For One Exhausted Truck Driver, EVIL is on the Move! “Goodbye Honey” reviewed! (Freestyle Digital Media / Digital Screener)

Dawn has been driving for over 30 hours straight schlepping a customer’s belongings from point A to point B. Unable to keep her eyes from closing, she pulls over and parks in an empty lot of a state park. Before Dawn could close her eyes, a mysterious and frightened woman approaches her asking for help, informing Dawn that she has been held captive for months. Treating with suspicious eyes, not fully trusting this young woman’s thinly laid out accusation, the exhausted truck driver is eager to protect her truck from would-be thieves and vandals, but decides to assist though her phone is broken and her truck keys are lost, leaving the two women stranded in the middle of nowhere with a radical abduction story and the captor is not too far behind. What seemed to be a quiet night of deserved rest and relaxation for a truck driver who just drove straight-through without much as taking a break is about to unfold an eye-opening, harrowing ordeal that puts the two women in for the long haul.

Would you trust a harried and jonesing-looking straight knocking on your day cab door of your straight moving truck in the very early AM hours of the night? This iffy scenario plunges audience into that exact pressure point of Max Strand’s feature film directorial debut of “Goodbye Honey.” The 2020 abduction-thriller is also written by Strand and co-written alongside Todd Rawiszer, collaborating for a second time since 2011 for their cannibalistic-comedy, the family kills together, eats people together, “The Labbinacs.” Generally most abduction thrillers takes the viewpoint of the captive, but for “Goodbye Honey,” Strand and Rawiszer take the perspective of an outsider with unlucky happenstance and makes persevere over their own hang-ups in the dealt lousy hand called life. “Goodbye Honey” is produced by Joshua Michaels from the Examined Dots Pictures, a subsidiary of the video media company, Examined Dots Media, and is the first feature length film production from the company.



The point of view from the trucker sparks a clean slate inception of events as Dawn is oblivious to the entire occurrence that has scared and scarred this young woman whose animal instincts have kicked in and is working against her advantage with Dawn as desperate spurs her to act instead of thinking logically about what to do.  Pamela Jayne Morgan (“The Manor”) headlines “Goodbye Honey” in her first breakout role of 2020 stepping into not only an impromptu lifesaving moment but also into the steel toed shoes of a trucker’s life behind the wheel that features sleeping in her cab, eating lunch in her cab, and being driven into the ground by a demanding, world’s most dangerous, profession.  The only uncouth trucker habit Morgan does not do in her cab is urinate into a bottle.  Oh wait, she does bottle potty!  However, the circumstances surrounding that moment is not because of her profession and only adds to the many layers, including her tragic background and lost ambitions, that makes Dawn a complex character working the mental gears to do what she can to survive and save a life in terror’s grip.  And just like Dawn, we’re weary to believe the fantastic accusations coming out of Juliette Alice Gobin’s lip-quivering mouth who sizes up to the very still with fright the shaken and traumatized abductee in Phoebe as she narrowly escapes her captor, played by Paul C. Kelly (“Devils Prey”).  Gobin debuts her talents in horror with flawless strokes that paints Phoebe more of a misunderstood threat than a distressed victim of kidnapping.  Morgan and Gobin’s hot and cold dynamic perfectly rouses doubts as nothing, at first, is entirely clear.  “Goodbye Honey” has an indie size cast, but the performances are robust with layered intensity from the principle roles to the momentary characters played by Peyton Michelle Edwards, Rafe Soule, Jake Laurence, and Keara Benton.

There’s always been this uniquely bizarre fascination of which story angle an abduction thriller should play from and in “Goodbye Honey’s”, the story doesn’t follow a linear narrative of the abductee but backtracks with anecdotal flashbacks as Phoebe divulges the events leading to her snatching and how’s she’s been isolated in a small room for months to her only hope and savior, an emotionally downtrodden and physically fatigued Dawn.  While not entirely new, as we’ve seen a structure similar in John Oak Dalton’s “The Girl in the Crawl Space” that relives the victim’s held captive experience through mental flashbacks and therapy sessions, “Goodbye Honey,” bills far superior dread unlike the 2018 film, which suffers from monotonous exposition and topical offshoots.  Strand plops us in the unravelling thicket of action with gripping what-ifs potentially lurking in the midnight shadows surrounding Dawn’s painted white beacon of hope on wheels.  Character curveballs also hit empathetically hard with twist and turns coming out of the ears of all the narrative pawns and not just confined to the black and white abduction that brings them together. As much as Phoebe needs Dawn’s help to escape the clutches of her captor, Dawn also needed Phoebe’s accidental life purpose healing that fills the void in Dawn’s life left by the passing of her husband and reaffirms her passion for helping people no matter her personal circumstances.  Oddly enough, I found Kelly’s captor lacked substance to the story other than the characteristic ploy of revenge that agitates the action as his endgame for Phoebe isn’t exactly clear other than spouting, “she needs to pay.”  The serendipitous connection between Dawn, Phoebe, and the abductor has designer destiny stitched into the natural fabric of life in an almost comical happenstance of events, but makes for good entertainment nonetheless knowing that there is a circle of connectivity, a sense of purpose, and a reason to fight back in “Goodbye Honey’s” pressure cooking recipe.   

On May 11th, “Goodbye Honey” was released on digital HD and on cable VOD in North America from Freestyle Digital HD after a successful stint of festival wins including Best Thriller Feature, Best Actress (Pamela Jane Morgan), and Best Supporting Actor (Rafe Soule) at the Garden State Film Festival, Best Lead Performance (Juliette Alice Gobin) at the Nightmares Film Festival, and Best Actress (Morgan) at NOLA Horror Film Festival. Todd Rawiszer didn’t just co-write the film he also shot the film, his first feature film credit at a cinematographer. Inside 96 minutes and with a narrative taking place over a single night, Rawiszer casts a variety of hard lit shadows with glimmers of intermittent portable lights and neon reds kept tight with medium to closeup shots and rarely venturing out beyond that range with clarity as much of the wide shots or long shots are obscured, in a haze, or blurry to the eye as Rawiszer never wants you to know what’s exactly out that far. A pair neat editing montages by Jay Yachetta, with the meal plate and door slamming alongside Phoebe going mad with stir crazy is some of the best work I’ve seen a long time that can trigger an epileptic episode and still be insanely cool in the cruelty. Top those montages with an aggressive sound design and you’re head will surely pop off with unsettling jubilation. No bonus scenes during or after the credits are included. Regardless of budget or the stigma of low budget pictures, nothing but good vibes and good things to say generally about Max Strand’s “Goodbye Honey,” a startling trembler of persistence to outlive a night of terror that stars two stellar leading ladies at the heart of the film’s success.

Rent or Own GoodBye Honey on Amazon Prime!

Mobsters Can’t Stomach EVIL in “Witness Infection” reviewed! (Freestyle Digital Media / Digital Screener)

Two rival mafia families are moved mistakenly into the same small California city as part of a Witness Protection Agency relocation.  In order to avoid an all-out territory war between the two sides, who are already busting at the seams of confrontation, the two families devise an arranged marriage of peace between one kingpin’s beautiful daughter and another’s withdrawn from the family business son, Carlo, who rather work as a dog groomer with his friend Gina, but when a new sausage food truck starts selling out of their popular menu items with tainted ground meat, the overstuffed and gastrointestinal suffering customers turn into blood hungry zombies running rampant on the streets.  After Carlo and his friends nearly escape the clutches of an angry mob boss after refusing his daughter’s hand in marriage, his troubles didn’t end there as they must now trek through the zombie-infested town and battle hordes of the undead to save his own flesh and blood before they down a family size portion of contaminated Italian sausages and meatballs. 

Mafia families and the undead go together, right?  The two factions clash in a Guido versus zombie horror-comedy “Witness Infection” from a script by Nickelodeon-animation voice actor, Carlos Alazraqui, who had entertained many mid-thirty-something-year-olds in voicing Rocko from “Rocko’s Modern Life” and comedy writer Jill-Michele Melean of the “Zombie Marriage Counseling” shorts and “MADtv”.  At the helm is director Andy Palmer who, in the past, directed generically titled B-horror flicks with familiar names and faces, such as Courtney Gains (“Children of the Corn”), Danielle Harris (“Halloween 4 & 5” franchise), Robert Englund (“Nightmare on Elm Street”), and Clint Howard (“Evilspeak”).  For the pun-driven “Witness Infection,” Palmer finds much of his muses elsewhere in the form of voice actors exposing themselves (in a non-perverted way, you sickos!) for a mezza morta borgata!  Voice talent, ranging from “The Boondocks,” to the “Extreme Ghostbusters,” to the original “Inspector Gadget,” run in unison with an over-the-top bambino in the zombie cache, arranging a small time hit of laughs and gasses with some respectable gore moments submerged in the bloody sauce.  Produced by Alazraqui, Melean, and Warner Davis, co-owner of Petri Entertainment with Andy Palmer that serves as production company alongside Mob Goo Productions. 

Robert Belushi, yes, that iconic and distinct surname is the one and the same of his father Jim Belushi, stars as Carlo, a disinterested mob family son who wants nothing to do with organized crime and wants everything to do with living a normal, loving life.  The narrative plays into Carlo being protected by his mob boss father by shielding him from the unsavory and cutthroat dealings of mafia life, but when his father can no longer protect his dog grooming son, Carlo is thrust into an arranged marriage with the daughter of a rival family.  Belushi isn’t his father and doesn’t have the wily charm that can snap into macho in an instant; instead, the “Devil’s Due” actor enacts a softer side in a story crowded full of uncouth wise guys. Carlo is also a man caught between two worlds as a man who would do anything for family, but also standing up for his convictions and Belushi connects with Carlo’s tug-a-war discord. Jill-Michele Melean writes herself a character in Gina, Carlo’s pet grooming colleague studying to be a veterinarian. Gina’s the insinuated love interest championing Carlo’s fateful decision. Melean mixes chummily stepping into the love interest role who then characteristically goes into a tailspin arc to be in one instance frightened by a severed deer head but then okay with bashing the head’s in of undead acquaintances in the next. Together, the chemistry between Belushi and Melean felt flat with a more of a friendship zone interplay. Granted, “Witness Infection” doesn’t flaunt a range of emotional drives to feed off of in a clearly spaced three act story of assertion in not participating in an arranged marriage, a bar stronghold attack, and a race back home to save his family from deadly digestion and concluding with what’s finally a big spark between Gina and Carlo in their, what once, platonic relationship. Casting also stars an unforgettable comedian lineup beginning with this actress’s voice you know, but who you’ve rarely in Tara Strong (“Extreme Ghostbusters”), the versatile Maurice LaMarche (“Inspector Gadget”), the multitalented Carlos Alazraqui (“Rocko’s Modern Life”), one part comedian and one part break dancer Bret Ernst (“Cobra Kai”), and rounding out with Vince Donvito, Erinn Hayes, and Monique Coleman as the foxy anti-token, anti-trope black woman who won’t be just another unnecessary death in another horror movie.

What first popped out at me is “Witness Infection” using severe flatulence as a goofy symptom of turning into a boil-laden and baggy-eyed zombie.  An immediate turn off by the fart and poop gags after eating the tainted sausage that pays a disparaging homage to Jersey’s cultural culinary cuts of meat has the viewing pleasure be huffed at at the thought of getting through yet another zombie film using passing gas to get a comedic rise.  Luckily, and to my surprise, the initial buildup of the outbreak happens all at once, like a switch being turned on, and then the conventional chaos of zombie madness ensues and farting is left in the wind.  However, “Witness Infection” only garners a few chortles in a flat and tired banter and slapstick comedy.   Much can be said the same about the rest of the story that has Carlo, Gina, and cousin Vince go through what feels like a redundant motions of survival action against a mass creature attack, such as an assault on a bar stronghold where they encounter a blaxploitation vixen, Rose, in a fully-fledged satirical scene that barely cups the intended result with an unnecessarily pitstop with heavy exposition that brings no motivation to the characters.  Not all fails to impress as the clash with the undead dependably aggressive, especially when James Ojala’s special effects poke through with an eye-catching overly violent money shot.  Ojala, who has worked on “Dead Birds” and “Thor,” delivers a really impressive head-ripping decapitation scene involving a toilet seat and lots of blood.  The only downside to the scene is that most of it hit the cutting room floor, leaving only a milliseconds of material to be left in awe.  Though the zombies snarl asynchronously loud with the action and sound like one of the Tiger King’s famished big cats, the makeup is economically slicked on but does the job nonetheless. 

Strong, eclectic performances and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gore keeps Andy Palmer’s “Witness Infection” as a bat-swinging, deer-eating, head-smashing horror-comedy not to miss, capisce!  Freestyle Digital Media distributes the film come March 30th on Video-on-Demand and on Digital HD platforms, such as iTunes and Google Play, with a runtime of 82 minutes.  A Panasonic EVA 1 camera was used to shoot the film under the cinematic eye of Filip Vandewal’s stabilizing safe mode approach by not being too adventurous with the camera work, but there are some nicely framed scenes that pull together the actors during confrontational and down to the earth moments with a prime example being Carlo and his father running through the stern discussion, for the first time, of arranged marriage with a rival crime boss’s daughter who is dating his brother but because his brother is sterile, he can’t have children, ergo an heir to the mafia family.  Along with the solid acting from Belushi and despite some continuity mistakes in the scene, the backdoor being open and also being closed then back to open again, the blunt pleasantries that captures firm love between the two of them is sincerely present.  As far as bonus scenes go, there were zero bonus scenes during and after the credits.  “Witness Infection” chips away at the zombie genre’s plodding wall with a pin hammer dink by stirring in Mafioso drama and diabolical flashes of gore.