Tomaz, former Eastern European soldier of war is now living homeless in London, squatting overnight in rundown buildings with other displaced individuals and families. When the building he’s sleeping in goes up in fire, he’s injured upon escape and wakes in a hospital to learn that a nun found him and his belongings, leaving him a note to visit her upon his release. The nun, Sister Claire, offers him food and a bed in exchange for dire house maintenance for a sickly mother, Miriam, and her caretaker daughter, Magda. As time passes, Tomaz begins to fall for Magda, but her odd behavior and the dying Miriam’s severe skeleton living accommodations in the attic as well as her frail, pail body nag at Tomaz’s conscious that something is awfully amiss. However, his present enigma isn’t the only thing tugging at his tormented conscious when faced with the shocking truth of his residence.
Actress turned filmmaker, Romola Garai, makes her full-length feature debut with a fissionable creepy, punish-thy-sinners, slow burn horror film entitled, “Amulet.” The UK production is written and directed by Garai, who previous work includes main cast acting roles in Joe Wright’s World War II dramatic thriller, “Atonement,” the sci-fi horror “The Last Days on Mars” along with costar Liev Schreiber, and filling in some tremendous shoes in the prequel to the 1987 rom-edy, “Dirty Dancing,” “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.” Now, Garai peers through camera lens, orchestrating from the director’s chair, an eerie body horror tale that involves demons, past regrets, and a diabolical, antiheroic nun conniving for the sake of humanity. Speaking of which, humanity is one of the central themes that “Amulet” explores in hellish fashion as our actions determine the outcome of our various shade of humanity forged ourselves and how we will be judged accordingly. “Amulet” is a production of Head Gear Films and Kreo Films FZ, and Metrol Technology, who have all collaborated on “Cargo, as well as in association with “Shed of the Dead’s” Trigger Films.
Cast in “Amulet’s” only male role is the Romanian born Alec Secareanu as Tomaz. The graduate of Caragiale Academy of Theatrical Arts and Cinematography actor envelops himself into a trouble ex-soldier without a country, unwilling to return to a worn-torn land in hopes to relieve himself from reliving the past. Secareanu exudes tenderness for Tomaz in order for audiences to empathize for a homeless man who has agreed to assist Magda and her ill mother. Garai engrains Tomaz with such sentimentality, it’s proves difficult to see the man any other way until the filmmaker incorporates Magda into the mix, a capricious role imparted upon to “Blade Runner 2049’s” Carla Juri. Juri moderately reprises her eccentrically free performance from the 2013 comedy-drama, “Wetlands,” as a seething promiscuous and alluring woman but, in the darker vision of “Amulet,” Magda is a servant of her dying mother who has a lying in wait, sheathed vocation yet to be revealed until Tomaz’s curiosity becomes too much. Secareanu’s and Juri’s performances define the characters with no details left out, but the overall best performance goes to Imelda Staunton as Sister Claire. As professor Dolores Umbridge from “Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix,” Staunton was maniacal as she was sophisticated, channeling that same energy into Sister Claire as a double-dealing nun with a fraudulent ebullient attitude. Sister Claire was molded surely for the English actress whose high cheekbones, tight mouth, and round eyes give her a perfect blend of meek malice. “Amulet” rounds out the cat with Angeliki Papoulia and Jacqueline Roberts.
“Amulet” scores well as a feminist’s film, more so as the debut film from a woman filmmaker, that takes the horrifying actions of men and, literally, demonizes their red herring benevolence, but, in Garai’s style, that isn’t overly provocative and megaphoned from a soapbox. The doleful, sometimes frivolous, tone regales in a bleaker light of conniving and withholding intentions. While “Amulet” relishes inside an original thought, the story ebbs with disjointed connective dots. The story itself isn’t linear as we’re moved back and forth between Tomaz’s tenure at Madga’s residence and his wartime past being posted up far from the frontlines in isolation, a moment Tomaz continues to relive while dreaming during his time his hands are self-bound with tape, a curious event that becomes important to note as the story unfolds. While the story isn’t linear, that is not why the audiences’ problematic pursuit will be challenging, but more so with the discerning of the amulets role amongst the trifecta of outcomes for Tomaz, Magda, and Sister Claire. The amulet, which is unearthed by Tomaz in the middle of the woods during his draft, is a woman with a shell headdress. Shells are a common motif throughout, serving as a warning of what to come. In some Christianity folklore, shells are a sign of light and salvation and, in a way, serve as Tomaz’s path toward salvation from a lost soul to provided a purpose with unholy consequences. It’s all interpretation, but “Amulet” is a novel look at blending religious predestination with a grim mythological tenor as an excellent melting pot source of ghastly affliction.
From Magnet Releasing comes the twisted tale of transgressional talisman, “Amulet,” from first time filmmaker Romola Garai. Since this film will release potentially in theaters and definitely on demand on July 24th, the digital screener will not be reviewed on it’s audio and video technical aspects, but Laura Bellingham, the direct of photography working on her debut full-length feature as well, introduces an uncomfortable warmth that engulfs the characters. It’s a reoccurring fire like theme, from Tomaz’s hotel inferno to Madga and Miriam’s home, that could be synonymous to the accommodations of fire and brimstone. Dialogue clarity is good and the ambience is equally fine. The soundtrack by Sarah Angliss didn’t do much for story, striking a pretermit chord in order to focus more on the story. There were no bonus features included with the digital screener nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Amulet” is the very definition of feminist horror that bludgeons the stereotype and is well executed to deliver not just a subvert message of importance, but a damn fine film of dreadful body horror and artful mythos.
In 1985, director Hilary Jacobs sets her sights to finish her Australian low budget horror film, “Hot Blooded,” at all cost, but the ambitious cast and crew struggle to compete with riley personalities that slow down production. The film’s masked killer goes mad and gores with an indefinite stake into the film’s heart after mercilessly murdering Jacobs before being violently killed himself by the film’s vain star, American Vanessa Turnbill. Fourteen years have past and the “Hot Blooded” reels have been deemed cursed for whenever they’re viewed, someone dies, but a group of determined film students are keen on finishing Hilary Jacobs’ last directorial and even gain the original leading lady, Vanessa Turnbill, to return and finish her staggering performance. With the partial, unfinished reel screened by all cast and crew and filming begins shooting on the original set premises, the evil masked killer returns to finish each one off diligently before they’re able to finish the film.
With the late Wes Craven pumping new spirit into the a life support stricken slasher subgenre in 1996 with “Scream,” masked killers surged into proper restoration once more right before the turn of the century and Mushroom Pictures, the cinematic banner of one of Australia’s most notable indie music publisher, Mushroom Group, asserts their debut title into the stratosphere grazing genre that who’ve now initiated a creative footing into film production and distribution with a commemorating meta-slasher entitled “Cut.” Directed by Kimble Rendall (“Bait”) and penned by Dave warner, “Cut” dares to ride the newly rediscovered genre wave early in the wake of establishing predecessors that strived to formulate an un-formulaic counter measure against the slasher status quo, but “Cut” doubles down with Warner’s script that meshes subgenres, compounding the horror to uncharted territories where filmmakers do not dared trek sitting comfortably in their less is more recliner. “Cut” relates more to Wes Craven than most genre fans would like to admit but the similarities the two directors’ characters and killer are compelling to explore and compare. The filming is mostly shot in the Adelaide region of South Australia; the same region that produced recent horror such as 2017’s zombie post-apocalyptic “Cargo” starring Martin Freeman and the great white shark thriller “The Reef.”
Comprised mainly of an Australian cast, “Cut’s” headlining leading lady is an American “Sixteen Candles” sweetheart taking a leap into unfamiliar territory and I’m not talking about of the Outback kind. Molly Ringwald has only ever starred in one other horror film in her 40 year professional acting career and after the dismally reviewed 1997 cubicle-cutthroat thriller, “Office Killer,” the “Breakfast Club” star steps into a more complex role that involves her multi-tasking two persona performances of essentially the same character spanning a story lined fourteen years apart. As a true testament to “Cut’s” makeup and stylist department, Ringwald, who was about 30 years old at the time of filming, goes incognito as she’s barely recognizable as Chloe, a role within a role played by Vanessa Turnbill playing the teenage character in the scrapped “Hot Blooded” slasher. Though a far cry from a coming to age film, Ringwald pivots to a coming to terms with her character’s handling of prolonged fear from the fateful and deadly night the masked killer almost ended Vanessa’s life by strongly playing to the character’s overpowering sense of self worth and brash Hollywood attitude against the one thing she can’t control…her past. Vanessa is not alone in her quest for finishing a scarring afterthought as “Hot Blooded’s” newest director, student filmmaker Raffy Carruthers, picks up where Hilary Jacobs’ left off after being butchered and is determined to wrap Jacobs’ legacy short of being a hack director. As the other half of the two resilient female characters, Raffy is played by New Zealand actress Jessica Napier who channels her inner Sidney Prescott as a strong feminine survivor unnerved by the macabre that’s closing in around her brought upon a sadistic masked killer and braves sacrificing herself to thwart pure evil’s carnage. The rest of “Cut’s” cast disperses the right amount of character building performances by Sarah Knats, Stephen Curry (“Rogue”), Matthew Russell, Erika Walters, Cathy Adamek (“The Babadook”), Steve Greig, Sam Lewis, and pop singer Kylie Minogue (“Street Fighter”) whose had collaborative projects with Mushroom Group and also a role in a Kimble Rendall 11-minutel short, “Hayride to Hell.”
The meta approach “Cut” takes might detach itself from the plot of “Scream,” but in essence, the Kimble Rendall film is derivative work of Wes Craven who aimed to expose and exploit cliched tropes of the slasher flicks to upheave audiences wits on what they know about the genre and where the plot might eventually boil down to in a orthodox simmer of uncreative sensationalism. “Scream” smartly broke down plot structures, revealed character flaws, and even name dropped popular directors and films that became the very foundational basis of the Renaissance slasher era that went unchanged for years, decades perhaps. “Cut” also reasserts shout outs as references, along with Rendall’s creative knack of making every character swim in the pool of suspicion, to build up a catalytic twist no one would or could predict despite all the subtle clues, generally abundant in slashers, toward revealing the killer’s true identity and motivation. I wouldn’t be bold enough to say Rendall’s “Cut” deserves to be above or on the same level as “Scream,” because, frankly, it doesn’t, but “Cut” has a singular, unique identity with all of its own loaded modern day slasher traits such as a high kill count and an intriguing self-referential plot. Where “Cut” shakes at the knees a bit is how the practical effects were accomplished and the scores of cheesy late 90’s-to-early 2000 visual effects bared an ugly resembles of something that could have come straight out of the Super Mario Bros. film adaptation. A minority of the kills were decently crafted to bring a honorable character death, but there were many that succumb to a quick edit or stemmed from an off screen cut down that took away the breadth of impact and left more to be morbidly desired. Where “Cut” struggles shouldn’t be deemed ineligible for attention because of those reasons and, in fact, “Cut” sustains a high entertaining rating with immense value in the replay sector to catch thematical intimations and do a comparative analysis on Crave and Rendall’s films on how they experiment, treat, and respect the greats that were once lost to success over a long period mediocre financial and routine blundering.
Umbrella Entertainment and Beyond distribution debuts the Blu-ray release of the Mushroom Pictures and Kimble Rendall’s “Cut” with a full HD, 1080p 4K restoration from the original film’s 35mm interpos and presented in a widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The 4K scan illuminates the hard, dark lighting used primarily for tone setting, granting an extremely gothic look without being inside the parameters of inherently gothic set design and the scanned transfer also revitalizes the snaps of color where appropriate while still leaving the natural grain from the 35mm filmstock. The English language dual channel DTS-HD Master Audio track has lossy quality because there is such contentious and explosive moments that warrant audio quality; however, the 2.0 track is sufficient to lay simple groundwork of depth, range, and clarity and the soundtrack, no matter how generic, elevates to a concentrated level with the killer on the hunt. Dialogue murkiness is no issue here with a clear path of discernible lines. Special features seem limited and antiquated for a 4K, Blu-ray debut release, but do include archived cast interviews with Molly Ringwald, Kyle Minogue, Jessica Napier, and Kimble Rendall, behind-the-scenes of some of the shots, a commentary with director Kimble Rendall and writer Dave Warner, storyboard and concept art gallery, “Hayride to Hell” short from Rendall that stars Minogue and Richard Roxburgh, and the theatrical trailer of the film. The back cover states a region B disc, but my player was set on A and prior press releases suggested a region free release so this particular gem should play in any region. If a die hard Wes Craven fan, place the 20-years-young “Cut” into your queue as a forward thinking slasher with brass balls and a marred killer with modified gardener sheers that provokes the genre still to this day.
A pandemic sweeps across the Australian land, transforming the infected into hunger-driven cannibals. Andy and his wife, Kay, boat down river in hopes to find a safe zone for their baby daughter Rosie in attempt to avoid major populations and even the occasional infected, but when Kay falls victim to a bite aboard an apparent abandoned sailboat while salvaging for supplies, the couple have no choice but to seek help on the mainland. Desperation leads to carelessness when Andy veers off the road and crashes. He awakens to his wife having turned rabid, sustaining a bite on his arm when saving his daughter from the backseat. With maybe two days until the virus overcomes him, Andy must find a way across a mostly vacant landscape to find someone to take care of his young daughter. With time running out, Andy’s plight takes him through a barren-inhabited land where he encounters various walks with some being too unsavory and too unsuitable for his daughter’s welfare.
Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke are the first time directors behind the 2017, zombie-classified horror-drama “Cargo.” The screenplay was also penned by Ramke stemming from a remake of the directing duo’s short film of the same title. The short, that went on to be a finalist at the world’s largest short film festival, Tropfest, and went viral back into 2013, being showcased on the internets most popular genre sites. From there, the success of Howling and Ramke’s 7-minute short, encouraged by a strong fan base, was able to land equity to fund a full-length feature set in Howling and Ramke’s home country of Australia. The 2017 film added a star cast, a grittier and gut-busting bigger budget, and even landed back the main actor from the short film in a smaller, but significant role. “Cargo’s” bigger, more organic, and exalts the very essence of being human in an isolated, catastrophic, capitalism dystopia overrun with the chrysalis monsters.
English actor and star of the “Hobbit” series, Martin Freeman, lands the lead role of Andy. Freeman’s usual knack consists of being mild-mannered with a variety of facial expressions and his performance in being a desperate father in “Cargo” is no different; yet Freeman expresses another quality that consistently stays in the shadows of his other worth and that is strength. Andy might be conservative and portrayed as meek, but when push comes to shove, Andy steps to the plate and Freeman shows us his upper hand of his character’s abilities. Freeman works alongside first time child actress, Simone Landers, as Thoomi, an indigenous native offspring who relies on Andy to return her to her family while Andy relies on her to bring safety to his infant daughter. For a first time performance, Landers couldn’t have been more of a perfect fit aside the experienced “Sherlock Holmes” actor. Also co-starring in “Cargo” is Anthony Hayes, Susie Porter, Caren Pistorius, Kris McQuade, and, “Crocodile Dundee’s” David Gulpili who, to quote Ben Howling who said it best, is essentially Australian actor royalty.
“Cargo” isn’t your typical genre zombie film. In fact, I wouldn’t even brandish it the label of a zombie film. Ramke’s post-epidemic story reverberates a more familiar “28 Days Later” echo that spurs more life altering contagion than the dead resurrecting to feast on the living. The infect do not run, but stumble, like a zombie and also crave living delicacies; yet, their tainted blood seeps an inhuman generated neon-orange-like sap through facial orifices that feels more like the European zombie of an organic or voodoo nature. These human-turned-monsters also bury their heads below the dirt up to their shoulders in a state of transformation or a rebirth in a sense. The essence of “Cargo’s” villainy is expanded further from Howling and Ramke’s initial short film that just introduced a milky-eyed dead head and these types of infected give “Cargo” a better, more substantial presence in an overcrowded living dead genre, but the infected are not the main villains as people, essentially one capitalistic vulture, is the real threat against the protagonists.
Umbrella Entertainment presents “Cargo,” a Netflix film, onto Blu-ray home video in a sleek full HD 1080p and presented in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The region B, MPEG-4 AVC encoded disc has great detail over the dry Australian countryside stocked with brown and brown vegetation, natural coloring across the board, especially in the infected’s neon-orange ooze, and an overall favorable viewing experience. The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio doesn’t necessarily have a bombastic track, as it isn’t that kind of film, and the range is fairly around a mild-mannered tonality with a hiccup of gunfire and shouting in the ambient tracks. Dialogue is perfectly crystal clear in the forefront. Bonus material includes two featurettes, one entitled “Cargo: Shaping A Fragile Future” and the other “Cargo: Maternal Combat,” interviews with cast and crew, Q&A from May 2018 in Melbourne, the original Tropfest 2013 short, and the theatrical trailer. “Cargo” breathes fresh air into a threadbare genre with a sheer look into humanity’s willpower and callous.