An immigrant cabby named Luz stumbles dazed into a German police station, repeating a profane distortion of a religious prayer to a couple of baffled detectives. Meanwhile, in a nearby bar, a forwardly chatty woman is diving seductively into a spiel about her Catholic schoolgirl friend who just recently jumped out of her moving taxicab to a psychoanalysis specialist on the edge of his seat. Drunk enough to take advantage of, the Doctor falls for the woman’s alluring trap, beguiling him to do her bidding as an unwilling host. As the now possessed doctor arrives to evaluate Nora for the police, he instigates a hypnosis recreation of the details events leading up to Luz’s ravings and disillusions. What happens next goes beyond human comprehension and rational as the doctor desires more from the stupefied Luz than what meets the eye.
Undoubtedly a strong skiff of demonic peculiarity weathering forth against an unforgiving maelstrom of spiffy-glamourous and yacht-sized counterparts is Tilman Singer’s memorizing tale of demigod deception in “Luz.” As the German born filmmaker’s first written-and-directed full length feature film, a film school project shot entirely on 16mm color negative, Singer dazzles with a throwback grindhouse glow set ablaze with a neon flare that adds to the perilous seduction and violation of the mind and primal infatuation. “Luz’s” was filmed in Cologne, Germany, where Singer studied film at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne, during the production year of 2018 and saw success at various Germany festivals, including it’s debut at the Berlin Film Festival and the Fantasia Film Festival. The Academy of Media Arts Cologne also serves as the production company, as it was, after all, a school project, and listed as Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln (KHM).
“Luz” wouldn’t be what as staggering as it is if it wasn’t for the invested cast who brings Singer’s vision to the spectrum. Luana Velis’s seamless grasp of the editing has remarkable wealth when playing a disoriented cab driver coming in off the street and Velis as Luz, in the ebb and flow of reality when Dr. Rosinni (Jan Bluthardt) entrances her with a blend of hypnosis and psychoanalysis techniques, sustains character through various transitions present inside a large police board room, reality, and the subconscious recollection of places and events inside her mind that Singer constructions for visualization, not reality. Singer melds together places, people, and events, throwing audiences for loops and casting misleading signals and just where the hell our characters are gathered. Bluthardt is equally captivating post transformation, coming off like a calculated maniac, resolved in his wild role. Perhaps, my favorite of the cast list goes to Julia Riedler as Nora Vanderkurt, Luz’s icy former bedfellow from Catholic School who slithers into Dr. Rosinni’s ear like a bewitching asp while seeming like a normal bar patron, but Riedler’s spin on Vanderkurt breaks the construct beyond that of the sleazy barfly and into something more conniving, wicked, and alcohol infused while still steamy with sexual emissions. All three performances are keystones to “Luz” success while fellow cast mates Johannes Benecke, Lilli Lorenz, and Nadja Stubiger, offer some spot on support.
“Luz” summits fear with intrinsic performance art of hazy, but colorful, atmospherics and off-kilter shapes and lines, making the most routine settings feel unsettling. It’s a strong cinematography showcase by Paul Faltz who was able to frame and fright a scene from a sterile and fatigued, wood paneled office environment; essentially put, Faltz turned coal into a diamond while Singer brought a keg of European horror to the party. Unconventional, of course, with a profound arthouse quality about it, “Luz” is very much inspired by the European masters of horror, but pulls quite a bit from the vibrancy of American filmmaking too, pulling inspiration more noticeably from John Carpenter’s overwhelming sense of apocalyptic doom from such a scale down narrative and the terror looms like a chandelier hanging by a single thread just waiting from the startling crash of glass and metal. There are themes related Catholicism, homoeroticism, guilt, and obsession through the venomous innate nature of demon, as if unknowingly leaving an open invitation for evil by way of spiritual clairvoyance and Catholic defiance. Full of abstract visuals and melodious dialogue, “Luz” still burns the scary story lantern with a flickering of imminent existential combustion.
While the theatrical release has been officially canceled, “Luz” will still live on through the digital world, being released by Sharp Teeth Films, who released the POV slasher horror “You Are Not Alone,” on June 1st in the United Kingdom. With this being now a digital release, critiquing the audio and video quality will be limited to the artistic direction. Video-wise, Singer sought the use of a 16mm film stock with the speckle and grain texture of that beloved, yet enveloping imperfection and shooting in an anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1, using an Arri Alexa and RED cameras that supported an anamorphic lenses. The result is phenomenal to digest with some serious depth when considering how small the sets are, turning mere pockets of space into the likes of grand ball rooms. The German, Spanish, and very little English dialogue tracks are clear and prominently abutted against a well adjusted ambience mix; in all, the audio package has good depth and range. There were no bonus features included with the digital screener. “Luz” is weird, mystifying, and can wriggle into your favor with a chilling essence taking a leisurely stroll along your back, propping up the hairs one strand at a time. Highly recommended.
Anna’s a senior at Little Haven high school whose not thinking about what University to attend after she graduates. Instead, Anna focuses on working all the time as a shoe counter girl at the local bowling alley to pay off a year’s worth of traveling despite her father’s wishes, even working through Christmas, but when a sudden zombie apocalypse derails her and the worlds’ plans, Anna’s friends and father are her first priority. With her father trapped at the high school, Anna and her closest friends must trek and battle through a horde of the undead from the bowling alley before striking out dead themselves. Despite social differences and teenage angst, they must dance and sing to put now frivolous juvenile issues aside and work together if to not become one of the living dead.
Timed just right from 2019’s Christmas holiday season is Second Sight Films’s two-disc set of “Anna and the Apocalypse,” a contagiously fun, well performed, and cheekily gory musical comedy-horror by the United Kingdom’s John McPhail directing a script written by Alan McDonald and the late Ryan McHnery, based off McHenry’s short student film “Zombie Musical.” As true to the marketing behind the film, “Anna and the Apocalypse” is certainly the “High School Musical” with teeth-gnashing, putrid-walking, and flesh hungry zombies. The Scottish bred production comes from Blazing Griffin Films, Parkhouse Productions, Constellation Creatives and Creative Scotland to flash mob dance and sing in chorus through the apocalyptic melee while figuring out their complicated adolescent troubles, such as what to do after graduation, turbulent romantic emotions, and being different and alone.
The ensemble cast is heftily made up of unknown talent beginning with, then 17 year old, Ella Hunt in her debut lead performance as the titular character. Hunt’s a fresh, young face with an astonishing amount of acting range with Anna whose defiant against the wishes of her father, but, deep down inside, still wholeheartedly cares for him as he’s her only parent left alive, and Hunt has natural poppin’ dance moves and pop-star vocals. In Anna’s core group of friends, Sarah Swire’s Steph North stands amongst them as the LGBTQ representative whose strongly portrayed as courageous, caring, and independent while her characterization at the beginning of the films focuses on downing her life to the pit of despair with parents, who Steph claims wants nothing to do with her, are on holiday in Mexico and her romantic partner won’t be spending the holiday with her. Swire’s choreographic and musician background, along with an edgy look, make her a perfect fit for Steph. There’s also Anna’s best friend, a boy named John, played by Malcolm Cummings in his first feature film. Cummings has to be the hapless friend zone boy that remains sidelined when trying to find the opportune time in expressing his true feelings for Anna, but finds himself the third wheel in a high school love triangle conscripted with Nick, a hot-to-trot prick and bully colorfully depicted by Ben Wiggins. Christopher Leveaux and Marli Siu are the gang’s love birds, Mark Benton is Anna’s custodian father, and “Game of Thrones'” Paul Kaye antagonizes with a power hungry assistant headmaster gone crazy!
Honesty, I wasn’t sure how “Anna and the Apocalypse” was going to work, or be successful, or be entertaining at all as a horror movie. Horror-musicals are a rare breed that come with a mind-boggling quantitative algorithm to make them truly work wonders and, somehow, John McPhail dusted off his abacus, powered up his TI calculator, and put note to pen to paper and delivered a holiday spectacular on a horror scale stage. The horror, though very prominent and unmistakable, takes a backseat to the powerful soundtrack by the ensemble cast, ranging from caricatured with Fish Wrap to the desolation of personal connectivity with Human Voice to a couple of Christmas satires to bring a little joy with the merry mayhem. The mayhem is absolute with all the trimmings of a zombie apocalypse, even right down to the military being the butt of a joke when they’re overrun by a slow-moving force, but while there’s some gore early on with a dead head decapitated by a see-saw and a pair of bowling balls pop the top of one alleyway corpse, the blood flows downward to a little more than a dribble and “Anna and the Apocalypse” cobbles together a mere mediocre zombie film from then on out.
Already seen a couple of standard releases from other distributors, Second Sight Films reserved “Anna and the Apocalypse” to the royal treatment with a special features heavy region B, two-disc Blu-ray set containing two versions of the film – the theatrical release cut and the extended version which will include a musical number that didn’t make the theatrical cut. The Arri Alexa SXT shot film is presented in 1080p and in the film’s original aspect ratio, a widescreen 2.37:1, with a featured ProRes 3.2k format that allows upscaling to UHD quality providing a high resolution output that’s clean and bright. The color palate has real vibrancy under the director of photography’s, Sara Deane, direction to use colorful outfits and neoned and darkened sets. Some scenes become a little choppy with some sloppy editing work, but as a whole, the story remains coherent. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 vivaciously energizes the soundtrack with alternative pop numbers, harmonious melodies, and a synchronized chorus, but there are times the dialogue falls into a lossy grey area. A stereo 2.0 track is also available as well as optional English SDH subtitles. The Second Sights Films’ release is chock full of extras with disc one including an audio commentary with director John McPhail, writer Alan McDonald, composers Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly, a behind-the-scenes featurette, an alternate opening scene, a deleted song “What Side Are You On?”, a deleted bathroom scene, the Hollywood Ending cast and crew lip dub, footage from the EdinBurgh Film Festival, and, of course outtakes. Disc two includes a brand new feature-length documentary with new interviews by the actors and filmmakers. Plus, the original short film – “Zombie Musical.” A definite definitive two-disc set from Second Sight Films goes hand-in-hand with “Anna and the Apocalypse’s” feel good charm and unruly undead charisma complete with catchy tunes and bloody zombie goons in a modern day holiday cult classic.
Mia and her family have moved from Chicago to Mexico’s Yucatan. As she struggles to acclimate into her surroundings and survives being the school’s most unpopular student, her father flourishes with his archeological findings of an ancient Mayan burial temple hidden under rising waters just off the coast. Mia and stepsister Sasha skip an unflattering weekend boat trip to join friends Alexa and Nicole who are privy to the underwater entrance of the remote ruin. The four use Mia’s father’s scuba gear to go exploring through the numerous narrow passageways and shrined openings of the burial temple, but their innocent adventure turns deadly when the sudden collapse of the entrance traps them inside. As they save every last breathe running dangerously low on oxygen, they come face-to-face with blind, monstrous Great White sharks with heightened senses of smell and hearing to track them down.
Terror has defined new depths with Johannes Roberts’ sequel to his critically praised and genre fan pleasing 2017 shark-horror “47 Meters Down.” Along with the return of screenwriter Ernest Riera and The Fyzz Facility team providing production and financials, Roberts once again dives into the murky waters of deep sea productions with “47 Meters Down: Uncaged,” working mainly underwater once more to capture weightless fear in the eyes of the actors to perform in a tough environment and perform against, what will be, computer generated adversaries. The success of “47 Meters Down” helped stem a sudden revival that swam from being a dwindling and cheap demonizing of sharks that have plagued the direct-to-video market for over a decade to bestowing the respect the man-eating fish rightfully deserve, showcasing that man does not rule the water. “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” continues the trend by chomping serrated jaws through the chummed waters of the great white shark schlock and crest with a heart pounding suspense and scares.
A couple of big names star in the sequel and by big, I don’t mean actresses who are mega superstars in their own rite. What I mean are the well-established and globally recognizable last names of Corinne Foxx and Sistine Stallone, the respective daughters of Academy Award winning actor and singer Jamie Foxx (“Ray”) and of one of the world’s biggest action stars of our lives, Sylvester Stallone (“Rambo”), debuting into the big time as one-half of the group of girls exploring the underwater temple. Across the aisle, the other two actresses that take a joy swim are Brianne Tju (“The Crooked Man”) and Sophie Nélisse, the latter being the high school oppressed and timid Mia who battles through her adolescent problems by being a leader in the shark infested tunnels. As four girls looking for a good time on the Yucatan, they’re tediously whimsical without the virtue of substance behind them aside from Mia’s brief bullying encounter and heart-to-heart moment with step mom. Joh Corbett is the most recognizable face sans just having a famous name. The “Sex in the City” actor – don’t ask me how I know that – has fatherly intentions in the role of Mia’s dad, the archeologist who discovers the flooded temple. Rounding out the cast is Khylin Rhambo (“Teen Wolf” television series) and Davi Santos (“Polaroid”).
All that is right with “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” is the isolating suspense and lurking terror that carries over seamlessly from the first film, despite both films’ pre-judging killjoy that is a PG-13 rating, and with the return of Mark Silk’s beautifully murky cinematography and Roberts’ choice of focal direction that engulfs the actors, the story sharpens to completely detach the real world from this shark threatening one. “47 Meters Down” had an equally beautiful, haunting, and industrially trance score, pitched perfect for the lethal space-like expanse, from Tomandandy and the musical duo return for another round with a broody audio vision that can be taken with you long after the credits roll. However, Roberts’ second installment has some issues. For instance, why keep the initial title? The 47 meters doesn’t exist as the protagonists go up and down through burial shafts without the utilization of a depth meter and could have benefited better with a standalone title. Not even a wet suit is worn so the hunt is not too deep where the frigid waters rules. The trend of those scenes that make you go huh? continue in a form of a plot hole of exactly where did those ghostly Great White sharks come from? There isn’t enough food down in the tight confines to sustain such eating machines, but they don’t seem to be crippled by the fact as they appear from out of nowhere after one of the characters makes their presence noisily known.
Like a persevering slasher, the jaws of death just keep on coming for you in “47 Meters Down” Uncaged” onto a 2-disc Blu-ray and DVD home video, with a digital download available, distributed by Lionsgate. Presented in a widescreen, 2.40:1 aspect ratio, with the Blu-ray BD-50 in 1080p High Definition, the digitally recorded, shot on an Arri Alexa according to IMDB, image captures, through the some fields of darker tints, the warranted definition and enough softness to maximize the aqua effect of a hazy and shadowy sunken ruin with silhouette inducing dark spots, corners, and passageways. Moments of vibrancy pop, especially with emergency beacons, to dazzle like a neon marquee in the pitch-black night sky. The ruin’s sharks themselves, though ghostly depicted and riddled with scaring, appeared too soft, an inescapable side effect from the visual FX team, and the same can be said with the sharks out in the open ocean that have unnatural movements along with their too clean look as if the light above surface wasn’t bouncing off them correctly. The English language 5.1 DTE-HD Master Audio mix has power and girth in an environment where sound is virtually stiffened. The Tomandandy score is absolute and denotes what it means to have an eloquently disruptive soundtrack to peak fear in conjunction with looming, flesh-ripping presences inside a dooming labyrinth. And what impeccable timing to have one of the recently passed Marie Fredriksson’s Roxette tracks showcased as the main song. #RIP Marie. Dialogue is clean and clear in the depthless communications of opened face scuba masks. Audio accessories include an English descriptive audio option, English SDH subtitles, and Spanish subtitles. Par for the course in the Lionsgate special features department with an audio commentary from writer-director Johannes Roberts, co-writer Ernest Riera, and producer James Harris. Plus, interviews with the cast in the making-of featurette entitled “Diving Deeper: Uncaging 47 Meters Down.” “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” is far from perfect and nearly drowns with an uncouth story that doesn’t represent Johannes Roberts first film’s good name, but the frenzy-laden successor has high energy, an olfactory for good PG-13 scares, and monstrous sharks that makes for an entertaining and terrifying swim.
Ronnie, the owner of a Disco walking tour, works and lives alongside his hectored son, Big Brayden. Their disheveled and bigoted relationship becomes upended by the enticing Janet. With big eyes and an endless amount of sexual drive, Janet swoons the virginal Big Brayden that urges him to become his own man against a criticizing father, but when Ronnie sees an opportunity to swoop in and steal Janet under his son’s nose, the proclaimed disco king of Los Angeles ups the charm and bed’s Janet with little resistance. A back-and-forth ensues between a hopeless, if not hapless, romantic and his sexually aggressive, A-typical personality father for top dog. Meanwhile, those who even cross Ronnie in the faintest ends up brutally murdered by an inhuman killer lathered completely in grease, dubbed The Greasy Strangler, and the aberrant love triangle just might be related to the recent spike in deaths at the hands of the oleaginous murderer!
Just one big corn ball of engrossing black comedy horror, “The Greasy Strangler” is a one of a kind Jim Hosking directed film of abnormal quality and sensational crude storytelling of a father and son rivalry to rekindling with a greased up suited killer in between to connect them. Co-written with Toby Harvard, “The Greasy Strangler” marks the fourth project between Harvard and Hosking and the turnout is laugh out loud funny. The penning and pair filmmakers write scintillating characters with socially disapproving norms accepted in a cinematic universe that can only be imagined by the disturbed. “The Greasy Strangler” is the Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim version of a Wes Anderson film that can only be described as grotesque in content with an unflattering dry, if not something bathroom, humor and will not likely be accepted by the majority of popcorn audiences as their typical brand or cup of lard lavished tea. The horror element to all of this is a greased up manic strangling tourists and shearing the heads off blind car wash owners, but very much has a backseat the dynamic between Ronnie, Brayden, and Janet.
“The Greasy Strangler” revolves around the special relationship between father and son, Big Ronnie and Big Brayden. The disco passionate and pathological storytelling-embellisher Ronnie has an immensely rock solid hard on for any and all things that are greasy, oilier the better, and cathartically browbeats his adult aged son to the point of nowhere being near the parent of the year for years to come. “The Video Dead’s” Michael St. Michaels has an absolute screen presence. The Doc Brown hair and a wiry frame complete the compiled shell of a man to which a flaming ball of disgruntled and disillusioned kinetic and emotional energy calls home. Michaels’ oozing and brazen confidence equals Ronnie’s slimy thirst for internal and external grease addiction. Ronnie supports his 40-year-old something son, Brayden, ever since his wife parted ways for a fellow with ripped abdominal muscles, as Brayden would frequently state. Brayden’s the epitome of what a 40-year-old virgin should look like and not how Hollywood depicted the persona with Steve Carell. The stringy, greasy hair, unkempt physique, and a personality that’s stagnant with naïve humility, Sky Elobar (actor in the upcoming Tony Todd starring film “Candy Corn”) envelops himself as the big man child that is Big Brayden who doesn’t have much self-worth in life until a forward young woman, on one of Ronnie’s Disco Walking Tours, enchants Brayden with flirtatious eyes. Those eye below to Elizabeth De Razzo, the actress who portrayed the subjugated Stevie’s baby mama on Danny McBride’s “Eastbound & Down,” as Janet, the Rootie-Tootie Disco Cutie that causes an upheaval between Ronnie and Brayden’s already ragged relationship. From the HBO comedy series to the “The Greasy Strangler,” Razza has a knack for off-color comedy, exploiting routinely awkward circumstances to Janet’s advantage that wedge the father and son apart and amusing herself as a selfishly sexual and shameless monkey wrench. The remaining cast of colorful character actors include Gil Gex (“Dangerous Men”), Abdoulaye MGom, Holland MacFallister, Sam Dissanayake, and Joe David Walters.
Distasteful visuals enfilade the eyeballs that include one head-to-toe greased up strangler, two half naked speedo-sporting father and son duo, and three overly grotesque, if not a toon like whimsicality of genitals, but don’t worry, Ronnie’s mongoose-sized penis, Brayden’s shrimpy penis, and Janet’s afro-tastic bush are 100% prosthetics. The trade is with that is the actors are practically half nude for about half the film with Big Ronnie dangling his artificial junk from the spinning brushes of the drive-in car wash to the antiquated funky disco dance floor. In all honesty, the prosthetic take a backseat to the ingenious quirky comedy from Hosking and Harvard and with all the oddball body language, the bizarro back and forth banter, and witnessing Michael St. Michaels in a crude suit of grease is special enough.
MVDVisual and FilmRise present “The Greasy Strangler” onto a full HD, 1808p, special director’s edition Blu-ray in a widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio format. Shot with an Arri Alexa camera, the digital image is super crisp and benevolently engrossing despite the explicit content of the narrative. Hardly any digital noise and colors pop with full flavor. The English 5.1 Dolby Digital track is prime steak, utterly tender when chewing and overly filling when done. Dialogue is balanced at the forefront while ambient tracks are equally subdued in tandem. Andrew Hung’s complete “The Greasy Strangler” score, a genetic makeup of nerdy synthesizing discordance, could be rendered as an upstaging character in itself. Extras on the release include an audio commentary with director Jim Hoskins and stars Michael St. Michaels and Sky Elobar, cast and crew interviews about the zany narrative and their opinions on the the zany characters, and the theatrical trailer. Kooky, full frontal, and the most unique best film I’ve ever seen, Jim Hoskins’ “The Greasy Strangler” has a bold and uninhibited cast full of character and full of oldfangled taste that dovetails with a too cool for school attitude and doesn’t give a horse shit about its unconventional cinematic discourse and anatomy. A must, must see cult classic!