On the campus of Williamsburg University in 2006, a popular fraternity house holds an upscale house party, filled with the most beautiful students dressed in formal wear, liquored with martinis and gin and tonics, and customized to fit the luxurious lifestyle the men of fraternal brotherhood. When the fraternity president Christian Roane conducts a round around to greet guests, he catches glimpse of Sarah Stein, a coed being a good sport by giving into her friends’ urges to party greek. Christian’s unhealthy obsession with Sarah starts innocent enough, but when Sarah doesn’t take that step toward sharing the same affection, Christian’s control goes into self destruction that not only threatens Sarah, but also threatens to unearth the true and ghastly nature of the brotherhood and the brothers aim to lockdown their secret by any means necessary.
“Somebody’s Darling” is the 2016, independent drama horror from the multi-faceted filmmaker, writer-director Sharad Kant Patel, churned out from a story by Sebastian Mathews. In his directorial debut, Patel, known more for his short film work, heedfully courses through detail and treads lightly on the coattails of a sensitive social issue. His film skirts on the subject of rape culture in the American college and university setting while also touching upon sexuality complexities and severe anguish in today’s youth. Basically, “Somebody’s Darling” is a higher education dissertation on the experiences of collegiate life with a horror twist and all the along the way, Patel slowly paints Christian and his brotherhood onto a canvas of ambivalent malevolence by deconstructing Christian to quickly reconstruct him in a ravaging roundabout. Patel throughout leaves a bread crumb trail of clues that don’t make sense at first, that might lead to other conclusions, and that doesn’t explicitly genre “Somebody’s Darling” as a horror.
Christian is the film’s central focus and with a dark and brooding character, a dark and brooding soul must ride parallel and Paul Galvan intently delivers a cryptic persona. Peppered erratic is Christian obsession Sarah Stein, a run-of-the-mill coed playing darlingly enough by Jessa Settle. Then there’s the brotherhood, whom are begrudgingly split on how to action Christian’s off course fixation, consisting of a youthful lineup of white, stuck-up preppy frat boys with an actor list to match including Fred Parker Jr., “Spirit Camp’s” Matt Tramel, and Mike Kiely. Sarah also has an entourage but not as prominent and, to be honest, the brotherhood weren’t just a hair more involved, but Kristen Tucker and Cathy Baron (“The Lights”), who play Madison and Riley, hit the stereotypical college coed right on the head as the two look to score big when scouring their hot boy wardrobe and provide unnatural sexual banter toward their goody-two-shoes friend, Sarah.
“Somebody’s Darling’s” independent genetic makeup doesn’t hide under a flashy production, but presuming an indie dramatic horror that’s more bark than bite isn’t worth wild should is the incorrect assumption as the climatic end will be attention catching. Granted, the dialogue’s overdrawn breathiness can bog down a regular popcorn viewer and turn away heads that have a disdain for immense screenplay scripture, but to comprehend the whole story and to become invested in the characters, being a viewer from start to finish won’t go in vain. Patel personal investemnt extends to much more than spitfire directions and scribing with a hand in producing, composing, editor, and digital effects with the latter being used sparsely to convey the Christian’s internal aspirations and quondam self. When effects do come into the real word, a practical, lifelike approach is taken and that intensifies the horror tenfold.
Distribber released Sharad Kant Patel’s “Somebody’s Darling” onto various streaming platforms such as iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and Vudu on December 1st. I was provided a screener disc and can’t focus on or comment too much on the details of image or sound quality, but the disc did provide bonus material including the making of the score and behind-the-scenes in creating the dream sequence. Sharad Kant Patel’s “Somebody’s Darling” has an edgy appeal that draws you in like an unsuspecting moth to an alluring light and then zaps a fatal shock right into the nervous system as soon as the undertones are evidently a metaphor for something far more sinister.
After suffering the tremendous loss of her in-home hospice cared mother, Theresa descends into an inescapable state of grief and severe isolation inside her mother’s woodland home. Stumbling through life, she manages to show up at work, a cannabis distributor in town, with the verbal encouragement from her eccentric boss, but Theresa’s mind can’t grasp the reality of the situation and loses focus resulting in another tragic loss when she mistakenly hands over fatally potent pot to the incorrect customer, subsequently a friend. Along with grief and isolation, guilt comes into the fold and she begins lighting up her own stash of mind altering cannabinoids that thrust her mindset into disjointed delusions and sleepless strolls through the forest.
“Woodshock” is the 2017 drama thriller directed by two sisters: Kate and Laura Mulleavy. Credited as their freshman film, the Mulleavy sisters embark on an internal, unhinged perspective from their main character, Theresa. With that in mind, the filmmakers’ use of nature has both a symbolic and practical substance that paints the inner workings of Theresa’s thought process. Shot on location surrounded by the giant red oak trees of Northern California puts Theresa, this tiny human being, right smack dab in the middle of ginormous towers of pure ancestral nature and unable to fathom the full scope of the trees metaphorically explores how Theresa is unable to fully comprehend the overwhelming amount of emotions she ultimately succumbs to that lead her down a darker path. Nature, whether trees, butterflies, or, more so in general, landscapes, becomes a familiar motif throughout the film with the trees being the most repetitive aspect being exhibited in numerous scenes of being harvested by loggers, stripped and stored at mills, and lingering remnants of their once intact past.
“Melancholia’s” Kirsten Dunst fully embraces the role of Theresa with her mind, body, and soul by not holding back in a role that demands more of a solitary, voiceless performance blanked with grief. Dunst nails it with ease. Accompany the Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” actress is Denmark born Pilou Asbæk as the pot dispenser shop owner Keith who conspires to work out deals with his special customers in need of once and for all ceasing the pain of ailment. The dynamic between the two is hot and cold as the sensation of tension is always present even if the dialogue is not. Asbæk’s Keith actually drives the plot, creating situations that put Theresa in a dilemma inducing pickle and he certainly takes advantage of her grief. Asbæk smug performance couldn’t get anymore complex as he portrays an arrogant, hippie-esque pot shop entrepreneur in a small Washington state town, but exhibits a softer side, especially for his friends and for Theresa, at times. Joe Cole (“Green Room”), Steph DuVall (“Scanner Cop”), and Jack Kilmer costar.
“Woodshock,” as a whole, attempts to grapple too much in the dimension of the subliminal. The Mulleavy sisters focus on symbolizing and using metaphors rather than being straight shooters to communicate Theresa’s internal struggle and between the montage of trees, the vibrant visuals, the double exposures, and various angles of a single action, there’s a choke that occurs, making apprehension hard to swallow. The siblings also display their inexperience at times. Despite completing impressive artistic visuals and able to create some slight movie magic as independent filmmakers, the directors’ choice to keep scenes from being cut and left on the editing room floor are questionable. One example would be Keith in the bar, moving his arms in a slow, locomotive motion, listening to a mellow track on the jukebox This scene is late is near the latter part of the film and doesn’t convey anything more about the character than already established with no transition scene to provide any kind of setup, background, or foreshadowing.
Lionsgate Films presents “Woodshock” onto a slip-covered High Definition, 1080p Blu-ray plus Digital HD. The MPEG-4 AVC encoded BD-25 disc has an widescreen aspect ratio of 2.39:1 that’s conventionally stable. Faint grain filters through, but this could be an intentional cinematography tactic. The English DTS-HD Master Audio track isn’t wired to pair with such slow, mellow storyline that doesn’t have a range to fully test the HD quality except for invigorating Peter Raeburn’s enlightening hodgepodge score. The dialogue track is muddled and nearly unintelligible by the overshadowing score. Bonus material includes “Making Woodshock: A Mental Landscape” that opens up Kate and Laura’s intentions in expressing Theresa as a character, their style in filmmaking, and to up sell their cast and crew. “Woodshock” is an artistic visual stimulation with no rival, but Kate and Laure’s inexperience emanates through more than their subliminal sub-contexts. Kirsten Dunst marvelously challenges herself that inarguably gives her even more of a range as an actress that only proves her ability to not be a one trick pony in and out of Hollywood.
Markus lives the perfect life: a lucrative job in construction management, an adoring and faithful wife, and a beautiful and smart daughter about to tend a prominent English school. Yet, Marcus finds solace in a double life by living his true self as a bi-sexual man with a secret, younger male lover from one of his construction projects, leaving his wife frustrated and destructive in their foundering marriage. When Markus’s construction colleague Christopher finds himself being squeezed by the taxing agency, Marcus offers to help out a little. Christopher asks his 12-year-old son Johannes to be nice to and to spend time with Markus’s 11-year-old daughter Elisabeth in a show of good faith towards Markus’s good will. With Johannes around most of the time, Markus tries to keep grounded his uncontrollable desires for Johannes, but invites Johannes to Markus’s family’s summer house. Through the summer, Markus and Johannes form a relationship, but not everything is as it’s seems when hidden agendas and surprising outcomes could potentially destroy everyone involved.
An intense psychosexual, “The Summer House” zips straight out of Berlin from writer-director Curtis Burz who touches upon more taboo subject material than one might be able to withstand without feeling guilty, dirty, or rotten. Burz’s pen weaves through one man’s constant struggle between maintaining a barely afloat marriage to a wife he loves because of their daughter and his secretive bi-sexual life in an affair involving a much younger man. Burz also remarks on Markus’s wife Christine and her battle with near tragic depression; she’s complicit in Markus’s affair by allowing him, with only little resistance, to continue, yet Christine wants Markus to rediscover his love for her on his own. The pen continues to weave through the stories of the children, Johannes and Elisabeth. The very nature of a child feels exploited here in more ways than one, but the film’s end game takes an usual twist, one I can’t spill here without spoiling the finale fun. Burz continues to drop dark material presented and staged in a glowing-like and vividly colorful mise-en-scene throughout that would suggest happiness or perfection for all involved; however, the nagging, gloomy undertone remains behind the scenes and unseen and that’s the kind of sadistically gratifying contribution added by director Curtis Burz.
“The Summer House” is a socially controversial film without being overly in your face with it. Nothing is explicit with the subtleties being just enough to make your stomach feel uneasy and to make your jaw clench with anticipation. The scenes with Markus (the then 40-year-old Sten Jacobs) and Johannes (a certainly under 18-year-old Jasper Fuld) kept building the tension between them and Jacobs portrayed a creepy, over-anxious and over-persistent pedophile uncomfortably well whereas Fuld plays his part just as convincingly as a seemingly tolerable young boy who may or may not be curious about Markus’s intentions toward him. The vexation Christine discharges is all due in part, greatly toward, of the leading lady Anna Altmann’s performance. Altmann captures a wife in marriage limbo, looking to rekindle a broken family stuck in stalemate due to her husband’s mid-life sexual crisis while maintaining her daughter’s precociousness. Nina Splettstößer feeds off Atlmann’s motherly performance by portraying Elisabeth as quiet and intelligent, yet passive and conniving who sees her mother as someone who hates her because of how stringent her mother is toward her.
The story’s complex web becomes stickier and the spider draws even closer when Markus’s secret sleepovers become exposed, creating a twist ending not even M. Night Shyamalan could conjure up. However, the story behind Markus’s colleague Christopher and his wife Anne feels ignored and neglected. Aside from Christopher incidentally being the catalyst between Markus and Johannes, Christopher and Anne’s scenes seem unnecessary. One scene has the both adult couples seemingly in the early wine and dine stages of a swinger party, but once most of the kissing between Anne, Christopher and Christine is out of the way, the scene falls short with a quick cut to just Markus finishing off with his wife Christine with all their clothes still on. Christopher and Anne come and go in barely a handful of other scenes that don’t tie into much of the story and would have either been better if either explored further into their adventurous lifestyle to get a better understanding of Johannes or leave them out all together.
Overall, “The Summer House” is deserving of it’s numerous film festival awards and a solid release for not only Artsploitation Films, but also as a film that has been Berlin born even if the film released nearly 3 years ago. Certainly very relevant to today’s modern multi-societal problems including the dissolving of families, behavioral issues with not only pedophilia, but with depression, and to round out the pleasantries with scrofulous affairs. The Artsploitation Films, in a metaphorical broken and cracked pane glass over a solemn Markus family DVD cover, has a widescreen 1.85:1 ratio release with a German and English 2.0 audio track is accompanied with bonus features that include deleted scenes, cast and crew interviews, and a trailer; all content clocks in at around 195 minutes total – not bad all around for an independent feature.
Lili and her mixed breed dog, Hagen, are best friends and are inseparable. When Lili’s mother and stepfather travel to a three month conference in Australia, she is dropped off to live with her humdrum father who takes a special disliking toward canines, especially mutts. After Lili and her father get into a heated argument about the friendly Hagen, her father forces Hagen out of the car and leaves him at the side of the road to defend for himself. Hagen goes through a series of misfortune adventures: being chased down by merciless dog catchers, being abused to train for a dog fighting circuit, and narrowly escaping being euthanized by a local dog pound employee.
“White God” is a hybrid film from Hungary by director Kornél Mundruczó. Part canine drama and part vicious animal thriller, “White God” is equivalent to the string of 1980 films where the day of the animal comes to snout and man takes an unwanted step down from the dominance hierarchy. With stunning cinematography of Hungarian landscape and an uncanny look at two terrific animal actors, “White God” deserves to be one of the top foreign films in the United States and one of the better movies to be have been released from Hungary in the last few years.
Mundruczó, who also had a pen-ship hand in the screenplay, tightrope-walks that fine line between drama and horror and with familiar collaborating co-writers Kata Wéber and Viktória Petrányi, “White God” is no different. The story molds Hagen, the leading dog actor, into the displaying of a human personality and expressing human-like feelings. Hagen, a once lovable, dependent, and faithful companion to 13-year-old Lili, is forced to defend for himself, learning that the real world is nothing like the cozy comforts of his adored Lili who catered to his every whim. When Hagen reaches that breaking point of when enough is enough, he becomes the “Rise of the Planet of the Ape'” Caesar to “White God,” breaking free his fellow mutts, constructing a ruthless canine army, and seeking vengeance on all who took advantage or mistreated him by severing their throats from the rest of their necks. The film quickly becomes bloody with mauled bodies and the sharp turn from a sad “Marley & Me” to a “The Breed” thriller, proceeding with a smooth transition without much notice.
Luke and Body, the two unwanted mixed breed dogs that were adopted to play Hagen, are well trained, delivering emotion that told the downfall story of Hagen and expressing a physical acting style very rare in animal actors. The production company also adopted from the pound a record breaking 274 dogs for the final scenes, a massive undertaking that shouldn’t go unnoticed. The same kind of enthusiasm can’t be said about the human actors. The young and beautiful Zsófia Psotta portrays an unsympathetic, robot-like Lili and she’s suppose to be heartbroken and devastated by her father’s rash decision to discard Hagen; instead, she dissolves back into her normal mundane routine after a few feeble attempts to locate Hagen and adhering to her father’s commands with prompt attention. If my father scraps my loved pet to the curb, I would be insanely mad for months, ignoring him until he couldn’t take it. There also must be a Hungarian law or code about mutts as their fondness in the film is on the lower end of the totem pole and where tenants must pay a fee for owning them or put them down for a single bite on hand. Many other countries do have an out of control mutt population problem and “White God” feels about right when concerning that system of controlling the mutt population.
“White God” doesn’t claim to be an intense when-animals-attack horror movie, but serves as a beautifully blended sub-genre film, shot and edited with the intention of classing up, and slightly educating, an issue that warrants attention of an unwanted dog’s mistreatment. I wasn’t able to cover the DVD or Blu-ray release as Magnolia just provided, very generously I might add, a streaming link and with streaming links, the quality wasn’t up to par and didn’t include any extras. “White God” feels like a PETA over-executed attempt to make cruelty to animals a horrifying act that will cost you your life in the end.
Columbine. Your first thought? I bet your first thought is a Columbine high school massacre of 15 students and teachers in April of 1999. Two armed to the teeth individuals walk into a school wearing trench coats and black clothing giving the look of Goth a bad name and forever giving the once questionably fashionable outfit of the early nineties stigma of hate, anger, revenge, and murderous intentions. The film “Blackbird” explores what happens when fear takes over a community because a Goth 15 year old boy makes insubstantial threats among his peers. His life is forever changed because he dresses the part of historical mass murders and lives in a cycle of despair because his right to freedom of speech is revoked by just a few expressive words written on a blog.
Sean is an outcast. His black, satanic laden clothing, thrash metal music, and pacifist persona make him an easy target for popular kids, say the entire hockey all star team. When popular hottie Deanne shows interest in Sean’s life, the angst of high school becomes more of a burden upon Sean’s shoulders Deanne’s boyfriend threatens him. Sean’s counter threats go public and he is thrown into youth detention center by a community who fears a school-shooting massacre. From then on, Sean is force to conform and lie about who he really is and tries to regain his dignity and self from in and out of jail and in a community that fears him.
Bravo writer-director Jason Buxton for producing a freshman film that is powerfully anecdotal, well performed by young actors, and well down in a production sense. Lead actor Connor Jessup serves as a force driven by his bottle emotions in the character of Sean. Jessup, who might remember as from TNT’s sci-fi series Falling Skies, harks up being a gothic pacifist as if he was one himself. Another stand out actor is Alex Ozerov as the relentless youth detention center bully Trevor. These two actors, plus a just as equivalently strong cast with Alexia Fast and Michael Bule, represent a strong contingency of intermediate Canadian actors that need more international exposure.
While Blackbird doesn’t rely on major effects, the captivating storytelling is worth the price of admission. There are numerous underlying issues in Blackbird that are current in today’s world which makes this film so compelling and interesting. Topics like bullying, being true to yourself, high school shootings, parenting, and the broken court system are just a few of many touched upon and exploited for our own good. We, as people, can learn a lot from Blackbird. We can all relate to being bullied and being the bully and facing all the consequences in between.
This multiple festival award winner is being released on VOD platforms and on DVD home entertainment by Breaking Glass Pictures on October 21st here in the States. This release should be a big win for Breaking Glass and a big win for whomever goes and grabs a copy.