Defy EVIL to Live! “Alone” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)

Six months after the suicide of her husband, Jessica struggles to cope living in the city that holds too many fond memories of her once happy life with her husband.  Jessica packs her things and quickly drives out to the wilderness, separating herself from the city as well as her unsupportive parents.   On the road, she encounters an incessant man following her every track before violently kidnapping her and hiding her away in a bare room of an isolated cabin deep within the woods.  Her escape opposes her not only against a calculating captor hot in pursuit, but also against nature’s unforgiving elements, showing little mercy to Jessica’s dire and desperate getaway. 

From eluding the flesh hungry, running zombies of Syfy’s “Z-Nation” and Netflix’s “Black Summer,” director John Hyams has us fleeing once again for our very lives against a more realistic monster in his upcoming abduction thriller, “Alone.” Screenwriter Mattias Olsson takes a backseat from directing “Alone,” which is a remake of his written and co-directed 2011 Swedish film, “Gone,” paralleling the premise about a woman fleeing a family tragedy only to be followed and kidnapped by a man driving a SUV.  Shot in Oregon’s silvan outskirts, “Alone” is a survival thriller with emerging themes of taking back one’s life in more ways than one and no more running from an unbearable past built into a conceivable terror situation that has unfortunately been a common episode all over the globe.  “Alone” will be the second feature film produced under Mill House Motion Pictures, under the supervision of founders Jordan Foley and Jonathan Rosenthal, the latter having a small role in the film, and is also a film from a second Jordan Foley company, Paperclip Limited, who has Lisa Simpson voice actress herself, Yeardley Smith, as one of the active partners, and, lastly, in association with XYZ Films.

The up and coming young actress, Jules Willcox (“Dreamkatcher”) stars in the lead of Jessica who hasn’t have a friend in the world, alienating herself from her former life and her parents with a sudden escape to the Oregon wilderness.  The physically demanding role withstands the brunt of constant attack, whether from Marc Menchaca’s unnamed assailant character or the natural elements of the forest that include from the massive rapid rivers and torrential rains to the smallest of roots that spear her bare feet while on the run.  Willcox also brings to the role an indistinct mindset, jumbled with the lingering and complicated suicide of Jessica’s husband, paranoia, and an instinctual reaction to survive, especially through Willcox’s eyes that arch from fear to fortitude.  To really envelope Willcox in that unwarranted fear of harm and pushing her character into the unknown of the adversarial complex that is mother nature is Marc Menchaca as a conniving creep looking to do as much pleasurable damage on his bogus business trip as possible.  Menchaca also looks the part, resembling an out of place 70’s-80’s serial killer with round thin-framed glasses and a moderately bushy handlebar mustache overtop a sturdy frame.  Now while these attributes are not indicative to just serial killers, they sure as hell work well on screen to really sell the intensity that Menchaca delivers as a faux Ned Flanders type nice guy, a sheep in a wolf’s clothing so to speak, who acts a lure against his prey before venomously striking.  The small cast rounds out with Anthony Heald of the Anthony Hopkins “Hannibal” films in a small, yet uncharacteristic, good guy role as a hunter caught in the middle of Jessica’s situation.

While suicide might be the catalyst that compels Jessica to drive into the middle of nowhere, Matthias and Hymans only utilize the power theme as an instrument against Jessica’s psyche.  Jessica runs and hides from polite and comfortable society, but the recently widowed soon discovers that she can’t outrun her past as she hits a perverse wall constructed in the form of a man of sordid pleasures and sociopathic tendencies.  Her kidnapper becomes, in a way, her therapist who, at one point, pins her to the ground and scrolls through the personal photos on her tablet, forcing her to talk about her husband up to the point of his death, and consistently throughout the film that his actions were cowardly, removing the blame from her and onto him while emphasizing her tremendous guilt for not seeing the signs earlier.  “Alone” blossoms a wildly curative dynamic that encourages Jessica to then defend herself and her husband’s memory by standing up against not only the man’s relentless chase, but also her guilt.  The thick Oregon setting becomes a security blanket, sheathing her endless dismay, but the forest is actually does more harm than good for Jessica.  Only when does Jessica steps into a wide clearing of lumberjacked tree stumps does hiding from all the pain and torment become no longer an option as she makes her last stand against her attacker, unloading her fear, anger, and guilt upon the man by exposing him as an oppressive killer. While immersed in watching, “Alone” will deprive oxygen from your body that’s desperately gasping to fill your lungs with air in every harrowing chapter, but “Alone” is a breadth with a throng of digging out of despair overtones and a conduit for self-repair that’s unraveled symbolically through the afflictions of bona fide sadism.

“Alone” rises above the call of arms against predatory men in this thrilling remake from John Hyams, releasing into Theaters and VOD on September 18th from Magnet Releasing. The rated R, 98 minute feature will not have the A/V specs critique due to the digital screener, but Federico Verardi (“Z-Nation”) grasps the elegant threat of the woods by using drone shots to shoot the very tippy-top of the swaying trees that conceal the ground, as if obscuring the atrocity being committed below, and applying low-contrast to make insidious hard shadows against green lush that turn beauty dark and deceitful. *Director John Hyams has noted the rapid’s scene where Jessica temps fate to escape her pursuer was practical and performed by stuntwoman Michelle Damis and though looked a little off around the Jessica’s unsubmerged profile as she’s whisked away down the river, the effect is 100% legit. “The Pyramid” and “Becky’s” Nima Fakhrara scores a low-impact tremble for most of the feature with Jessica’s running through the woods is accompanied an equally low-impact drumming, letting the ebb and flow of resonating forest ambience engulf much of the soundtrack to solidify it as a correlative character; even the end credits is purely nature’s ambient noise. Since “Alone” is a brand new feature, there were no bonus material or bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Alone” knicks the core of vulturine power, but turns the tables toward more feminist revelation to fight and take back one’s life.

*Correction: Previously stated the rapids scene was CGI.

 

EVIL Doesn’t Joke Around. “Let’s Scare Julie” reviewed! (Shout Studios! / Digital Screener)


After the sudden passing of her father, Emma stays with her cousin, Taylor, along with her aunt and drunkard uncle. Taylor pressures Emma to be part of her prank habitual group of friends, trying to convince Emma how this is how things will be from now on while also trying to be a compassionate shoulder to her reserved cousin. With Taylor’s uncle passed on the sofa downstairs and her mother flying in from out of town, an impromptu sleepover encourages the group of girls to connive a break-and-entering prank to scare a new neighbor, a teenage girl named Julie, across the street. Emma half-heartedly participates by producing a way into the house, allowing her cousin and her heedless new friends onward on their scaring scheme, but when only two of the four girls return, the prank has turned terribly wrong as an urban legend about the house across the street might actually be true.

Breaking out from helming television documentaries and into the genre feature realm is filmmaker Jud Cremata debuting with his written and directed bloodcurdling slumber party, “Let’s Scare Julie,” premiering on in home theaters on digital and VOD come October 2nd, 2020. Starting off Halloween with an innovative filming structure and a good ole fashion horror tale, Cremata never eases on the reins of terror from nearly a single, continuous take of his mischievous teenage girls meet malevolent ghost story that occurs over a single night, condensed further to a time frame that’s almost parallel to the film’s runtime. Formerly known as “Let’s Scare Julie to Death,” the Santa Clara filmed, real time hijinks gone awry spook show is the first horror production from the Los Angeles and Moscow based Blitz Films in association with “Becky’s” Buffalo 8 Productions. Jud Cremata and Marc Wolloff produce the feature alongside Blitz Films’ Eryl Cochran and Nick Sarkisov.

Comprised with a small cast of new talent, “Let’s Scare Julie” focuses around a group of five teenage girls and one elementary grade school girl concentrated more so around a life rebounding Emma played by Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson, making her introduction into feature length films. What makes this a phenomenal role and performance for Johnson is the fact that the young actress has to maintain in-character for the entire length of the film with the camera rarely parting away from her in every moment of the nearly continuous take and she has to adjust her dynamics with a variety volume of characters ranging in temperament from meek, to obnoxious, to terrifying, to drunk, and to the perpetuance of adolescence behavior from her protective, yet peer pressuring cousin Taylor (Isabel May), the obnoxious goof Madison (“Ladyworld’s” Odessa A’zion), the unassertive duddy Paige (Jessica Sarah Flaum), and the confident showoff Jess (“Unearth’s” Brooke Sorenson). Individually, the characters are well developed, hinting more towards unravelling their true selves with each progressive moment their on screen, but not overly enough to have each figured out and that leaves their hopeful futures in ruin, offering more substance to their potential demise. Rounding out “Let’s Scare Julie” cast is Dakota Baccelli, Blake Robbins (“Rubber,” “Martyrs”), and Valorie Hubbard (“Resident Evil: Extinction”) as the evil spirit, Ms. Durer.

Uncomplicated with less fancy footwork adorned, “Let’s Scare Julie” is all about the story and less about the effects hoopla usually associated with vindictive phantasma creepers, especially ones like Ms. Durer who like to seep into her victim’s personal bubble using voodoo black magic dolls while wearing nothing more than her dirty nightgown and scathing glare on her face. The simplicity of the movie is almost refreshing in the inherent campiness of the anecdotal urban legend spieled by the girl living next to the house of ill repute, but one thing about the story that irks me is the marketing of “Let’s Scare Julie” being shot in one continuous take; yet, there are a few edits that not necessarily cut to a different scene, but rather just jump seconds of a frame and continue the moment. Whether the edit’s intent was because of timing, reducing frames in a scene to meet a certain runtime, or to give the actors a slight break, the expectation wasn’t fully met when the handful of edits are slipped in condemning that anticipated single take to just a still impressive compilation of long takes. Chuck Ozea’s maneuvering cinematography seamlessly tells the tale without so much of a hiccup as the veteran music video DP choreographs somewhat of a dance around Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson to capture her slow simmer into terror. “Let’s Scare Julie” does more with less as a round about ghost story, building up suspense above the guise of guilt-riddled themes without placing the perspective in the middle of the supernatural action.

Sometimes, pranks backfire and, in this case, this prank is to die for in the Shout Studios distributed “Let’s Scare Julie,” scaring up into home theaters on Digital and On Demand at the beginning of Halloween season on October 2, 2020. Being a brand new film, there were no psychical media specs to report nor would there would be any A/V if specs were available since this review copy is a digital screener of the film. As a digitally recorded production in this day and age, expect the found footage-like video and sound as faultless as expected, but the quality will be determined by your internet connection and streaming platforms. There were no bonus material with the screener nor were there any additional scenes during or after the credits. Five teens’ prank spree ends on a dark and stormy night of terror where urban legend trounces cruelty over shenanigans in the crafty and solid shiver-inducing “Let’s Scare Julie.”

Pre-order “Let’s Scare Julie” on Prime Video.

Death Fears No EVIL in Takashi Miike’s “First Love” reviewed! (Well Go USA / Blu-ray)


Orphaned boxer Leo grows up to be an up-and-coming star in the sport. After losing a match by TKO from a soft punch, Leo is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor that sends himself into despair. In another part of town, the established yakuza and the imported Chinese mafia boil toward an inevitable war over turf and drugs. When Kase, a junior enforcer, betrays his yakuza family, scheming with a crooked cop to steal drugs for profitable gain, the tide turns blood red as the yakuza naively blames the Chinese. Caught in the middle is a drug addicted prostitute named Monica, a slave to the yakuza for her father’s past mishaps, who is kept locked away in a small apartment overseen by a yakuza lackeys, romantic couple Yasu and Julie, that also use the apartment to control drug flow. When Kase plan to raid the apartment and steal the drugs goes array, Yasu winds up dead and Monica escapes, running into Leo who has nothing left to live for except to protect Monica. A distraught-induced psychotic Julie, the deadly yakuza, the Chinese Mafia, a double-crosser and his crooked cop partner, a delusional girl of the night, and one apathetic boxer clash in a single night’s ultraviolet web.

Extreme Japanese auteur Takashi Miike fastens a lively tongue-and-cheek and supremely savage crime thriller in his latest mad yakuza film, amiably entitled, “First Love,” also known “Hatsukoi.” “First Love” is anything but friendly and pleasant as the street of Tokyo run red with blood or else the 2019 released film wouldn’t be a Takashi Miike trademark special. Penned by Miike’s long time collaborator, Masa Nakamura, the filmmaker’s affection for horror eludes this title that hones more toward the unpleasantries of clan betrayals, snarky criminal shenanigans, and, of course, a flavor for mega violence that become a maelstrom angrily surrounding a demoralized boxer and the victimized forced-into-prostitution young woman he aims to selfishly protect while in his mental clout regarding his mortality. Produced by OLM, Inc production company headquartered in Tokyo takes a step away from manga with “First Love,” a step that has been evolved over the last few years, but may have contributed to some of the illustrated content that seemingly has infiltrated into the third act with an initial explosiveness in the beginning portions of a car chase scene.

Cast as Leo Katsuragi, the boxer, is Masataka Kubota, a familiar face from another Miike film, “13 Assassins,” and most recently from the heavily Japanese cultured specter feature, ‘Tokyo Ghoul.” Leo’s lighter weight physique and fresh face has Masataka look the part of a promising fighter whose positioned for fame early into the story, but that framework comes to a screeching halt when he’s destined for a tumorous death. When Leo is coupled with Monica, a drug addicted forced in prostitution plagued with crippling hallucinations side effects, the repressed Leo finds himself sheltering someone with more burden on her shoulders than upon his own. Monica’s portrayed by Sakurako Konishi in what’s essentially her first major role and being paired as a scared, lonely, and crazy character coupled with a stoic vet in Masataka makes for an easy dynamic. Shôta Sometani’s chin deep in trouble Kase goes without saying that Sometani’s unfathomable range and charisma adds an aloof comic relief along with Kase’s dishonest detective slipped covertly into by “Ichi the Killer” himself, Nao Ohmori and pursued by a retribution spirited girlfriend, Julie, of her slain yakuza boyfriend; a role spearheaded with such energy and gusto from Rebecca Eri Rabone, credited solely as Becky, who has a slight Cynthia Rothrock vibe. “First Love” is no slave to boorish performances from Takahiro Miura (“Shin Godzilla”), Cheng-Kuo Yen, Sansei Shiomi, and Mami Fujioka.

“First Love” emerges as a smart and fun battle royal of decimation in the anarchist criterion. One would think a prolific director such as Takashi Miike would wear out his welcome with tired and stale filmic bread, crumbling with every soggy rinse and repeat. That’s not the case with “First Love.” Why is it entitled “First Love” anyway, you ask? The question’s open for viewer interpretation, much like most of Miike’s suggestive elegant style, and presents an illuminating unexplored journey in itself. A ventured guess would be that Leo and Monica have never experienced the feeling previously in either content or a labored life with Leo being an impassive athlete and Monica an escort since high school. The corollary of bumping into each other by chance results in the unorthodox dismantling of two rival criminal organizations, baring then an age-old theme of love conquers all and renders the mystics of destiny fueled from from within all the way easter egging sexual taboos inside his brazen, sometimes insane, transgression storyline. Either way, Takashi Miike helms a tremendous brutal-comedy that brands him as being the Martin Scorsese of Japanese filmmaking.

Blades, guns, and a fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, “First Love” has mainstream aptitude with a carnage driven crime syndicate finesse and is now available on a two-disc, dual format Blu-ray and DVD release from Well Go USA Entertainment. Encased in a slipcover, the not rated feature is presented in full HD, 1080p, and in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio. This review will focus it’s review on the Blu-ray quality. Much of Miike’s style is neo-noir basking in very grounded color palette that’s occasionally adorned by the neon brights of Tokyo. Often does Miike composite in his work and “First Love” is no exception with a brief manga nearly a rallying ending; the illustration is super sharp, a visual pop of blue and white, and, obviously, clean. Ultra-fine details add to a prizing fatalism and even the tasteful gore, on a granular level, passes the screen test. Some scenes appear sleeker than others inside a dark scope coded with darker shades of green and yellow, but the overall result smothers any kind of inconsistency. The Japanese and Chinese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks savor every last audiophile morsel. The clear dialogue renders nicely, big effects and action sequences offer a wide range, and the depth covers more than enough ground surrounded by hustle and bustle of the urban element. Kôji Endô’s enchantingly lethal score will immerse you right into the mix and provide a slick culture twist upon classical composition. The English subtitles are well paced and mostly accurate as I did catch one grammatical mistake. Incased inside a slight embossed titled cardboard slipcover, the release also offers a teaser and a theatrical run trailer. Cynical on the surface and romantically submersible to the core, “First Love” is a Takashi Miike instant favorite of amusing antagonism and shorn almost completely of genial garments.

Own Takashi Miike’s “First Love” on Blu-ray+DVD combo set!