All Hail the EVIL Slumbering One! “Sacrifice” reviewed! (101 Films / Digital Screener)

Years after being quickly whisked away to America as a small child from his remote Norwegian island birthplace, Isaac returns nearly 30-years later with his new, pregnant wife, Emma, after the death of his mother leaves the empty family home in his inheritance.  With their heart set on fixing up and selling the house before the birth of their child, Isaac and Emma learn that marketing the seaside and scenic estate comes with a tragic past when the local sheriff discloses the brutal murder of Isaac’s father inside the home.  The dreadful information and the bizarre locals with their customary traditions doesn’t alarm Isaac who, instead, feels a strong connection and is drawn to staying whereas Emma, plagued by terrifying nightmares ever since stepping onto the island, is eager to sell and return to American as soon as possible, fleeing a community that worships an aquatic deity beneath the water’s surface.   

Based off dark fantasy and science fiction writer Paul Kane’s short story, “Men of the Cloth,” found in the author’s “The Colour of Madness” collective works, “Sacrifice” is an alienating folklore horror bound by the influence of a Lovecraftian core under the direction of a filmmaking due in Andy Collier and Toor Mian.  As their sophomore film as collaborating directors, following their 2017 psychological cop horror “Charismata,” Collier and Mian tackle Kane’s short story head-on by changing only a few details, such as location, family structure, and the title from formally known as Kane’s “The Colour of Madness” to “Sacrifice”, but keep rooted the foremost principles of “Men of the Cloth’s” cultish discomfort that’s greatly inspired with the otherworldly sensation of an amiss atmosphere akin to Robin Hardy’s “The Wicker Man.”  Filmed around the idyllic and mountain enclosed shore town of Bjørk, Norway and in the town of Volda, Norway, the 2020 film seeks to plop strangers into a strange land as a production of the London-based companies, Loose Canon Films and Hydra Films RKM, in association with Dread.

Over two years ago was the last time we reviewed a Barbara Crampton movie with “Death House,” that included a plethoric cast of her all-star genre brethren with Kane Hodder, Bill Moseley, Dee Wallace, and others, and, now, Crampton makes her glorious return to the Lovecraftian turf that nostalgically brings most of us horror fans back to the New York-born actress’s “From Beyond” and “Re-Animator” days.  “Sacrifice’s” Cthulhu spirit finds Crampton playing a small town Norwegian sheriff, Renate Lygard, in which Crampton, under the training of a dialect coach, surprises us with a fair Norway accent as she provides a quasi-warm hospitality set of manners upon island outliers in Isaac (Ludovic Hughes) and Emma (Sophie Stevens) Pinkman. Hughes and Stevens nudge their way into a solid man-and-wife, but their dynamic density becomes crispy at times and pale from their initial arrival soon after rustling with the natives. The lack of vitality doesn’t stem from the wedge being driven between from the lure of Isaac being called by the natural phenomena of the Northern Lights, the drunken friendly benevolence of Gunnar (Lucas Loughran) and Ledvor (Jack Kristiansen), and the full frontal skinny dipping of Renate’s beautiful daughter, Astrid, an eye-opening film introduction from Johanna Adde Dahl; instead, the Pinkman’s bond held together about as tight as using kindergarten grade craft glue that bled into the performances as well that came off stiff and unnatural. Aside from Hughes and Stevens hailing from the United Kingdom and Crampton from the U.S., the remaining cast was curtailed to Norway nationals, as such with Loughran and Kristiansen, rounding out the cast with Erik Lundan, Dag Soerlie, and Ingeborg Mork Håskjold.

“Sacrifice’s” cult mania lays on a thick coating of grass roots that really set the tone for an foreboding outcome.  An idyllic Norway fishing village propped between the eclipsing mountain range and marine inlet intrinsically obscures an already unspoken secret that’s only been rendered on the faces and actions of the residents.  At the center of village’s idiosyncrasies are the two hapless protagonists venturing into unknown territory with only an inherited house in their back pocket and a vague sense of youthful recollection; this sets up for an obvious antagonism theme of locals with a sense of xenophobic nationalism, especially against two Americans.  The initial friction opens the flood gates for cultural customaries to be weaponized against Isaac, who wants to strongly embrace his heritage, and Emma, who can’t seem to grasp the village’s peculiar beliefs and even goes as far as being naïve of and mocking the village’s traditions and deity.  The tension is compounded by the ominous presence of the labeled slumbering one, sleeping beneath the glossy surface of the inlet waves, but conjuring up tangible and intense nightmares that plague the every island inhabitant, a mystery Emma can’t explain, won’t entertain, and ignores exploring that turns Emma floundering more into Isaac’s sudden disinterest in her albeit soon-to-be-parents.  “Sacrifice’s” climatic, tell all scene harbors more secrets regarding Isaac and Emma’s purpose on the island that are to be interpreted by the audience, but don’t connect back to any string along clues leading up to a poignant and sharply-shocking ending.  Instead, “Sacrifice” acutely wraps up not only the story but also the characters like a paper wrapped fish at the fish market ready for sale without any huff about where, why, and how that particular bug-eyed fish became the gutted victim of man’s delicacy.

“Sacrifice” shores folklore horror swelled with Lovecraftian roots and is docking digitally today, March 15th, in the UK courtesy of 101 Films. The film has a runtime of 87 minutes and is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, shot on a Sony CineAlta Venice camera. Co-director Andy Collier tackles his first credit director of photography gig with interesting shots looking up through all different angles and vessels that hold water. Whether boiling eggs, taking a bath, or in small cove, Collier, and Mian, put eyes on the bottom surface, promoting all varieties of water within it a lurking presence and the imagery is done extremely well with depth and space to pull off the illusion. A fair amount of soft lighting, moments of bright primary color glow, and the specs of well-placed lighting to barely illuminate a scene is broodingly worthwhile. Tom Linden’s original score is fiercely compliment as a folklore staple, harsh-chord intensity that lingers well after the boiling blood levels drop to a mere tentacle dwelling simmer. There were no extra features or bonus scenes included with the digital screener. While the build up didn’t pay off at the bloody end, the two-tone terror of “Sacrifice” wrecks the nerves and frays warm pleasantries with wicked wallowing, slumbering, nearby in the shallows.

A Mother and Her Lovecraftian Evil Baby! “The Creature Below” review!


Hellbent on being the first to discover something big between 1000-feet, talented marine biologist and ecologist, Olive Crown, constructs a convincing case in a video hiring application to test a deep sea diving suit invented by Dr. Fletcher, but a harrowing encounter with monstrous creature at 2500 feet nearly claims Olive’s life. Blamed for a botch dive and unable to remember the incident, Olive has been fired from her dream position, but when she double checks the dive suit for evidence of what might have happened, she discovers an alien substance, an egg-like object, attached to the outer layer and smuggles it home. The egg hatches to birth a blood thirsty, Cthulhu being that has marked Olive as in a symbiotic relationship as protector and mother. Olive senses everything the creature does, even it’s hunger, and caves in to her discovery’s need to feed with those who antagonize Olive and her creature baby, but at an alarming rate, the life form grows into a mammoth creature and Olive might be losing the perspective of who is really in control.

“The Creature Below” puts a spin on a popularly wild H.P. Lovecraft tale and adds a notch into the belt of the Cthulhu mythos. From director Stewart Sparke in his first feature film comes one woman’s tragically macabre endowment that runs amok through the uninteresting confines of her own life and obliterate it from within. Co-written by Paul Butler, the British Cthulhu feature, “The Creature Below,” melds together a very grand unearthly story into the restrictive walls of an unwanted love triangle Olive’s involved in while dipping toes into also being a pre-Romero zombie film with the automata slave. Though very modest in story and budget, “The Creature Below” is an itsy-bitsy speck in a bigger mythological genre and that’s usually the case for indie Cthulhu flicks, as they should be, because giving a little mystery to Lovecraft’s myth tends to build worlds later, sparks the imagination aflame, and leaves a lasting impression long after the movie is over.

Anna Dawson stars as Olive Crown, creature’s foster parent, and Dawson’s first impression of Olive emits a fierce, go-getter ecologist, looking to make a name for herself in the deep dive exploration field. That egotistical drive tapers off a bit once she’s canned for botched dive, delivering a more humble and reserved Olive Crown, but Dawson puts on the sunken-eyed, icy-cold skin that’s clammy and deadlike in order to fulfill the infant Cthulhu’s bidding. Daniel Thrace embraces the lovably sweet boyfriend, Matthew, whose sensible, charming, and overall nice guy. The pair are complete oil and water, a welcoming dynamic, when Olive’s rationality goes off track. Olive and Matthew are really the only two developed characters as, disappointingly, three considerable major characters don’t build too much of a reputation to warrant their value, especially with Olive’s sister, Ellie, played by Michaela Longden. There’s something more between Ellie and Matthew that doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head and there’s also more to her staying with her sister, Olive, that the audience is not aware of and the scenes where Olive comments on her sister’s freeloading just loses all it’s credibility. The other two actors, roles awarded to Johnny Vivash and Zacharee Lee, are more involved in Olive’s deep sea dive and bring more of a well rounded antagonistic or betrayal personality to the table.

Sparke doesn’t linger too long on the creature, shielding it mostly behind a plastic tarp with a nude façade and that’s, perhaps, more in line with the micro budget constraints. In any case, Sparke focuses the story around Olive’s paranoia and obsession with the creature and with her boyfriend and the bitterness between him and her Sister, Ellie, seemingly toward Olive. Dave Walter has composed from start to finish a low and slow synth soundtrack, that’s familiar to a slowly anticipating heartbeat, and really heightens Olive’s spiraling paranoia similar to that of Ennio Morricone’s work on John Carpenter’s 1982 remake entitled “The Thing” where the eerily sounds of a personified isolation breaches every corner of your body, mind, and the dark room you’re in and all you can hear is that thump…thump…thump in a chest vibrating synchronicity of tones. While the soundtrack is riveting throughout, the story becomes a bit sluggish around the midsection in the sense that space and time don’t exists and Olive’s encounters with Dr. Fletcher, Dara, and various others, are halted to develop any kind of affluence amongst each other or with the audience. Even the ending, which I do adore on a certain level, bares the mark of being incomplete and devoid of substantiating that monolithic ending. There is some post-view satisfaction with the blend of practical and computer generated special effects and as I reflect on the film as a whole, to display a species from birth to adulthood, Sparke and his special effects team had amazing results that are fanned out well enough to leave a lasting impression of the unearthed creature’s visceral and intelligible girth.

Breaking Glass Pictures with Dark Rift Films in association with High Octane Pictures release “The Creature Below” onto DVD. The 16:9 widescreen presentation of this sci-fi horror thriller explores a sleek and clean, with a hint of being just a little hazy, picture that puts forth the appropriate dark grey and blue tone for an underwater or above water creature feature. The English Dolby 5.1 sound’s slightly muffled, but solid. Special features include a behind-the-scenes, deleted scenes, “Rats” a short film, and a Frightfest Q&A. Stewart Sparke’s “The Creature Below” is not perfect and does have appalling, laughable moments, but underneath the surface is a UK film that’s budget-busting bold and aims to be a goliath in an indie market.