissance to be paired with “Mermaid Isle.” Aside from a static menu with chapters, there were no special features included. Having no point of refence having never seen “The Lure,” “She Creature,” or even “The Mermaid: Lake of the Dead,” “Mermaid Isle” sinks the aquatic humanoid subgenre deep into Davy Jones locker for greenhorn viewers, but bares intrigue at times with the idea of a menacingly unfathomable creature stirring in the blue waters, sloshing up enough to give you the creeps and not bother with the movie itself.

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWcq9bQGb6I]

“Mermaid Isle” available on DVD. Click the poster.