Entombed With an EVIL Loneliness. “Alone With You” reviewed! (Dark Star Pictures / DVD)

“Alone With You” on DVD at Amazon.com

Charlene anxiously awaits the return of girlfriend Simone who has been away on a photoshoot.  Today is their anniversary and Charlene wants everything to be perfect by creating a lovely evening together for just the two of them in their New York City apartment.  As the night progresses and still no sign of Simone, despite her flight landing hours ago, Charlene begins to worry but her phone suddenly malfunctions and her apartment front door jams, locking her inside with no way out.  To make matters worse, the outside is blacked out from something covering her widow to where no light can penetrate and she can’t see anything exterior.  Throughout the night, voices and shadows slowly surround her, dark silhouettes stand motionless in her storage basement and outside her jammed door, and the video calls with her mom and friends turn to an unnerving end as it seems Simone nor anybody else is coming to recuse her.  Intermittent flashbacks of her at the beach and a neighboring voice are her only company that menacingly mess with Charlene’s mind as she quickly realize that something is terribly wrong. 

If you’re looking for a compact, close-quartered, psychological barrel of scutter apprehension and fear, I wholeheartedly believe filmmakers Emily Bennett and Justin Brooks have what you need to inject that tar black cathartic dread right into your emotionally hungry veins with their latest film “Alone With You.”  Born and bred out of strict COVID times, “Alone With You” is the 2020 filmed mind-torturing, hell in a cell shot inside Emily Bennett’s NYC apartment during most of the shoot, using telecommunication technology to invite other actors into the spatial bubble and interact with the main lead without physically being on set.  We’ve seen a ton of other COVID-created content over the past two years, but “Alone With You” definitely shines as not only isolating madness but also a fear of disconnect in reality, mental struggles over brittle relationships, and an illusionary life stemmed out of disenchanting circumstances.  “Alone With You” is written and directed by Emily Bennett and Justin Brooks as their first feature film and is produced by “Underworld:  Awakening” actor Theo James and Andrew D. Corkin of the 2019 created production label, Untapped.

With a small indie feature film during pandemic pandemonium, the odds the cast and crew are downsized, probably meagerly paid, and limited by the pandemic-stricken environment and lack of funds.  “Alone With You” is just that film because at the principle lead is none other than Emily Bennett, one of half of the directing duo.  Bennett, who has a solid acting career with even a role alongside “The Devil’s Rejects’” Bill Moseley in the “House of the Witchdoctor,” gets cozy in her own two story apartment that suddenly becomes an ensnarement of unveiling and disturbing truth.  Bennett hits every level of descension without an immediate belief that something isn’t right with her surroundings.  Charlene takes multiple gradual hits of paranormal punches and Bennett executes her fear with great poise without any lopsidedness to give away too much too early that can sometimes kill momentum before the spookiness starts to really get good.  Through flashbacks and video calls, other actors interject moments of levity, different sides of tension, and, frankly, break up the Bennett monotony and from those brief moments, we get a sense of who Charlene is and a slither piece of her backstory.  The amazingly talented “Bliss” and “VFW” actress, Dora Madison, plays Charlene’s inebriated-uncouth friend Thea over a cell phone video call, zooming in is Charlene’s rightwing mother played by the ever versatile and extremely lovely Barbara Crampton, and, lastly, Emma Myles, in an unrecognizable role in contrast of a greasy haired addict and former Amish turned inmate performance in “Orange is the New Black,” is the always beyond arm’s length away love interest Simone.

What I like most of about “Alone With You” is the atmospherics of being in your safe, cozy place that has instantly turned in a prison of peripheral moving shadows, an invasion of privacy, and, most frighteningly of all with most millennials, none of the modern technology is working properly.  The story design feels extremely pushed toward a wash, rinse, and repeat cycle with no other areas in the apartment to explore other than the handful of main rooms and so we’re constantly in the bedroom, then living room, then front door, then basement, and then repeat for most of the 1 hour and 22 minute runtime but do you know what happens with that?  Bennett and Brooks strategize and outline the snowball of bad feelings inside the ominous compact, starting small and working up to a cacophony of madness to where Charlene is literally moving back and forth between truth and deception induced by being scared to shivers of her own apartment’s clad and taken for granted discomforts, such as the front door sometimes being stuck or the crying lady neighbor who you can hear clearly through the air register.  “Alone With You” fiddles with the theme of disconnection.  Here you have Charlene, a small town girl who moves into the big city, has discovered her sexuality, and has found a vocation that suits her to which all this change go against her mother’s approval, and she feels strongly attached, like an extension of herself, to girlfriend Simone and as the story progresses, we get the sense that not everything is lovey-dovey between the two and Charlene’s dependent world is slowly being severed.  Simple, yet effective, “Alone With You” is an undoing nightmare of personal happiness, a sentiment we all share and relate to during height of the pandemic.   

Now, we all suffer in Charlene’s insufferable loneliness and disconnection with the “Alone With You” DVD home video courtesy of Dark Star Pictures. The region 1, dual layer DVD is presented in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio of standard 480p resolution definition, but the DVD image renders nicely on screen with digital sharpness unaffected by any compression issues, especially with much of the space saving special effects coming in practical and mostly done in the editing room. The video calls vary in quality which is pleasantly dispersed to the appropriate electronic devise, i.e. television, phone, etc. Details are clearly there but only slightly softer around the edged delineation. Two audio tracks are available with an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 and a stereo 2.0, but the 5.1 track is an allocating alicorn for a low-budget DVD. Shawn Guffy and Nicole Pettigrew’s sound design is meticulously on point and on cue with every synchronous audio nudge to point Charlene in the right direction for another round of dread. The varying levels of the Phil Mossman’s soundtrack adds a blended flavor of melancholy and fear. Dialogue output renders clearly and cleanly with no issues. English SDH subtitles are available. DVD comes stocked with special features including a blooper reel, a bit of a waste of space on the deleted scene reel that doesn’t add much to either the character or story, a lengthy and in-depth filmmaker and cast interviews, a behind-the-scenes featurette of Emily Bennett and Justin Brooks remarking on the struggles of feature filming around their apartment during COVID spikes, and a director commentary with the duo. “Alone With You” has a heavy artsy side to it that can leave viewers wandering for answers but if pieced together, if paying close enough attention, the correlation between the story in the camera and the life behind the camera are really not terrifyingly different. One just happens to be more of a representation hyperbolized with terror of a crashing down reality than the other.

“Alone With You” on DVD at Amazon.com

Hide Your Children! EVIL Comes For Them! “Achoura” reviewed! (Dark Star Pictures / Digital Screener)



“Achoura” now available on Prime Video!

Broken by witnessing the kidnapping of their friend Samir, Ali, Nadia, and Stephen’s lives are plagued by the past and turmoiled in the present as adults.  When Samir is miraculously discovered alive, a realization of truth begins to flood back into their memories as the kidnapper’s intentions were to stop a malicious, child-devouring entity by stowing the demon away in Samir’s body as an encapsulating prison.   The demon, known as the Bougatate, uses the joyous celebration of the Muslim holiday Ashura to snack on beguiled youth and is now free to feed upon ripe, happy children once again, especially Ali and Nadia’s young son.  The four friends must band together and seek to destroy Bougatate on his own turf, a decrepit rural French house engulfed in nightmarish lore. 

Nothing says originality and mind-broadening concepts more than when international filmmakers weave the fabric of their folklore, the sequin of traditions, and the raw materials of cultural customs into their fabrication of creativity.  Director and co-writer Talala Selhami takes us on that very journey through Morocco with a tale based off the concepts of a shifty Djinn-like urban legend terrorizing children of the Ashura celebration with a shadowy, jaw-opening and jowl-extending monster devouring children like a snake in this 2018 released supernatural, child-be-vigilant thriller, “Achoura.”  Selhami’s sophomore film comes 8 years after releasing the cutthroat hiring practices of Corporation authority over the applying individual in “Mirages.”  The French-born director helms a script penned by Jawad Loahlou and David Villemin showcasing the horrors of loss, sometimes forgotten, amongst the Arab-Berber population.  The half-crescent coast of Casablanca becomes the main shooting location for the Moroccan-French co-production under Moon & Deal Films, Overlook Films, Orange Studio, and Black Lab VFX produced by Selhami and Lamia Chraibi with executive producers in Caroline Piras (“Among the Living”) and Rachida Saadi.

“Achoura” has been described as the Moroccan “IT” where four childhood friends reunite to face a preadolescent predator known as Bougatate.  That analogical sentiment is extremely on-point to the detriment of “Achoura’s” North American release; I, myself, before reading any other external comments, had thought “Achoura’s” story walked the same line as the 2017 remake and strongly resembled Pennywise in intentions and, in some ways, specific ways he – or rather it – tricks and consumes children.  The four friends are also similar to certain characters in the Loser Club, but the Sofiia Manousha is the least affected by her past, reimagining what happened to her friend, Samir (Omar Lotfi), as nothing more than being an abducted whim of a pervert’s fantasy.  Samir is the younger brother to Nadia’s estranged husband Ali (Younes Bouab), a brooding, sleepless detective ceaselessly on his brother’s case as he dives deep into old investigative interview footage and cigarette packs he continuously bites the filter off of each cancel stick.  The pain Ali bottles up is complete poison wonderfully conveyed as well as the interpretation of trauma from the last friend of four in painter, Stephen or Stéphane as the character is credited.  Played by the Spanish born Iván González, whose worked on a pair of intense thrillers – “The Divide” and “The Crucifixion” with director Xavier Gens, Stephen singles himself the only person that remembers what actually happens as González glosses the artist with starry eyes and a verbally shaken recollection of monstrous images.  The one performance thought to be the weakest link was Omar Lotfi’s Samir, an imprisoned man-child imprisoning a demon with him, and Lotfi’s infantility as a grown man freed from confinement and a demon crossed too intractable goofiness, leading the Samir away from being a sympathetic character into more of a cartoon of one.  The cast is relatively comprised of the four friends with minor parts here and there in roles from Mohamed Wahib Abkari, Jade Beloued, Abdellah El Yousfi, Celine Hugo, Gabriel Fracola, Mohamed Choubi, Noé Lahlou, and Moussa Maaskri as The Guardian incarcerating Bougetate inside Samir, who we assume is the same boy from the film’s prologue setup but never actually verified.

While “Achoura” draws many comparisons to “IT,” Selhami sepulchers itself into an overwrought, yet hugely overworked subgenre of shrouded gangly presences lurking from the darkest corners of the room to bring antagonism toward children.  “The Babadook” comes to mind with the manifestation of grief descending upon a single mother and her child.  Same theme can be extracted from “Achoura’s” grief and trauma over the loss of their friend and how they represent the condition in different ways:  Nadia chooses to reimagine the event to a safer, saner memory, Stephen expresses his horror through painting, and Ali’s guilt drives him to unhealthy habits in looking for his brother.  The Bougatate is akin to a pedophile robbing children of their innocence, a motif that extends from the very beginning of the story with a preteen boy expressing his affection for a girl his own age before Bougatate seizes upon them.  Their innocent and charming clandestine affair is kept from her betrothed husband, who’s creepily decades older, in a mind-boggling and unpleasant idea of children arranged marriages that sets the misguided tone for a sordid underlayer that sparks Bougatate’s resurgence into the world.   Though I like the tone of the film albeit a vague carbon copy of others like it, what I find to be tone deaf is the often clunky special effects surrounding the entity’s polished look.  One attribute belonging to Bougatate is the legion of flies that constitute his form in what has diminutively become just a bunch of nano byte specks moving in menacing unison and swallowing (or being swallowed) anything in their path. The non-linear format that double culminates the unravelling in present and in flashback past retains a sustainable 90-mystery.

One of the last horror films to be released in 2021, “Achoura” came to digital platforms and DVD home video this past December from Dark Star Pictures, the same company who released the phenomenal Veracruz folklore and Bruha horror, “The Old Ways,” and the Mickey Reece’s perfectly subtle nod to vampires and depression in “Climate of the Hunter.” Since a digital screener was provided, commenting on the DVD audio and video quality is a no-go, but the Mathieu De Montgrand offers harsh hard lit scenes vast in depth, a breadth of landscape between the countryside of France and Casablanca shoreline, and excellent action and tracking shots to instill the appearance of a big-time movie. Montgrand is definitely not just a point and shoot cinematographer as he can build suspense purely on his angles along with Julien Foure’s editing of the flashback montage that tells a bigger side of the four friends’ history yet to be revealed. “Achoura’s” bleak analogy of children’s innocence being consumed by the complexities of adulthood problems understands the unstoppable crossbreeding crisis of blending youthful naivety with seasoned reality to the point of no return that one day all unspoiled exuberance will simply be eaten into oblivion.

“Achoura” now available on Prime Video!

Dinner Parties and the Special Guest is EVIL. “Climate of the Hunter” reviewed! (Dark Star Pictures / Blu-ray)

MIckey Reece’s “Climate of the Hunter” Now Available on Amazon.com

Sisters Alma and Elizabeth meetup at their childhood cabin for a quick getaway.  Their individual neurosis induces the incessant minor league friction between them but never causing any real strain until an old friend, returning from abroad, arrives at his neighboring cabin alone.  With his wife suddenly committed to a mental institute, the well cultured and practically single Wesley finds himself in the company of the desirous Alma and Elizabeth every night for dinner as they vie for his attention and affection.  When Alma crosses paths with Wesley’s strange and curious vibes, they compound upon her baseline suspicion of Wesley possibly being a vampire.  Elizabeth finds herself the victor of Wesley’s adoring warmth, leaving Alma to ramp up her scrutiny into their longtime acquaintance before her sister falls victim to his deadly charm.

Arthouse meets grindhouse in this Mickey Reece written and directed mystery thriller “Climate of the Hunter.”  Co-written alongside frequent collaborating screenwriter John Selvidge, the 2019 take on subtle vampiric ambiguity is punctured, tapped, and drained from the same blood rich veins as Robert Bierman’s “Vampire’s Kiss,” starring Nicholas Cage, and George Romero’s “Martin,” but instead of a protagonist believing in the transference into a bloodsucking creature of the night, “Climate of the Hunter” steps back furthering by approaching with a more elusive and Lynchian-like 3rd party perspective as the story focuses prominently the sisters’ thoughts and actions while Wesley does what Wesley does without self-doubt or obvious distinction.  Shot during the winter months of the diffusely populated woodland area of Welling, Oklahoma, “Climate of the Hunter” is the sole released presentation of Mikey Bill Films and the more seasoned VisionChaos Productions (“The Field Guide to Evil”) under executive producers Uwe R. Feuersenger and Sasha Drews in collaboration with production companies of Adam Hendricks and Greg Gilreath’s Divide/Conquer and Jacob Snovel’s Perm Machine Productions.

Diving into his best performance as an enigmatic rake with unpronounced intentions is “Minari” actor Ben Hall, who recently costarred as a crises of faith priest in Mickey Reece’s latest release, the comedy-horror drama, “Agnes.”   As the sophisticated wordsmith neighbor, Wesley commands every ounce of oxygen all in thanks to Hall’s elegant pacing of Wesley’s uttered mannerisms and inflections.  Hall is joined by fellow “Agnes” costar Mary Buss as the pining Elizabeth.  Elizabeth practically resents Alma’s seemingly historical persistent hold over Wesley’s affections and Buss bitterness, whether because of Wesley or because of Alma’s uncharacteristic behavior as of late, oozes into the stagnant folds of their relationship.  If you haven’t figured it out by now, “Climate of the Hunter” has an Oklahoma-centric and Mickey Reece’s staple go-to cast, which brings us to the other sister Alma played by Ginger Gilmartin who fits into that aforementioned niche category.  Alma is running from something that goes essentially unsaid that leads her to hide out in the family cabin and Gilmartin, as best as she can, shepherd’s that motivation without the better part of context.  Alma’s also dresses like a crazy cat lady, except she owns a dog, and so reading Alma’s state can be taxing to nail down in an arthouse film where nailing down anything in arthouse cinema is inherently taxing in itself.  The small cast rounds out intermittently with smaller roles that build upon Wesley’s vague nature beginning with a local friend to the sisters named BJ Beavers (producer Jacob Ryan Snovel).  Witnessing Wesley’s strange behavior but oblivious from his own strangeness, BJ becomes a confidant and a collaborator with Alma in revealing Wesley as a vampire.  Sheridan McMichael grows resentful toward his father as Wesley’s spiteful son Percy, Danielle Evon Ploeger seeks incompliancy from her mother Alma as her daughter Rose, and, in the more curious role, is Laurie Cummings (“It Lives Inside,” “Army of Frankensteins”) as Wesley mentally incapacitated wife who somehow manages to lose her wheelchair as it drops from the sky.  You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it!

Having watched “Agnes” before diving into “Climate of the Hunter,” I mentally prepared myself for a breathy, long-winded, talking head film.   That readied mindset 100% gave me more clarity into Mickey Reece’s shadow narrative.  “Climate of the Hunter” is an uncharacteristic slow burn for the idiosyncratic grindhouse veneer.  With a 4:3 aspect ratio and a color reduction into a warm hue palette that glows, Reece insists on a design that usually offers loads of cheap thrills in action, sleaze, and gore, but the director’s story is toned down, subtle, and very much ear candy as opposed to a rush of visual adrenaline.  Instead, lucrative character building fizzes with tension as elements of the past and present unravel who’s who and what’s what before the climatic finale that suggests nothing was what it seemed to be.  Though prepped for profound exposition, the dialogue can still be boggling with a composition of Wesley’s personal anecdotes and philosophical quips and quotes.  As stated, Ben Hall is amazingly poised in this film, the unflinching star, rolling easily with Wesley’s gift of gab, persuasive magnetism, and maintaining an oblivious eye to an undercurrent of potential classical madness in Alma.  Between her recreational use of drugs and an ugly divorce, Alma has retreated into herself as well as her isolating cabin and when the spotlight isn’t on her, is her perception of Wesley really fantastical or is there actually something broken within her.  Reece explores a related theme of loneliness around the table with each principle character and how differently being lonely is digested and secreted through the pores of desperation.  Once aspect of Reece’s film that will puzzle viewers, and did puzzle me, is the narrated introduction of the food whenever there is a tabled conversation.  Since there already Portuguese titled chapters segmenting the story, a bit of a harp back to Wesley’s travels abroad, announcing what the character are dinning on seemed virtually unnecessary other than the idea that food brings people together in which it then fits the narrative of loneliness. 

“Climate of the Hunter” is quintessential Mickey Reece melodrama tinged with droplets of horror and subtle dark comedy.  Dark Star Pictures releases the film onto region free, dual layer Blu-ray home video in full 1080p High Definition.  Reece and director of photography Samuel Calvin aim for a vintage but not superannuated look for “Climate of the Hunter,” in which follows suit with the story set circa 1970s, with a 4:3 image on a pillarbox 16X9 display, relying also heavily on a softer lens to produce a dreamlike and luminescent effect but not overdoing it.    The release comes with two audio options – an English language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and, if one wants to fully immerse themselves in the era, a stereo 2.0.  Dialogue is crisp and clean as it is refined as expected. Levels are balanced, range and depth are acceptable, but with this sort of wordy production, switching between the 5.1 and the 2.0 only discern subtle differences. Optional English SDH subtitles are available. The not rated, 82-minute-long film has special features that include another full-length Mickey Reece entitled “Strike, Dear Mistress, and Cure His Heart” as well as a short film “Belle Ile,” deleted scenes, production designer Kaitlyn Shelby’s preparations of the food presented in the film Recipes from the Kitchen of Alma Summers, and production stills and behind-the-scenes gallery. “Climate of the Hunter” deserves at least a once over and, in my opinion, a second viewing to become fully submersed in Mickey Reece’s dialogue rich and nebulous style.

MIckey Reece’s “Climate of the Hunter” Now Available on Amazon.com

Those Little EVIL Buggers Ruin Everything! “Ankle Biters” reviewed! (Dark Star Pictures / Digital Screener)



Injured hockey goon Sean Chase has severe on-ice anger issues but leave from the game curbs his temper for the better after meeting an internally distraught Laura Haywood.  Enamored by the mother of four who enjoys rough sex as much as he does, Sean decides to willingly plunge into marriage by asking Laura for her hand against his friends and family passive advise him of the hefty, multi-kid baggage in Laura’s tow.  To set the romantic mood, Sean takes Laura and her young kids to his family’s lakeside cabin where all the locals know him, personally and professionally, but when the girls discover cell phone footage of Sean and Laura’s bedroom exploits and interpret them as Sean hurting their mother, they devise mischievous retribution on Sean in order to protect mommy. 

From being a bare knuckler enforcer using the rink as his boxing ring to becoming the haplessly smitten and blind to four little girls’ perception of him as the bad guy, the once penalty box denizen Sean Chase is now the penalized good guy in the Canadian dark-comedy “Ankle Biters” from writer-director Bennet De Brabandere.  Also known as “Cherrypicker,” the title used in the film, the film is Brabandere’s first feature length film based off a story by lead actor, Zion Forrest Lee (“Hit It”), who oft puts delicate notes of misperception as the main theme in his tale.  Shot primarily in the harbor village of Ontario’s Tobermory “Ankle Biters” is produced by Michael Flax of Flax Films, director Bennet De Brabandere, long time makeup artist Sean Sansom with credits from “Land of the Dead” and “eXistenZ, and special effects company, Mindwarp Productions’, Francois Dagenais (“Saw” franchise, “Chucky” SyFy series).  The film is presented in part by APL Films.

As if seeking some sort of self-punishment, story originator Zion Forrest Lee takes the form of a punching bag for four overprotective little girls; four real life sisters, in fact, played by Rosalee, Dahlia, Violet (“Bad Santa 2”), and Lily Reid, the latter Reid having played a significant role in Johannes Roberts’ recent “Resident Evil” reboot as young Claire Redfield and will be involved in another Lee and Brabandere collaboration in the upcoming apocalypse thriller, “Salvation.”  As a father of three girls myself, the Reid girls are nothing short of genuine, killing their roles with tweaked difference in each of their individual personalities as cute and morbidly curious children and siblings.  Lee offers up a rather over-the-top approach toward Chase’s Mr. Perfect in a way that doesn’t come across naturally as the performance is stuck somewhere between Phil Hartman in “Jingle All the Way” and Chevy Chase in “Christmas Vacation” (I’m in the Christmas spirit with my films, if you can’t tell) with a suave sexy toward the women who swallow it up and dorky goofball toward kids who don’t understand it. Chase’s legendary hockey status has been interweaved into the community surrounding his family’s lakeside cabin, such as the local cops with Officer Brian (Gareth Moyse), local shopkeepers like Jordy (Jordan Mills), and even other vacationers, a pair of lakeside neighbors in Anthony (Doru Bandol) and Caprice Gaddis (Maria Sant’Angelo) with their blossoming teenage daughter Matia (Matia Jackett, “Crimson Peak”). By far one of the more interesting characters, Matia doesn’t actually progress the story with her flirtatious crush on Chase as she’s used as more of a device to propel the Haywood girls into full-blown psycho-kiddies as Matia bites off more than she can chew on a what should have been a routine babysitting gig. The biggest name in the film is the “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” comic Colin Mochrie in an unfunny role as the town’s police chief. “Ankle Biters” houses many curious characters come and go, adding little to story or not adding enough, with select bit performances from Evert Houston, Michael Copeman, and Jani Lauzon amongst the Canadian cast.

Not one single member the cast had that it factor that sparks allurement, intrigue, laughter, hate, or any other kind of emotion they’re trained to extract from you or intent on to make you feel in certain crucial points in the story. As a dark comedy, “Ankle Biters” lacked, well, comedy with an overreaching and flat satire on the innocence of mistaken circumstances. When the opening credits roll with the Gary Glitter “Rock and Roll” sampling “The Hey Song,” a track used for decades at sporting events, and we’re immediately exposed to a confrontational and bearded hockey player punching the eye out of an opposing team player into the title sequence, investing myself was easy as the synch of melodious Jock Jams and brutality is promised for the horizon; however, quickly skating from the ice is our beloved bloody-knuckled goon gone in a matter of oddly edited and sequenced scenes and is rarely seen again, even in flashbacks, as we’re dumped into post-hockey career, clean shaven, and on the behavior mend of Sean Chase trying to quickly nail down a woman with four kids who obviously dislike him a whole lot. I fail to see the transition, I don’t want to see the transition, and I’m angry “Ankle Biters” ended up in this transition whereas having Chase continue to be the injured, but still a fisticuffing and bearded enforcer, going toe-to-toe with brats would have been much more (Canadian) of an amusing watch. The better side of this genre blending coin is the darkness portion that really elevates during the latter half of the lakeside trip. Dead bodies, baby spiders crawling out of an ear, open wound fractured skull, a knife to the eye are just a few of the effective practical and composite applications from Francois Dagenais’s special effects company, MindWarp Productions, that keeps the story grounded with destroying the human anatomy as well as keeping up with the human fallibly in order to not have the film fall completely on its face with everything else erroneous.

Released back in mid-November, “Ankle Biters” landed onto On Demand platforms and DVD home video courtesy of Dark Star Pictures. Even though I’m unable to fully cover the audio and video details from any digital screener, I don’t think what was provided was even a finished version of the film that came complete with top left corner running timestamps and some obvious missing special effects, such as the missing prop knife tip when removed from the eye socket and then the tip is back whole on the next shot. No information on the DVD specs was given to me either. Brabandere and Lee do tease with a follow up sequel involving the “Son of Cherrypicker,” named after the lakeside penned “Cherrypicker murders” in the film which, again, was never made a solidifying connection to other than a brief news report ticker on television. If comparing a film close to “Ankle Biters,” Peter Berg’s “Very Bad Things” fits that gruesome bill with one gross misstep in front of another that eventually culminates to a shocking and even deadlier kill or be killed ending with a grown man versus four little girls.

Watch “Ankle Biters” On Amazon Prime Video

Believe the Bruja When She Says There’s an EVIL Demon Inside You! “The Old Ways” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Dark Star Pictures)

Drug-addicted and depressed American journalist, Cristina, travels to her ancestral home of Veracruz, Mexico to investigate local folklore and shamanism.  Upon visiting the local feared and shunned caves of La Boca, the next thing Cristina knows she awake locked up in and chained inside a makeshift cell and is told a demon is inside her by an elder Bruja and her assistant who still practice the old ways of exorcism.  Skeptical and scared, Cristina endures the primitive, and sometimes painful, religious rituals to extract the demon out from her soul, hoping they would eventually let her go if she feigns the demons release from her body, but when plagued by strange visions and unexplainable occurrences, Cristina comes to realize the real danger is actually from within.    

Shot on location in Catemaco, Veracruz, Mexico, “The Old Ways” clashes good versus evil in one small corner of the world while also enhancing the already enriched central American state known for its cultural brujo, or sorcery, celebrations and activity.  “The Old Ways,” which aims to symbolize spiritual demons to confront personal ones, is the first feature length venture from director Christopher Alender over 20-years since his first feature that was also, too, a horror, an off brand federal holiday themed slasher from 1999 entitled “Memorial Day.”  The 2020 demonic possession thriller reteams the “Memorial Day” writer and director as Marcos Gabriel pens the script that has become a miniscule reflection of himself being a Puerto Rician expat losing his own sense of heritage and culture of his ancestral land.  Full pin drop scares and profound depth of personal complexities, “The Old Ways” is a production of Soapbox Films (“The Wind,” “Southbound”) from Alender and Gabriel as executive producers along with Christa Boarini (“Spree”), David Grove Churchill Viste (“The Voyeurs”), and T. Justin Ross producing.

The lean characters keeps the story intimate and personal, rarely straying away from the rough-and-ready holding cell single location.  Only in Cristina’s backflashes of her Stateside office or the caves of La Boca do we dip into non-linear fractions of the what, when, why, where and how she became a befuddled prisoner to her Bruja host. No white washing here as the main cast is comprised of Latin-American actors and at the lead is “Fear the Walking Dead’s” Brigitte Kali Canales as the journalist with a death wish. You see, when Cristina embarks on her journey down to the La Boca caves of Veracruz, the troubled druggie searches for relief against an emptiness she can’t shake. Most of this narrative is backlogged backstory eventually worked on and worked out through flashbacks and through the excavation by her national residing cousin Miranda (Andrea Cortés). Canales really leans into her Americanized impediment delivering impatience, ignorance, patronization, and scoffing at Miranda and the Bruja teams’ beliefs and cultural responsibilities. The Bruja team, what I like to call it, is comprised of Julia Vera (“All Souls Day”) and Sal Lopez (“Return of the Living Dead III” ) as the last practitioner of primordial exorcism techniques, aka the old ways, and her assisting son, Javi, and the mother-son dynamic teeters of the customs and exercises of combating evil, a task that has been long withstanding against a beaten down and weary Javi. AJ Bowen (“The House of the Devil”), Julian Lerma, Michelle Jubilee Gonzalez, and Weston Meredith as the demon Postehki.

Now, Postehki is not a real demon from any culture’s cache of fiends. In fact, the whole mythos of “The Old Ways” is entirely fabricated for the sole sake of the story and I find that to be thrilling. Anything is possible with new folklore if done soberly without ostentatiousness and if mixed with some realism of the surrounding area, such as the Bruja element, that grounds the story with that much more of a terrifying blueprint. Plus, the allegories give the story tremendous depth with the demon inside Cristina that mirrors her addiction with drugs that initially obscure the audience from knowing if the evil within is real or is the drug effects the underlining culprit. Cristina’s addiction also plays into her immense sadness after her mother, the last connection to her heritage identity, dies and that melancholy she suffers forms a device that motivates her to return home looking to die herself. Cristina situation resembles being a satellite vessel cut off from the mothership and is lost and alone, leaving it up to Miranda to be that beacon of reconnection with not only her heritage but also her family. The third theme is the carryover of traditions from an older generation to a younger one that becomes very prominent between the Bruja, Luz, and Cristina to come to way of understanding the importance of keeping with the tried and true no matter how beyond crazy it may seem. The first two acts set up perfectly the puzzling nature of Cristina’s imprisonment and unraveling while touching upon subtopics and crowd pulling moments of breath holding terror, but the third act begins to spoil the salivating juiciness of what’s next behind each layer after a couple of false endings, a cheesy transition of character, and an eye-rolling one-liners essentially kill the visceral vibe.

Old habits, old feelings, and old origins pry open the emotional armor to a pervading and harbor-seeking evil in “The Old Ways” now on Blu-ray home video from Dark Star Pictures.  The not rated, dual-layer, region A BD25 is a presented in 1080p High-Definition with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen.  Cinematographer Adam Lee shoots a terrene-cladded and flat color incubus with strategically placed shots that trigger strong reactions that go toe-to-toe with a thumping tribal score and piercing ambient track from the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track in the English and Spanish language.  Robust and formidable, the score packs a punch with a pulsating drum and pan flute score by “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” composer, Ben Lovett. Dialogue is clean and clear and the errorless subtitles align nicely with the vocals. English SDH subtitles are also optional. Special features include over 2 hours of bonus content with a feature length behind-the-scenes documentary The Old Ways: A Look Beyond that provides cast and crew opinions, history, and everything else in between about “The Old Ways” origins and reactions, a commentary track with director Christopher Alender and writer Nicholas Gabriel, deleted and extended scenes, and storyboards. “The Old Ways” is old world horror for the modern age, poised rightfully so to be a part of the possession genre canon even if coming off the tracks just a tad.