EVIL is All in Your Head! “Implanted” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)

Year 2023.  After a devastated global pandemic, health companies engineered an experimental personal diagnostic nanochip called LEXX that is surgically implanted into the a human’s spine.  For Sarah, a woman down on her luck living homelessly after being let go from her job and struggling to cope with her mother’s early stages of dementia, quick cash is essential for survival and this experimental program, that uses advanced AI technology, tempts a desperate Sarah into participating in human trial runs.  Initial implementation serves Sarah with quick vitals and healthy lifestyle recommendations articulated by an artificial voice in her mind, but when the AI has other plans for Sarah, such ordering the assassinations of the health startup’s top leadership and destroying all evidence of the program, Sarah has to either obey every lethal command or fight against the insidious tech that has complete control over her pain sensors as well as her mother’s life.

COVID-19 has been the baseline culprit for millions of deaths worldwide.  The impact of the pandemic has inspired filmmakers to a creative outlet of churning out stories surrounding a lifechanging and devasting virus.  Some are ridiculous, off-color, cash grabbers – “Corona Zombies” comes to mind – but there are a few out there that challenge the gratuitous advantage-taking by folding in more substance into the story.  Fabien Dufils attempts to go above and beyond the here and now with a post-pandemic, self-containing thriller entitled “Implanted” and is the first written and directed non-made for television feature length independent film for the once music video director set in the urban jungle of New York City.  “Implanted” spins A.I. tech horror with the whooshing fast track of the health care system to eagerly push experimental drugs, in this case a clinical artificial intelligent grafting, upon the desperate, often marginalized, public.  There’s also an allegorical smidgen of mental illness thrown in there as well.  Dufils co-writes the script with fellow Belgium screenwriter David Bourgie under Dufils’ Mad Street Pictures production company.

Making her lead performance debut, mentally wrestling an invasive cybernetic nanochip, is Michelle Girolami who also serves as associate producer.  We all have that little voice inside our heads, telling us what do and think to an inevitably end of accordance with that ever so delicate whisper of persuasion and that’s how Girolami has seemingly approached this role with that little suggestive presence cranked up to the level of full-fledged chaos on two-legs.   Girolami ultimately is a reverse mech with all the cold puppeteering directed shots directed by programmed software and so much of the actress’s performance is solo, feigning responses to a bodiless voice and reacting to pain generated from within whenever she doesn’t comply to the relentless LEXX.  Unable to bounce dialogue and reactions off of others can be a tough sell for most actors, but Girolami really slathers it on thick the vein-popping strain of integrated torture.  Opposite Sarah is Carl (Ivo Velon, “Salt”), another hapless experiment participant forced into assassination servitude, but Carl’s purpose isn’t exactly crystal clear.  His LEXX unit shepherds him down a collision path with Sarah, but the two separate LEXX units have no shared intentions and while that’s wonderfully niche to provide individual A.I. with their own personal liberties and schemes, Carl just wanders the city, sometimes murdering the program’s top leadership or doing something polar opposite of Sarah with no substantial collusion about their subversive attacks.  The what could have been interesting cat-and-mouse game tapers off and the story leads into more of characters trying to regain back their autonomy and this is where Dufils’ narrative shines using LEXX as a symbol for mental disorders and how those impoverished or distressed are struggling to cope can lose themselves and give in to the internalized madness slipping outward.  Parallelly, Sarah’s mother (Susan O’Doherty) suffers from dementia that reinforces the theme.  Martin Ewens, Shirley Huang, Sunny Koll, John Long, and David Dotterer wrap up the cast list.

“Implanted’s” sci-fi concept can be described as if Amazon’s Alexa, with all the internet connections and text-to-speech bells and whistles, suddenly became murderously woke inside your cerebral cortex.  “Implanted” relays humanity’s lopsided dependency on advanced technology that continues to make us even more less connected to each other and the possibility of a machine takeover just that more feasible.  However, much like when a software program crashes, a malfunctioning script error ravages the narrative for not being tight enough, leaving unaccompanied loose ends as devices that fail to progress the story along stemmed by sudden drop off character development and unknown, speculation at best, motivations.  There’s also no discernable backstory to the why LEXX’s A.I. has snafued.  At least with “Terminator,” Kyle Reese provides exposition about Skynet’s sudden upheaval and domination over the human race whereas “Implanted” dives into none of that rich framework and tossing it aside for the sake of just tormenting Sarah into being a killer pawn, moving her across the NYC chessboard with the intent of taking down the king, queen, and knights of LEXX’s program.  To what ends?  Explanation on the specified targeting isn’t made entirely clear as programmers to CEOs are solely liquidated for just being involved.  

“Implanted” is a warzone for headspace and there can be only one victor in this psychological, sci-fi thriller released now, digitally, from Gravitas Ventures.   The unrated, 93 minute film also showcases the various hats of director Fabien Dufils with one being cinematographer.  Dufils captures obscure, slightly neglected, areas of New York City that’s becomes refreshing to consume because even though the Big Apple is well known for glass and steel skyscrapers, the undergrowth locations ground “Implanted” as relatable without the monolithic structures and hustle and bustle tropes.  In juxtaposition to the down-to-Earth background, the decision to sprinkle in visual effect blood splatter taints “Implanted’s” realism.  Though not gory by any means, digitally added blood can’t be cleansed from the physical veneer and being an indie feature, I would have though a run to corner store for a bit of red food coloring would have been a cost saving measure.  “Implanted” adds another layer to the man versus machine subgenre with tinges of mental illness and too reliant on tech themes but undoubtedly leaves gaps in the narrative coding, racking strenuous mental effort without the egregious assistance of an A.I. nanochip.

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!

To EVIL, Just Another Slab of Meat for the Butchering. “The Slaughterhouse Killer” reviewed! (Breaking Glass Pictures / Digital Screener)



The local swine slaughterhouse perfectly suits the solitude of Box, barely sating the fervent urge of his killer spirit, but when a young ex-con, Nathan, who is trying to walk the straighten arrow with his girlfriend, falls under Box’s wing at work, keeping that urge at bay is proving more difficult with a likeminded companion.  When the workplace bully pushes Nathan too far, Box orchestrates a killer opportunity to murder the bully in his own home as a gift to the young parolee.  The death of their intimidating colleague solidifies an unique relationship between the men, opening Pandora’s box in their small town where no one is safe from their lust for blood.  As the bodies pile up and their corpses are ground up into chuck at the slaughterhouse, their relationship is tested when a child becomes the unintended next victim, severing the unspoken principles of their bond. 

“The Slaughterhouse Killer” is director Sam Curtain’s entry into the minds of bloodlust wolves living in sheepskin day-to-day amongst the clueless flock.  The senseless violence-laden thriller out of Tasmania, Australia is the sophomore feature from the “Blood Hunt” writer-director and is co-written with Benjamin Clarke.  The pair harness their continued onslaught for aggression from “Blood Hunt’s” human race cruelty with a rumbling storm brewing, waiting, for the right conditions when two very different people find a common interest by setting a little part of their world on fire.  The indie picture is streamlined through Curtain’s Stud Ranch Films entertainment banner and is backed by Black Mandala, a big and upcoming label showcasing an expertise in extreme low-cost horror, under the producer’s eye of Nicholas Onetti who has supported a number of genre fan favorites under his banner such as “The Barn,” “Aquaslash” and has even collaborated with brother, Luciano, on the 70’s giallo inspired  “Abrakadabra” and “Francesca.”  If Onetti is attached, prepare yourself for merciless and bloody circumstances in this particular ozploitation maniac thriller. 

You obviously can’t shoot a film titled “The Slaughterhouse Killer” without the slaughterhouse setting garnished with meathook strung up and process gutted livestock much in the same way the killer can’t fall into the average-looking joe category.  In steps Craig Ingham, a Sydney born 6’4” big fella with distinct facial features that includes a gleaming bald head and an angry sneer delineating fiercely from his bulbous, pink-as-a-pig cheeked face.  Ingham has an uncompromising maniacal approach of being large and in charge under a lame façade of a daft abattoir employee.  To balance out the oversized archetype antagonist, usually from one that lumbers around in slashers genre circles, hacking away at sex-crazed teens, James Mason buoys “The Slaughterhouse Killer” from capsizing in that humdrum trope of tasteless, flat water by adding a pretty face to the madness that is equally as ugly on the inside in character in what becomes the Laurel and Hardy of exploitation horror.  However, there’s nothing remotely funny about the performances of two men becoming unlikely best buds, drinking beer, and making hamburger out of the sheila from next door, but they do act like a pair of chuckleheads searching for motivation with their roles and instead come up empty handed in the arbitrary of Curtain and Clarke’s headway halting story.   “The Slaughterhouse Killer” is simply a two man show that aims to cycle through their unusual connection with Kristen Condon (“Sheborg”) as Nathan’s girlfriend, Tracey, and Dean Kirkright (“Cult Girls”) as the unfortunate workplace bully rounding out the small cast of collateral damage characters.

One of the biggest problems with “The Slaughterhouse Killer,” a tale that’s supposed to be driven by the characters’ dysfunctional ties to society and their knack for violence, is that very lack of purpose Box and Nathan get out from the random bloodlust.  Nathan, on parole for we don’t know what, easily falls bewitched by Box’s gore giddiness and willingness to let Nathan into his little big secret.  Without Nathan’s incarcerated backstory, a sentence served that proved nothing but his ability to still land a job, doesn’t age well as the film progresses and just seems to be there in a glint of development substance that never circles back.  Box falls onto the same static line of where the hell is his arc heading as the film opens with Box resting sweaty in his whitey-tighty inside his ramshackled shack.  There’s not much too Box’s creepy disposition other than keeping his squinty eyes glued to a rather attractive woman’s behind and taking abusive orders from the abattoir boss, but what he sees in his new guy to take him on a journey of bloodletting is something of a mystery that never pans out.  Even Box’s bound and blinded plaything in a padlock trunk transcends every act met, creating a glass ceiling of knowledge to the inner workings of his warped thinker.  Box and Nathan’s nihilism and madness unleashed is the purest part of Curtain’s film as the sensation is like a fat kid in a candy store where the two men can just go to town by butchering the residents of their own town by any means seen fit to them, but in the grand scheme of cinema, there are far superior violent films to consider.

As if it was destined to be, “The Slaughterhouse Killer” finds friendship with a kindred, malignant soul to carry out dark fantasies and Breaking Glass Pictures brings us this tale of two treacherous serial killers onto VOD and DVD this month of April. Digital platforms will include Vudu, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Fandango, and more. Presented in a widescreen, 1.78:1 aspect ration, and recorded in 4K, cinematographer Leuke Marriott rejoins Curtain on the director’s second feature, providing 78 minutes worth of intimate imagery invasive on Box’s grimy lifestyle and Nathan’s furrowed brow by corralling much of the action directly in front of the camera. Marriott might not employ novel angles and techniques but makes up with holding tight and fast on the brutality and the meatgrinder of Box and Nathan’s vile run while also supplying a few bold filters, such as a rich blue and a light yellow, in more unsettlingly taut moments and capturing some of Tasmania’s landscape with aerial drone shots of Arthur’s Lake with the trees seemingly floating up out of the tenebrous water. “The Slaughterhouse Killer” has the title of a 80’s printed VHS SOV and leverages the ogre villain to the max, but can’t muster a rooted sense of purpose, not even a simple reason such as pure, unadulterated evil, to drive a span of violent behavior to be a worthwhile token to the viewer.

Own on DVD or Watch on Amazon Prime Video!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch “8ight After” on Prime Video!

 

Read or listen to the book on Prime Video!


Slavic Folklore EVIL Goes Full Amber Alert in “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” reviewed! (Digital Screener / Shout! Studios)


Still reeling over the loss of his mother, a disheartened Egor has moved to a new apartment on the forested outskirts of the city with his father, step mother, and infant half-sister. A nanny is hired for house upkeep and to look after him and his sister, but the nanny’s strange behavior borders hostility toward him while also bewitching his father with her beauty and charm. Since her hire, the nanny cameras alert Egor of movement in the nursey, projecting an unknown and disfigured woman in the room hovering over the baby. When his parents don’t believe him, there’s nothing more the older boy can do until his baby sister goes missing and his parents don’t remember her, as if she never existed. Egor, along with his friends, track down a man living in the woods who seems to have an inkling about the mysterious disappearances of children and why everyone forgets about them as he has experienced the loss of his daughter and can barely remember her. Based off the man’s ramblings, their search for Egor’s baby sister leads them to an old and abandoned power shack that serves as conduit to the world of Baba Yaga, a Slavic witch with the influencing ability in kidnapping and devouring children’s souls for power and Egor’s sister, along with the rest of the nearby children population, have been abducted to lure in the pivotal pure child to set her free into their world.

“Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” is the second part of this unintentional two part Russian horror film appraisal following our extrospective look into Olga Gorodetskaya’s psyche serrating “Evil Boy” that just happens to have another protagonist by the name of Igor, but in this case, the spelling is Egor and, instead of a middle-aged doctor, Egor is a pre-teen boy with pre-teen issues – just to jazz it up a little. Also originally known as “Yaga. Koshmar tyomongo lesa,” the supernaturally Slavic folklore tale, directed by Snyatoslav Podgaevskiy (“Mermaid: The Lake of the Dead”), was released February in motherland Russia and is making a distributive second coming toward the States on September 1st courtesy of a collaboration between Shout! Studios and Leda Films. Penned by Podgaevskiey as well as Ivan Kapitonov and Natalya Dubovaya, the scribing trio pickup right where the wrote off form the gritty mysticism of fabled creatures beginning with “Mermaid: The Lake of the Dead” and into a classically frightening and morose villain salivating for juvenile souls spurred from one of the numerous variations of one of the more popular, if not grotesque, Russian mythological being. “Baba Yaga” is a production of the Cinema Foundation of Russia, Central Partnership Productions, Non-Stop Productions, and QS Films.

In much of the reverse from “Evil Boy,” Podgaevskiy’s “Baba Yaga” rocks the cradle in a “Goonies” approach with a condiment and courageous group of pre-teen, developmentally spongy, angsty, and hormonal driven children to solve the big bad witch mystery that not only afflicts the very lives of their brethren age group, but also the parental halfwits who have their minds erased like a chalkboard with nothing more than tiny dust particles to cling to to keep their missing children alive in their memories. From the visually powerful alien invasion thriller “The Blackout” (ItsBlogginEvil review here), Oleg Chugunov spearheads a trio of adolescents on the cusp of being witch-fodder. Chugunov plays Egor, a dispirited youth unhappy with his father’s remarriage to another woman and the target of bullies at his new school before becoming the chosen meal plan for Baba Yaga’s unholy escape for an ethereal world. Egor’s experience of an afterthought to a savior of child-kind isn’t represented well through Chugunov and how the character is written as Egor just falls into the “pure” child role without much explanation to why, staying flat on the personal growth scale for 113 minute runtime. Egor’s followed by a love interested in Dasha (Glafira Golubeva) and lead bully Anton (Artyom Zhigulin) who both have bouts with their parental caretakers; Dasha’s mother is a scorned beauty hellbent on controlling Dasha’s life form outside influences while Anton is a parentless brute with a guardian who is equally as callous as him, if not more. Svetlana Ustinova (“Hardcore Henry”) has two roles in this film and both are bad guys: Baba Yaga and Baba Yaga’s half-bird, half-human hench-thing. Ustinova shows immense range by fielding human to hybrid to full out witch qualities, inching the insidious intentions through the storyline that requires varying degrees of discourse with other characters along the way. The cast list rounds out with Aleksey Rozin (“Leviathan”), Maryana Spivak (“The Outbreak” TV series), Igor Khripunov (“The Bride”) and Marta Timofeeva (“Welcome to Mercy”).

Out of the two terror inducers from Russia, “Baba Yaga” inches out “Evil Boy” on the supernatural spectrum. Between Anton Zenkovich’s colorfully prismatic photography, Vlad Ogay’s sleek-straight and modernally tight architectural designs juxtaposed against a vastly rustic and chaotic woodland lore, and topped off with Podgaevskiy’s highly effective misdirection jump scares, “Baba Yaga” inveigles to a palatable lore horror invigorated by a two-timing enchantress with a sweet tooth for kid blood. Despite not being exact to the Baba Yaga’s tale, as the creature’s house is supposed to erected by actual chicken legs, Podgaesvkiy shoots a fear-laden heartstopper where anything can happen in any scene at any moment. Yet, something is indubitably missing from “Baba Yaga.” Perhaps, what’s missing is that meaningful message about rekindling that spark between parent and child, patching up the tears in the relationship that’s been strained by XYZ reason. Perhaps, what’s missing is the unsatisfactory ending of easily dethroning of a powerful and mighty mage. Perhaps, what’s missing is the explanation on why Egor is the key to Baba Yaga’s tyrannical freedom from cursed exile. I’d say all three contribute to the cause and not much, not even a wonderfully animated s storybook prologue depicting the phantasmal enterprise and downfall of Baba Yaga, could save the heartache in wanting more substance from the already loaded story but, then, we would be looking at another hour of runtime though its sorely warranted. In sum, “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” slips in a variant version dispersing a tingling tale of Russian folklore with stunning visuals and dutiful scares that ends deficiently and mediocrely.

Hide your children! “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” will be unleashed on VOD, digital, and on Blu-ray and DVD September 1st from Shout! Studios and Leda Films. You can look for it digitally or on-demand from the following providers: AppleTV, Amazon, VUDU, GooglePlay, PlayStation®, XBOX, hoopla, Fandango Now, DirecTV, Comcast Xfinity, Spectrum, Cox, Charter, and AT&T U-verse. Since the review is based off a digital screener, the A/V aspects will not be examined but the Scream Factory Blu-ray and DVD release will be region A/1, presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and will include a powerful Russian language Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix with English subtitles and will also include a dubbed English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Unlucky for me, I had to screen the movie with the dubbed version. Lucky for you, I can confirm that though obvious, the dubbing isn’t horrendously overly-hyperbolized or too asynchronous. There were no bonus features or bonus scenes included nor none announced on the press release. Grab a bottle of Vodka, pop some Zefir candies, turn off the lights, and sink into an Eastern European mythos horror with Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy’s “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” that’ll scare the Ushanka right off your head.

Pre-order “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” on DVD or Blu-ray for Sept 1st release!