Tribes at War makes for Eternal EVIL. “The Secret of Sinchanee” reviewed! (Vertical Entertainment / Digital Screener)



Watch “The Secret of Sinchanee” on Amazon Prime Video

Deerfield, Massachusetts – 1995 – a young boy becomes the sole survivor after a drifter senselessly massacres his mother and sister during the Christmas holiday while his father was out of town.  25 years later, Will Stark, that once little surviving boy now haunted by his past, bothers not live outside expectations and to be left alone to a life of normalcy, even working at the same industrial towing company his father once worked managed, but when the untimely death of mentally unstable father, who battled dissociative identity disorder and depression, among other psychological problems stemmed by the tragic loss of a wife and daughter, leaves Will inheriting his childhood home, the same home where the gruesome murders took place, Will’s life becomes anything but mundane with a house pulsating with malevolent paranormal energy connected to the sacred land it’s built on.  Searching for an ancient talisman, unyielding entities exploit Will to stop at nothing and kill anyone to get back what is theirs lost 25 years ago.

Shot on location around the snowy banks of Deerfield, Massachusetts comes the Steven Grayhm written and directed “The Secret of Sinchanee with a folkloric backstory set in New England about a feud between an invulnerable indigenous people versus malicious pagan settlers stretching over time into present day with an ancient artifact as the centerpiece to possession and murder.  The “House of Dust” and “Crash Site” actor steps into his first feature directorial and writing project with a story that crosses paths the hereditary burden of lineage bred mental issues with the tribalistic supernatural forces, opening with text origins of the longstanding rival feud between the selfless mysticism and disease immune Sinchanee people and the black magic disciples of Atlantow who seek to snuff out the Sinchanee bloodline.  The 2021 American made film is the first product of the Steven Grayhm and Nate Boyer co-founded, military veteran empowering Team House Studios and presented by Truth Entertainment. 

Not only does Steven Grayhm write and direct “The Secret of Sinchanee,” the Canadian actor also helms the lead as Will Stark, the town-talked recluse troubled by his grisly past.  Quiet and unphased by the strange nightmares and powerful visions inside his father’s house, Stark gradually becomes an entranced pawn and Grayhm poses a lifeless, wandering shell of a man honestly enough but on paper, Stark never questions the housebound oddities or even shed a lick of emotion when his dog, his only companion, vanishes.  Grayhm just kind of sleepwalks through the performance which I’m sure was his intended purpose since, you know, he wrote and directed the film.  In a parallel plane, detectives and marital exes, Carrie Donovan (Tamara Austin, “The Walking Dead”) and Drew Carter (Nate Boyer), embroil themselves into a Deerfield homicide case despite their past differences and their shared preteen daughter (Laila Lockhart Kraner).  Though not playing a footballer or someone in the armed forces, Carter steps into law enforcement as Boston PD and though Massachusetts is not a big state, I’m not sure a Boston detective would travel 120 miles outside of the city to continuing investigating a Boston murder in the rural sticks of Deerfield.  The entire dynamic between the local Donovan and the big city Carter plays to unresolved subversive tune of Carter taking advantage of the moment in order to rekindle the spark with his ex-wife or, perhaps, just be close to this daughter.  Obviously some personal tension between them but rarely does that tension surface to endorse strife as Donovan is carried away the homicide case, taking her investigation to an unlawful next level by trespassing onto Stark’s land and inside his house to be spooked by the spirits’ distorted reflection of herself.  Somewhere in the trio of leads lie a more meaningful connection that’s more muddled by individual character, side story offshoots, leaving what’s most important to the film scattered profoundly thin to meet the bar.  What also doesn’t bode well for Grayhm’s debut is the late introduction of a key Sinchanee descendent, Solomon Goodblood, played by Rudy Reyes who starred alongside our horror community gal pal, Diana Prince, in “Beach Massacre at Kill Devil Hills,” who intercedes for his fading bloodline as a shaman against Atlantow. 

Speaking of Atlantow, there is hardly a sense or a tangibility to the sect God plaguing the Stark family going on for decades now and that sides more with the mental instability theme of a family with a history of mental illness coinciding the allusions of one’s own internalized battle with trauma, insomnia, and past down disorders to manifest tragedy into a shared psychosis of Atlantow’s sinister and manipulative craft.  Perceived heinous actions, such as modern day scalping or wielding a tomahawk, can be seen as someone possessed with incoherent malintent because that traumatized person’s survival’s guilt warps them so.  Unfortunately, the story’s jumble beyond one aortic premise and spreads the whole concept thin without hardly touching upon the Sinchanee and Atlantow quarrel as noted in the opening text that laid out the intentions of a contentious war between good versus evil.  In the film’s reality, “The Secret of Sinchanee” is about two cops stumbling into Atlantow’s business in trying to find a sacred artifact.  We’re not even granted the reason why this talisman, a decently sized arrowhead, is terribly significant to the dark forces of Atlantow aside from vocal desperation in the object’s return to sacred ground.  Is “The Secret of Sinchanee” more aligned with themes of desecration of sacred land?  The meddling of a once proud culture now lost?  Not much clarity among the variety of circumstances happening inside Grayhm’s runtime lengthy debut picture other than the surface level possession and the cops’ investigation that motivates them into the paranormal situation.

Under the executive producer team of Joe Newcomb (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and Jose Martinez Jr, “The Secret of Sinchanee” is now available on Digital HD and On Demand this month of October, released by Vertical Entertainment.  With a runtime just shy of two hours, 115 minutes, the film will be available on all major cable and digital platforms, including Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, Comcast, Cox, and Spectrum, as well as playing in select theaters. Though an indie picture, production value pinnacles the budget, shot cleanly by Logan Fulton using an ARRI Alexa camera to capture the serene snow covered wooded landscapes of typical rural New England while succumbing to remain steady in the clean-cut darkness and warmer hues when things go bump in the night. Definitely not much camera movement, but the still shots, mostly medium to closeup, are framed properly without an any abnormality, providing just enough evidences to keep viewers on edge, while sprinkling in a Dutch angle or two to encourage anxiety where due. No special features included with this digital screener nor were any bonus scenes present during or after the credits. “The Secret of Sinchanee” remains private under a lock and key guise of mental illness and consigned to oblivion of parentage without breaking through those cognizant barriers to fully grasp a ancient tribal hatred that spills beyond normal time and space.

Rats! EVIL Got Out! “The Mutation” reviewed (Uncork’d Entertainment / Digital Screener)

Three detectives and a zoologist and his assistant don’t exactly know what they’re hunting down. An unknown animal has brutally killed two people, including the scientist experimenting on it after breaking loose from his lab. Keeping close tabs on the scientist’s wife who’s eager for revenge, the investigators discover through DNA residue and a first hand attack that an uranium mutated lab rat, now the size of a human, is the responsible culprit terrorizing the city. Behind every dumpster, lurking in the sewers could be the giant, killer rat hungry for a next meal and it’s up to the desperate detectives and the zoologist to stop the creature before devouring the city whole.

Giant, mutant Rats!  The antisocial Willard isn’t back to his own vengeful tricks again nor has Bruno Mattei risen from his Eurotrash grave to resurrect a rodent-infested sequel to “Nights of Terror.”  No, this scuttling little creature feature isn’t so little in Scott Jeffrey’s 2021, man-in-a-body-suit terrorizing schlocker “The Mutation.”  Last time we covered a Scott Jeffrey written and directed project, the modern day serial B-horror director was breaking hearts (well, more like, puncturing them really) with his Valentine’s Day massacre slasher “Cupid” that saw the winged and chubby, love-matching cherub be only a figment of fables and myths as, in reality, Cupid’s broken, maligned heart aims to sever relationships, and sever heads, with his deadly bow and arrow and ninja star-like greeting cards.  Giant rats don’t need a holiday to wreak havoc in this United Kingdom independent film production from Scott Jeffrey’s own Jagged Edge Productions.

Battling against the rat’s superior stealth and strength is a cast of Jeffrey film regulars beginning with lead Ricardo Freitas as the zoologist Allen Marsh.  The upcoming “Conjuring The Plastic Surgeon 2” actor reteams alongside fellow “Bats” costar Amanda-Jade Tyler, who plays a medical doctor hellbent on exterminating an adversary fed up being a lab rat.  Other than their word, Freitas and Tyler exhibit little of their vocations and with “The Mutation’s” limited budget, to expect a hospital or zoo setting shouldn’t be on the realistic table, but aside from a little backstory about Marsh’s team work and a flimsy explanation of genetic manipulation testing, the characters’ poor technical knowledge, compounded by a lack of thespian vigor, ultimately becomes clear that what should be a rich in trait zoologist Allen Marsh and Dr. Linda Rowe are nothing more than a pair of regular commoners caught in in the middle of an investigation.  Megan Purvis (“It Came From Below), Andrew Rolfe (“Amityville Scarecrow”), and Jamie Robertson (“Conjuring the Genie”) spearhead the investigation as a hapless trio of officiating authority bumbling through the case.  I can literally see the figurative question marks over top of the actors’ heads, unable to detach and discern their character confusion about a humanoid rat terrorizing the city and their actual confusion about how to portray cops on a case.  Rounding out the cast of character is Sarah T. Cohen (“Hotel Inferno III: The Castle of Screams”), Abi Casson Thompson (“Cupid”), Nick Danan, and “A Werewolf in England’s” Derek Nelson who goes from a canine howling at the moon to an upright, human life-size rodent snapping necks at a posh restaurant in “The Mutation.”

Yes.  You read that last bit correctly.  Forget the transmission black plague that killed multi-millions of people, those rats are wimpy mice compared to a killer rat that understands how to meticulously break a human cervical vertebrae with uranium produced opposing thumbs.  The mutation not only granted the rat unnaturally large mass and superhuman strength but also instill lethal ninja abilities as the all hell breaks loose restaurant scene is pure rat-cheesy carnage.  Much of “The Mutation” is heavily moist in campy bog, hobbling on a fine line of either being intentional or unintentional with spotty dense character moments played off earnestly, such as Marsh looking directly into a lab ring light after turning it on himself and exclaiming, “god damn,” as he recoils from the blinding brightness is the most stupidly funny part of the film.  My guess is if “The Mutation” wields a man running around in a scruffy and latex snarly rat costume offing city denizens then more than likely the campy category is the former with a misguided sincere shot at adding gravity to the narrative.  Though overflowing with an abundance of bottom-barrel scenarios and inscrutable character head scratching, “The Mutation” does have select satisfying moments of post-mutilation gore and a neo-monstrous CGI rat briefly holding all the cards in the finale. From my little time with the filmmaker, Scott Jeffrey makes good with palpable bloodshed and kitsch visual effects, but the stale white bread acting pitches up a conspicuously lopsided crushing blow that can’t be ignored.

If you suffer from Musophobia then “The Mutation” is great cathartic exposure therapy, gnawing at the flesh and bone and toward DVD home video and Digital platforms today, October 5th, courtesy of Uncork’d Entertainment. Since a digital screen was provided for review coverage, the DVD home video release’s A/V aspects will not be analyzed in this critique; however, as far as the film’s appearance goes, Charles Jeffrey’s cinematography saturates our hairy rat-agonist in blue hues during more personal kill moments, but the backlighting is terrific, almost channel an 80’s slasher-esque of backlit vibrancy, when the man-rat is nothing but a silhouette perched on top of a trash dumpster. Classy. Yet, typical of many low-budget films, “The Mutation” is mostly otherwise softly lit that beams and ricochets lighting right off the skin, creating an overly polished varnish no self-respecting scummy rat would be caught dead in, and really could have benefit toning down the washout blue tint that steals from the details and the impact of earlier scenes. Specs are limited with no information on the DVD nor the rating or bonus content. With a creature that resembles more like a long-tailed gremlin than an oversized disease carrying rat, that’s the least of “The Mutation’s” troubles as Scott Jeffrey’s radioactive-rodent creature feature can’t find it’s four-legged footing with a languid cast and a disheveled script that gore alone can’t rescue.

Honey’s Sweet, But There’s EVIL in the “Royal Jelly” reviewed! (Uncork’d Entertainment / Digital Screener)



Bee careful what you wish for in this apiary tale that tells a story of high school misfit, Aster, an easy target for unsympathetic pubescent bullies, including the continuing at-home abuse from her half-sister, Drew, and pitiless stepmother.  With neither school or home being a safe retreat, Aster finds comfort in an unorthodox and brash substitute female teacher who has taken a shine to Aster and provides her shelter when she’s distraught after discovering her collection of apiary beehives was maliciously destroyed in an act of malice.  After living with her teacher and her son for some time, they exhibit strange behaviors, develop skin rashes, and Aster begins to notice that she doesn’t quite feel like herself either as her safe haven is unveiled as a façade for her grooming to become the next hive queen.   

“Royal Jelly” isn’t exactly the killer bee movie you’d be expecting.  Writer-director Sean Riley invites a new take of the Apiformes horror subgenre outside the beehive of being per se a creature feature with his new film, “Royal Jelly.”  And, yes, even though tiny in size, bees are still tiny creatures with mighty (painful) stingers.  Those not familiar with the term royal jelly, other than it being an unique title for Riley’s sophomore feature, royal jelly is the honey bee secretion from glands located in the hypopharynx and is the chief nourishment for colony’s larvae.  See!  Who says horror movies can’t be education?  Somehow, someway the Baton Rouge, Louisiana-born director found malefic inspiration secreting from his metaphorical hypopharynx domiciled glands and packages with it a paralleling an all too familiar fairy tale crowdfunded by Indiegogo backers, second feature funded this way behind his breakout directorial of the comedy “Fighting Belle,” and Riley’s Integral Motion Pictures.

Now, who is this leading lady willing to be misled into a turned-out humanoid life sized queen bee?  The University of Southern Mississippi Fine Arts graduate Elizabeth McCoy, of course.  The Greater New Orleans actress slips into an quasi-goth cladded outcast Aster sporting fishnet stockings and a black graphic t-shirt promoting the band Queen, a bit of fitting foreshadowing if I’ve ever come across one.  Before being bequeathed the hive throne, McCoy has to render Aster a meek existence made small by the death of her beekeeper mother backstory and surrounded by loneliness stemmed by an abusive sister and stepmother and a coward of a father.  The only joy made clear in Aster’s life is her bees.  When her apiaries are decimated, that is when high school sub Tresa (Sherry Lattanzi) flies in and shelters Aster under her wing that makes for an odd couple combination that’s one part predatory teacher fraternizing with a vulnerable student and one part comical motherhood to see McCoy tower over a short Lattanzi who is in this insect sovereign role. Doesn’t Darwin always say the strongest always survive? I guess there’s nothing in Darwinism about the tallest. Lattanzi expresses Tresa about as audaciously enigmatic as they come with little-to-no story arc to move in accord with as Tresa just shows up, out of the blue, and after a scene where Aster’s teacher has had his throat slit and I’m still trying to fathom the plot hole of how the hell Tresa entered the frame so quickly, as a substitute teacher, without ever laying eyes on Aster until stepping into her classroom. Sparse is the name of the game as Tresa, as well as Aster, are poorly written without much density and neither actress can pull off miracles adding layers to already rotten onion. The rest of the cast includes Raylan Ladner, Lucas T. Matchett, Fiona McQuinn, Jonas Chartock, and Jake McCoy.

Pulling inspiration from Roger Corman’s “The Wasp Woman,” Riley’s “Royal Jelly” ditches the experimental cosmetics for timeless folk lore while still vaunting a Corman class cinema gooey with bee secretion center. Instead of an enchanting tale of rags to riches, this loose Cinderella adaptation comes with all the classic hallmarks like an evil stepmother, a wicked stepsister, and a fairy godmother manifesting Aster’s dreams on the spot, but instead of a magical wand and a pointy hat, this fairy godmother comes in the form of a personified bee queen wearing a façade of a presumptuous substitute teacher. Riley’s openly emblematic killer bee story could go one or two ways. 1 – Aster is actually being groomed by a bee queen to take over her hive as a homolog event to Aster’s earlier class presentation on the eusocial bee social organization or 2 – Aster has snapped due to bullying and she’s daydreaming, hallucination, or dead and the bee-havorial chaos she’s experiencing is either in her head or is sardonic Hell. I like the second theory better over the first as I don’t find Aster’s sprouting of inorganic and rigid Halloween costume bee wings and a makeshift stinger, that appears more phallic than necessary, to be enticing me with a freakish reality. I still can’t get over the possibility of a predator allegory as a big truck cruising Tresa targets Aster to mate with her “sons” “Henry” or “David” to produce a heir of sorts. Either way you slice into Sean Riley’s “Royal Jelly,” little feels right story-wise with the delimited, bareboned farmhouse and apiary analogy and with the flighty characters leaving all their aces on the table which Riley scarcely goes back to address, such as with Aster’s family who just disappear from the story altogether though scenes of her snide stepsister showing slithers of guilt and sympathy go unfounded.

The bee invasion has landed with Uncork’d Entertainment’s release of Sean Riley’s “Royal Jelly” this September on all digital platforms From the unhinged “Homewrecker” to the love you to death “Cupid,” Uncork’d Entertainment distributes a wide berth of independent horror, stretching to all home entertainment platforms, and acquires the bee-horror “Royal Jelly” that fits into the company’s catalogue. Since released digital, the audio and visual aspects won’t be given the once over. Jonathan Hammond (“Attack of the Southern Friend Zombie”) serves as cinematographer who’s overexposed day scenes are starkly contrasted by the night scenes’ hard lighting slathered with an unforgiven blue tint. The inconsistent visual styles and slips, such as unfocused, blurry scenes at the dinner table near the beginning of the story, clash in the 94 minute runtime. Joe Hodges lays down a common brooding industrial score that’s not half-bad as the melodies change with the extent of the solid sound design. Stay tuned post credits scene for a millennial targeted public service announcement to protect and support the bee way of life by scanning a QR code to receive information on how to exactly do that. Pleasantly informative and certainly unusual, “Royal Jelly” evinces more the echelons of bee society and lot less the terror of horror and that takes a lot of the sting of Riley’s film, making this bee killer movie a total buzz kill.

Own or Rent “Royal Jelly” on Amazon Prime Video

EVIL Lays All the Cards on the Table. “As the Village Sleeps” reviewed! (Indie Rights / Digital Screener)

Sarah is throwing a birthday party at her stepdad’s large house on Indian reservation land.  What should have been a quiet, boozy night with a handful of close girlfriends turns into a bigger and tense shindig of drugs and alcohol when her ex-boyfriend’s band and her step brother and sister unexpectedly show up at her doorstep.  With them comes a game, called Lynched, her ex purchased at the nearby gas station, but after playing, then drinking, the night away, the quickly find out the game is far from being over.  The mysterious card game comes to life, pitting friend as foe, and Sarah’s friends disappear one-by-one in the order of their in game deaths.  Leveled heads tip in the balance of fear and loss as the game plays havoc on their psyche, creating nightmare visions and that feeling of being watched and hunted, and the rules are anything goes when the game goes halfheartedly unfinished.

Werewolves.  Witches.  Vindictive townsfolk.  Murder.  Lynched, the game, sounds like an intense and medieval whodunit that insidiously presents mistrust into who you think are your closest friends and allies.  An interesting setup for the Chloë Bellande penned and Terry Spears directed 2021 released horror-mystery thriller, “As the Village Sleeps.”  The feature is Bellande’s first produced script based off her short, “While the Village Sleeps,” she wrote and directed in 2012 and with a few tweaks to the characters and location, the “American Terror Story” and “Hell’s Belle” director Spears, whose career as a musician only recently sought expansion into filmmaking, depicts that some games should never be played.   The independent film is a production of Spears’ 19 Artists Development and is co-produced by Kris Young as well as award-winning producer Gray Frederickson of “Apocalypse Now” and “UHF.”

Starring in her first feature film, Eleonora Saravalle has to be puzzler piecing together the deadly mystery intruding upon her character’s remote birthday bash.  The rather tall Saravalle is paired up with a rekindling love interest in the rather short Oliver Rotunno in their respective roles of Sarah and Alex who hold onto a sparkle with a rough patch in a rocky relationship history that stays in the past never to be fleshed out from their backstory involving Sarah dumping Alex for unsaid reasons.  That dimly lit sparkle doesn’t really shine through much between Saravalle and Rotunno with a dynamic resembling more big sister and little brother than crisscrossed lovers.  More so than the sibling rivalry from Sarah’s stepsister Tala (Shiah Luna, “Age of the Living Dead”), and stepbrother Jacey (Daniel Olguin) with an uptight and contentious static background noise that, again, fails to come to ahead about why Tala is stubbornly irritated with Sarah; instead, the attempt at building something more between them during shared terror experience quickly fizzles out of complacency without so much as a hurdle to make their bond more impactful.  None of the characters are terribly impressive or worthy enough for sympathy, not even the flawed ones had any emotional weight when meeting their maker, falling into uncomplex tropes stapled to the genre such as with the naïve party girl Connie (Chloe Caemmerer), the immature rocker Matt (Rane Thomason), and the I-hate-city-slickers town cop (Mark Adam Goff).  The more interesting characters, like the old, long in the tooth, gas station attendant who sold the game and walks to work every early morning, doesn’t receive the time of day though very important to the plot.  “As the Village Sleeps” rounds out the cast with Michael Gum, Tyler Malinauskas, Kenzie Leigh Spears, Victoria Strange, Winnie Du, and Otis Watkins as the elusive Midnight.

“As the Village Sleeps” has too many strikes against it to ignore.  Between significant plot holes, underdeveloped characters, snuffed out offshoot side stories, and an arterial scenario struggling to stay cohesive by a bunch of no-named actors, who more or less do okay in their lackluster residing roles, the already low-budget production deserves every grain of a derisible reaction with its horrifying-veneered derivative hand at “Jumanji.”  Instead of a stampede of elephants, a ferocious crocodile, and a hairy Robin Williams being roused from out of the board game world by the roll of the dice, the card game Lynched barely rears itself back into the fold after the players supposedly don’t finish the game in order to drink themselves into a stupor.  Only just a handful of cards reappear on the spot where those disappeared, turning the game into a supernaturally present character without ever manifesting tangibility and that becomes a running motif for Spears’ film, that lack of finishing something to elicit a gratifying arc of completion.  We see fragmentary elements everywhere with the aforementioned character dynamics between Sarah and Alex and Sarah and Tala, the unresolved routes of unearthing the game’s racist atrocities against Native American origins by investigating the obvious gas station merchant Midnight who sold our protagonists the game, and the characters who don’t disappear at the game’s hands, but just vanish without so much of a word about their fate.  From what I’ve briefly watched, Bellande’s 2012 short would be a tad improvement over the 2021 release and might be more worthwhile with a mindful production value that’s more attuned to being budget friendly and a sound design that’s not a stock file folly with depthless growling wolves and overexaggerated footsteps.  The overall experience just might be more pleasant. 

Become lost and hunted down in the gameplay of “As the Village Sleeps” now available on Amazon, currently free with Prime Video, under the distribution of Indie Rights Movies with more streaming platforms to be announced.  Titus Fox serves as the film’s cinematographer whose most intriguing scenes are under the latticed deck.  Between the combination of steady and handheld camera work, Fox implements a voyeuristic and stalking POV of the shadowy werewolves coupled with the stark contrast between black negative space and sphere of torch light.  The scenes are brief but well-executed to drawn some visual aesthetic and sense of threat with the remaining cinematography reliant on common swivel panning and edited stationary positions.  There are no extras or bonus scenes accompanying this streaming release.  Whether be the filmmaking inexperience of Terry Spears, Bellande’s perforated story, or the limitations on the production and sound design, “As the Village Sleeps” should be slept through to not rouse exhaustion from consistent frustration. 

“As the Village Sleeps” is available on Prime Video!

EVIL Has an Unbreakable Glass Ceiling. “The Five Rules of Success” reviewed (Ambassador Film Group / Digital Screener)

Upon his release from a long prison stint, a man incarcerated into the system since a young boy tries his hand succeeding in the outside world.  Alone with no family or friends for support and looking to keep his nose clean, he designs his own set of rules for success, including responsibly checking in periodically with his hardnose parole officer and saving up enough money and knowledge working at a restaurant to open his own.  When the path seems clear and everything seems to be falling into place for his chances as success, societal temptations gnaw at him as negative influencers tempt to steer him astray and his own goals try to illicitly fast track his efforts.  Will he fall into crooked society’s trap or will he persevere to reach his aspirations? 

Hard knocks.  That’s the simple, raw core theme of Orson Oblowitz’s “The Five Rules of Success.”  The 2021 crime-thriller is the third directorial from the “Corbin Nash” co-producer, but the second penned script following his debut, a seedy L.A. underbelly thriller “The Queen of Hollywood Blvd” from 2017.  The story is the first for co-writer Christian de Gallego who steps out of his international sales executive role to put his ideas onto paper.  As compelling as any story could be mirroring the struggles of a downtrodden ex-con in a society that browbeats and takes advantage of those on good intentions to rebuild, “The Five Rules of Success” is also a visual quest of imagery and color, produced and distributed by the Ambassador Film Group with de Gallego producing and Apurva Patel as executive producer. 

Stepping into his lead man shoes debut is Santiago Segura (“47 Meters Down,” “Scream: The TV Series”) playing the mastermind behind the five rules of success as X, as in X could be anybody.  However, X couldn’t have been more invested into than what Segura put into the story’s character as a man left to his own devices, without support, without a comforting presence, and without much guidance.  Segura’s range is limited to a monotone stare and tough guy attitude that never wavers or breaks and you have to wonder what X is fighting for to make his ambitious dream a reality?  Where does his determination root?  The fact that there is an absence in a grounding, sobering symbol all the more makes X more susceptible to the deeper end of society’s morality pool.  Along his rise up from the ashes, X meets colorfully sordid individuals feeding off his vulnerability due to either being on probation or stereotyped as being inclined to be favorable toward criminal activity…you know, being released from prison and all.  He’s befriended by Danny (Jonathan Howard, “Godzilla:  King of the Monsters”), a drug using goon who works alongside X at his father’s restaurant.  “Crocodile 2:  Death Swamp’s” Jon Sklaroff plays the stark contrasted Greek immigrant father, restaurant owner, and disappointed father to Danny.  Sklaroff and Howard couldn’t be more adversarial as a hardworking immigrant father who struggled to get to where he is today and a silver spoon fed son throwing his life away with riffraff, drugs, and as the restaurant’s cook.  The relationship formed between X and Sklaroff’s character is the wishful dreaming that X couldn’t be the son he never had and all X has to do is be patient and listen to a little friendly advice.  A more brazen and mysterious obstacle in X’s path is his parole officer, Emma, whose uppity authority holds X’s freedom in the palm of her hand played by Isidora Goreshter.  The line is blurry whether Emma has either the hots for X or is secretly a sadist and Goreshter offers to uphold that inscrutable presence with unscrupulous tactics. 

One way to crave out the meaning behind Oblowitz’s film is to not be standing high-and-mighty on greener pastures.  “The Five Rules of Success” sensationalizes real time problems with our prison system and the after effects of walking out a free man after years, if not decades, from a life that’s all you know to a life you know nothing about.  X’s past burdens him immensely as flashbacks, denoted in literal quick flashed cuts, of the downward spiral turning point in his childhood find their way into his determined route to success.  Ultimately, the past and present are one in the same where society sees not a boy, not a man, not a person, but a criminal and how we as a society be contemptuous of former convicts released back into our soicalled perfect public community.  There’s parallelism between each chaptered rule and the downward progression he sustains in his associations with the wrong people that start to twist his mindset, his rules, into the very unlawful reprehensible activities he tries very hard to avoid. Oblowitz does a nice job detailing X’s habits as a loner, working out his pent up frustrations by exercising, shadow boxing, and refining his rules, but the root of all evil is hard to ignore as cold hard cash, easy money for one of Danny’s illicit jobs, begins to lay out the possible steps to skip in order to fulfill his own ambition.  Despite the momentary monotone mishandlings from Segura, the story is well-written and mostly well played out with some scenes more intense than others with the subject material as you begin finding yourself rooting for the ex-con and booing the very society you yourself live in scot-free. 

Clocking in with a runtime at 83 minutes, “The Five Rules of Success” symbolizes the ups and mostly downs in the here and now game of chutes and ladders.  Having been released last month, July 30, be sure to check out the unrated feature available for purchase on your preferred platform of either iTunes or Amazon released by the Ambassador Film Group.  Oblowitz doesn’t just write-and-direct the film, but he also serves as cinematographer dabbling in a Kafkaesque arranged world with hints of tint, hints of different lenses, hints at overexposures, hints at strobe, and more.  Nearly every scene is comprised of a different shooting technique or editing visual that may or may not possibly induce a seizure as forewarned during the preface.  Stylistically, I can only compare and describe “The Five Rules of Success” as this:  Stanley Kubrick’s “2001:  A Space Odyssey” meets Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream.”  As far as extras go, there’s a quaint, no major dialogue memorandum scene after the end credits that speaks to vicious circles and permanency.  For a L.A. shot film that has more technique than bite, “The Five Rule of Success” is a success of an auteur’s written storytelling as well as the visual understanding of just how to tell that story in a surrealistic context. 

Rent or Buy “The Five Rules of Success” on Prime Video!