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

Pornstar Priya Rai Couldn’t Erect this Evil! “Isis Rising: Curse of the Lady Mummy” review!

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King Osiris and his black magic queen Isis rule ancient Egypt and were beloved by all. All except Osiris’s brother Set whose envy led to the murderous slain of Osiris. Isis, heartbroken and vengeful, tries to use her black magic to rise Osiris from the grave and seek revenge on all who wished their demise. In the middle of Isis’s ritual, Set interrupts and decides to dismember his brother’s body in order for the ritual not come to fruition and snaps Isis’s neck to ensure his will, but Isis’s vow to return and curse anyone who stands in her way. Present day, a college research group along side an Egyptian historian stay overnight at a closed history museum to study closely lost Egyptian artifacts. Isis’s spirit is accidentally released from her sarcophagus and seeks to finish what she began by taking the body parts from the research students in order to reconstruct the body her love Osiris and put the world into an eternal damnation.

“Isis Rising: Curse of the Lady Mummy” resembles the much loved late night Cinemax skin flicks without any of the nudity or the sex. All the elements are there: busty women, bad acting, and the underlined plot that is overshadowed by the soft core love scenes. From the DVD cover and the two well established porno industry actors in this film, one would, without a doubt, conclude that “Isis Rising” would fall right into the middle of that sleazy category. What the Lisa Palenica directed film is is a C-movie production that attempts to take itself seriously in the horror genre with completed results that are whole-heartedly felt in micro-budget, non-horrific, and non-stimulating, efforts.
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Priya Rai is a big busted porn star of Indian background and she headlines the film as the vengeful Isis and while Priya isn’t riding the big Egyptian camel hump, her role is severely limited in dialogue and in on screen appearances. Isis’s powers include turning into a digestible body inhabiting mist, fireball conjuring, and teleportation, but Isis’s real threats are her massive chest bombs – bigger and pointier than the great Egyptian pyramids themselves. To be technical about the film’s title, Isis isn’t even a mummy. Yet the film’s subtitle is “Curse of the Lady Mummy.” The definition of mummy is the preservation of the body by removing internal organs and treat the body with resins and wraps. Isis is more like a spiritual demon and this oil should ought to be bettered labeled and regarded as “Curse of the Lady Egyptian” rather than “Curse of the Lady Mummy.” That is, if you wanted to be technical.
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James Bartholet, mainly a supporting actor in all those XXX parody movies, makes his presence felt as the bumbling and perverted security guard Harry. The rest of the cast is rounded out with relatively unknowns with minor film credits to their names. Director Lisa Palenica also had a role in the film as Felicia, the goth girl who probably received one of the better death scenes in the movie. The characters are a rather stereotypical horror ensemble. There is the jock, the nerd, the hot chick, her goth-hipster friend, the nerdy asian girl, and pot head who ends up smoking the resurrection essence that awakens Isis from her slumber dooming all to savagry, as well as seductively, of detaching limbs and heads from the characters’ bodies. The only character that has girth and background value is Isis with her tragic backstory filled with treachery and black magic. Killing off characters is a lot more understandable when there is a motive.
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The special effects are truly shameful, especially in a time where CGI has been perfected to the point where anybody with a Mac computer can create stunning effects. “Isis Risings” doesn’t even seem to try by implementing seriously awkward post-CGI effects, Halloween prop store plastic severed limbs, and even going as far as adding in fake exhaled smoke from our essence-high smokers. Some of the Egyptian scenes in the beginning reminded me of how Mortal Kombat 1 and 2 looked on a Sega Genesis console with the still background and the engaged, superimposed fighters. Some of the more practical effects where encouraging, but only a few scenes had those types of effects.
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“Isis Rising: Curse of the Lady Mummy” resurrects another disappointment in the ever-failing Egyptian related horror genre. When will Brendan Frasier’s “The Mummy” ever be dethroned? Perhaps Alexandre Aja’s “The Pyramid” will be the next ruler of such said genre. Tom Cat Films, a production company much like Asylum Entertainment, develops the film into reality but “Isis” fails to wrap itself into a neat little mummified package of terror. I would rather have seen more of Priya Rai conducting ominously seductive measures in her quest of blood and resurrection and a little more effort in the effects, because if you’re going to have a porn star headline your film, you might as well go all Sasha Grey-out and make the experience worth wild. But don’t take my word for it and judge for yourself by heading over to MVDVisual and purchasing “Isis Rising: Curse of the Lady Mummy.”

Evil Thoughts: Out with the Old, In with the New?

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Masters of horror. You know. Those legendary filmmakers that become iconic in our beloved genre. The monumental men who made history by evolving the monsters, killers, and madmen to the very monsters, killers, and madmen we see today on the big and small screen. These giants of horror are household names to ordinary film fans and Gods to those who dedicate their lives just to live in a moment in a very small portion of their foot heel shadow. You, reading this op-ed, know the very names of these directors without even me mentioning their names. For those who are virgin to horror, however,…

George A. Romero
John Carpenter
Wes Craven
Stuart Gordon
Tobe Hooper
Joe Dante
Clive Barker

The list could go on with more familiar names. Familiar. That seems like a term for old people now, like myself, the thirty-years of living on this planet. Why is ‘familiar’ now for the old fogies? For one, I don’t think much of the younger generation are aware, or even respect, the above list of names. And why should they? Because, secondly, those listed about have done squat in, I don’t know, how many years? Think about. The Masters of Horror are no longer producing any great horror films and there seems to be no clear cut answer to why. A couple of theories swirl in my clustered little mind.

Theory one
They’re old. Getting elderly is tough and when you’re youth runs dry, you’re energy goes right along with it. Take Romero for example. The man is 74 years old. Wes Craven is even older than Romero by one year. Could their old school imaginations keep a generation, doped up on ADD medication, entertained for more than 10 minutes. Much of today’s horror is about the blood and the tits and the “how scary you can make a CGI monster.” Creativity has gone out the window and I think that “Saw 7” and the soon to be fifth sequel to “Paranormal Activity” have proven just that.

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Theory two
Old school horror has run out of ideas. Can you remember the last time Romero, Carpenter, Stuart has made a good movie? Romero’s last film was “Survival of the Dead” back in 2009 which flopped. Before that “Diary of the dead” and that was another flop. Since the turn of the century, the king of the zombies has only directed four films with Land of the Dead being the more successful. Take a look at “Halloween” director John Carpenter. “Halloween” is the highest grossing independent film ever, yet also in the last decade, nothing spectacular from Carpenter. His vision of “The Thing” is classic, his character Snake Plissken is iconic in “Escape from New York”, “Big Trouble in Little China” is timeless cut, but “The Ward” and “Ghost of Mars” have been absolute below the bar with audiences. This theory doesn’t exclude international directors because we can also examine, point in case, Italian director Dario Argento. Argento famous for his colorful, psychedelic intense films such as “Suspiria”, “Phenomena”, and “Don’t Torture the Duckling”, has been reduced to direct a “Dracula 3D” movie starring Rutger Hauer. Freaking RUTGER HAUER!?!? Don’t get me wrong, I love Rutger Hauer – “Blind Fury” and “The Hitcher” are some favorites – but you can’t have a strawberry haired Van Helsing. Maybe you can – I don’t know. Let’s not forget poor Wes Craven who can’t seem to get off the “Scream” franchise train and everything else he touches turns into a limp, floppy mess.

Now that we’ve gone over my theories, there lies another question to be discussed. Who are the NEW masters of horror? Today’s films rely on blood and guts and not so much suspense and story. Would Eli Roth be my first example of a more current master? His films seemed to be well criticized – “Cabin Fever” with a fresh 63% and “Hostel” with a fresh 61% respectively on Rotten tomatoes. Also, his latest project “The Green Inferno” held promise until it’s untimely indefinite on hold status declared a few weeks ago. Who else? Alexandre Aja? More shock than schlock but hasn’t really produced anything original as he’s banked on remakes – “The Hills Have Eyes”, “Piranha 2” – but with his breakthrough hit “High Tension” and his upcoming release “Horns” starring Daniel Radcliffe, we could be watching a master in the making.
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I want to hear from you. Who do you think will step in the shoes of a master? Lucky McKee? Adam Wingard? Let me hear your choices and your thoughts on these!

Is Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno Getting the Shaft?

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Here’s some grade-A bullshit if I’ve ever heard so. The word on the street (Deadline) is that Eli Roth’s directorial feature “The Green Inferno” has been put on hold indefinitely by Open Road Films due to the fact that the company’s financier, Worldview Entertainment, is being tied up with an ex-CEO, Christopher Woodrow, decision to withhold any print and advertisement for the film.

Why hold the P&A?

Some sites suggest that the business end is causing a halt to the film’s September 5th release, but others, including myself, is that the film’s cannibalism subject matter has always been a taboo subject (think “Cannibal Holocaust’s” animal cruelty and has there really been a cannibal film that has had any note of success to it? Perhaps the Alexandre Aja remake of Wes Craven’s “The Hills Have Eyes”?).

“The Green Inferno” revolves around a group of activist who travel from New York City to the Amazon to save a dying, primitive tribe, but when their plane crashes in the jungle, they’re taken hostage by the very tribe they sought to save.