When EVIL Literarature Jumps Right Off the Pages and Starts to Hunt You Down! “Monsters in the Closet” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)



Watch Monsters in the Closet” on Prime Video!

Eccentric horror novelist Raymond Castle mysteriously dies alone in his New York City apartment.  His daughter Jasmin, who never had a loving relationship with her father, returns to her childhood home, self-negative reminiscing about the strenuous verbal arguments between father and daughter with usual themes surrounding her playing with his valuable horror collectibles and her continuous use of the Spanish language despite his desires for an English only language household, but instead of finding the contents of his will or answers to who he really was a person, as a father, Jasmin discovers her father’s latest novel, an anthology collection based off the black magic spells of a 17th century that brings his short stories to life right there in the apartment with her. 

I said it once and I’ll say it again until the day I die:  horror anthologies are not my cup of tea.  Sure, there are excellent oldies, aka classics, out there, like “Creepshow” and “Body Bags,” from the masters of horror and a handful of more modern, done-right, anthologies from filmmakers on their way to such a grandiose title within the “V/H/S” series, but the majority of micro-narratives nowadays are collected from the scrapings of the low-budget trash barrel due in part to the cost-efficiency of short films, shot over a lengthy stretch of time, brought together into a single feature and the types of slim budget stories can sustain a better reception in a shorter format instead of full-length one.  Now, I’m not saying Zack and Spencer Snygg collaborated “Monsters in the Closet” falls into the latter category but as one of the first released films of 2022 to come across our ever-critical desk, the indie horror-comedy anthology needed to punch the living daylights out of use to begin the year and whether the Snyggs’ 4-episode, plus wraparound story, anthology slammed dunk or airballed will be covered below. “Monsters in the Closet” is a kickstarter project and a self-produced venture funded by a pair of sub-Hollywood filmmakers in Spencer Snygg, who has worked behind the scenes in the lighting department on some major films over the recent year, and a veteran indie softcore-horror director Zack whose has involvement with indie production companies like Troma and the New Jersey based E.I. Cinema, as you’ll see with a large, splayed display of E.I and Alternative Cinema posters strategically arranged as background fodder. It’s like a Misty Mundae poster celebration on exhibition.

The outer shell narrative that encompasses and unites each separate story entities begins with a frantic Tom C. Niksson as the diehard believer in his own success horror writer Raymond Castle, covered in blood, manically talking to himself, and in the throes of typing away before a cloaked stalker wielding a knife closes in on him. Niksson, who worked under Zack Snygg’s pseudonym, John Bacchus, in that Easter holiday E.I. Cinema favorite, “Beaster Day: Here Comes Peter Cottonhell,” steps into that looming, ever-present figurehead from the grave, delivering random dad joke dialogue while cozying up the audiences for an audiobook rendition of Castle’s latest bestseller, a black magic spell anthology of horror stories that come to fruition when read aloud. Other than his talking head role, Niksson’s involved in some contentious flashbacks with Jasmin as a child, but we never see Niksson and the adult Jasmin Flores (Jasmin) ever in the same scene together as the flashbacks are Jasmin voiceovers. Nikkson’s theatrical behavior perfectly suits the stagecraft atmospherics in erecting the gameshow-esque of a horror host whereas Flores is often stiff as a dry plank of wood. Limitations drawn from her lack of experience keep the actress’s timing and delivery often subdued in an obtuse and ungraceful character when escaping the ever-changing fiction-to-non-fiction villain of the minute. Jasmin, the character, is already inherently underwhelming in a role that has no purpose or buildup to understand her headspace surrounding the sudden death of her father. What do those flashbacks mean to her or are they just melancholic gibberish? And why isn’t she more interested in his death or even showing a lack of care for it? Throughout “Monsters in the Closet,” a fair amount of pleasantly surprising performances from the anthological works pull the overall project together better than those in the wraparound story. Along with a first person view zombie tale as the first short, Luke Couzens and Carmilla Crawford play newlywed new homeowners going through the frustrations of DIY Hell until they off each other with tools, the silver spoon Jordan Flippo becomes tarnished when a camping accident turns this rich daddy’s girl into an unstoppable killing machine to protect her immaculate image, and side-splitting John Fedele (“The Vampire’s Seduction”) as the humbly polite mad scientist Frankenstein who can’t get over the death of Mrs. Frankenstein (Valerie Bitner) and keeps resurrecting her despite her wishes to stay dead.

What I like and thought interesting about the “Monsters in the Closet” corpora is that they’re written in-house by at least one of the Snygg brothers, sometimes both.  This extends style and control over the entire body of work boundless to the ideas and the panache of other filmmakers and showrunners without having to associate themselves.  The Snyggs’ balanced anthology comes with equal levels of comedy and horror that unearths the humor in humorless scenarios sans the sometimes tired gags that can devalue a project into tedium and, ultimately, into worthlessness and since we’re already being beholden to more than one narrative that jumbles the mind, the mental capacity is too low to withstand different numerous tales in one sitting as well as to try and struggle with the bad unfunny bits.  “Monsters in the Closet” at least has a whimsical darkness about it, a sinister playful attitude, and isn’t afraid to get gory from time to time beginning with the Spency Snygg directed zombie existentialistic “Please Kill Me Again” that takes the viewpoint of a recently turned woman with normal inner thoughts and intentions, but the cravings begin to take over.  The Snygg brothers follow up with darkly satiric “Home Improvement” involving a new couple’s adversary journey to fix up their rundown new home to the point where they can’t take any more of the repairs or of each other and the overflowing sardonic banter starts to spill blood; this bit is fun, more than you know it relatable, and gets real nasty at the end. The weakest short is “The One Percenters” with a nob’s daughter eager to mingle amongst the common folk during a seemingly harmless camping trip that turns deadly after she accidently kills her boyfriend.  Conceptually, the message is sound with the wealthiest subverting the law theme and Jordan Flippo is stunning as a plutocrat’s high expectations daddy’s girl, but the story lacks enough obstacle and tension-filled stuffing for an interesting enough short. “Frankenstein’s Wife” spotlights John Fedele’s equable, light-hearted humor in affectionately reconstructing and resurrecting the wife he accidently kills and with each attempt at bring her back from the dead, her corporeal temple becomes less and less of herself through Frankenstein’s botched cosmetic surgeries. The lovesick cycle is both deranged and full of laughs from Fedele’s riotous desperation take of a classic character.

Gravitas Ventures unchains all the creatures loose in their digital distribution of The Snygg Brothers’ “Monsters in the Closet” anthology now available on-demand and digital platforms this January. None of the audio or visual aspects will be covered since the feature is not a digital release, but when I say The Snygg Brothers self-produced the film, I mean they literally wore nearly every single departmental hat, including director of photography and visual effects that impresses with a wide range of shots from drone, to hand-held, and to tracking done with depth and various levels of focus. There is no one trick pony behind the camera. Some of the digital effects, such as the bullet holes that riddle the basement floor and walls, cheapen the already cheap production and, for the most part, the practical effects reach the passing bar with the obvious lay figure body parts and crude masks/getups. There are no special features or bonus scenes with this release that runs unrated at 88 minutes. Anthology bias be damned, “Monsters in the Closet” is a rarity in a dying breed subgenre with a jocular sense of sinister, social commentary humor braided into a tenebrous fray between man versus man and man versus monster.

Watch “Monsters in the Closet” on Prime Video!

EVIL Bottled Up is EVIL That’s Life Ruining. “Repossession” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)

“Repossession” Available on Amazon Prime Video!

Jim Tan is a middle-aged engineer earning more than decent living for his luxurious lifestyle with a high-rise condo with private swimming pool, his daughter’s university tuition, and an insanely expensive car. When he is suddenly forced to leave his job after decades of service, Jim’s inability to face the truth and retain his pride results in not telling his family upfront. As his bank account dwindles but his family’s lavish spending continues, Jim’s drastic measures of gambling what he has left in the stock market trading goes against his best friend’s advice as he also submits to a meager income as a transportation driver, but as Jim sinks deeper into the red, the secret he keeps from his family eats more and more at psyche and his traumatic past, full of more secrets, leave the door open for a pernicious dark figure to infringe upon his crumbling reality.

Filmed and set in the multicultural, larger-than-life city of Singapore, “Repossession” is a transfixing cautionary tale of the grim side of pride, society’s devaluation of experience, and the return of past demons. Written and directed by the predominantly television producer, writer, and director, Goh Ming Siu, and Scott C. Hillyard, the 2019 thriller about the ugly failings of falling personal stature grace is the first feature length venture from Siu, a Northwestern University’s Communication’s graduate, and Hillyard, a Mass Media Management grad of Nanyang Polytechnic School of Business Management, that showcases not only his drive to create a structurally sound narrative, but also a vision of one man’s minimalistic mental terror backdropped inside a vibrant, heavily urban surrounding where madness can be lost and confused with the day-to-day hustle and bustle. Siu and Hillyard have tapped a handful of short comedy films over his career with “Repossession” being the directors’ first attempt at a fright film, even if it’s only a diluting portion of the considerable drama elements and is a production under their private limited company Monkey & Boar, operating out of Singapore.

“Repossession” revolves around the fall of a prideful patriarch performed by Gerald Chew (“The Tattooist”). Chew, who previously acted in one episode of Siu’s comedy series, “First Class,” has to enact a man torn from the breast of affluent society and forgo the weening process of learning how to manage life’s obstacles without a steady, lucrative income. As the corporate terminated Jim Tan, a middle-aged man forced back into the current job market after 20+ years at the same company, Chew reaches into our darkest corners for anxiety and panic when everything in Tan’s life that has felt secure and sustainable is now on the precipice of tumbling down into a heap of loss. Instead of coming forth with his mare’s nest of occupational troubles, Tan hides it away, keeps it a secret, and tries to maintain status quo from his wife, daughter, and friends, but the daily life of was once sustainable yesterday is not sustainable today and Chew does the immaculate reformulation of proud man who never needed to worry to now a man whose pride is getting in the way of his acceptance and progression. To add an extra little something to the narrative, Tan’s backstory creeps into the fold one flashback at a time to underline the bubbling trauma now aggravated by his newfound sense of desperation that leads him down a concealed path of disturbing distraught. The mostly all-Asian cast rounds out with principle actors in “Just Follow Law’s” Amy Cheng as Jim Tan’s wife Linda, Rachel Wan as his daughter, Jennifer Ebron as the condo-keeper, and Sivakumar Palakrishnan, as his confidant and common-sense life adviser he never thoughtfully considers, along with bit roles from Daniel Jenkins and Grace Chong.

Demonized as an inky black and towering dark figure with long, sharp hands is Jim Tan’s bottled-up trauma ready to pop like a screw loose on an airplane engine that’s flying 10,000 feet above a populated city. A catastrophe of psychological collapsing looms constantly around every corner when the figure first makes its presence known and only Jim experiences its menacing presence. Viewers won’t know if the glomming figure is a figment of Jim’s mounting pressure or a haunting dose of realism from his past. The otherworldly shadow is just that, a tenebrous shadow of Jim’s foreboding hesitancy in coming clean, and, just like most secrets some of which can be monstrous, harmful, and wicked, Jim’s withholding cleans house with his relationships, hurting everyone in his path from friends to family from his past and to his present. Siu and Hillyard offer a slow chug displeasure cruise of one man’s course through dormant madness, triggered after years of comfort and security, in repossessing a lifelong psychological issue thought long suppressed. The wordplay is clever in design with the character’s default on payments as well as defaulting on his own life and, thus, everything he ever owns falls onto the grounds repo-horror. What can be considered asymmetrical in Siu and Hillyard’s film is the concerting connection of the dots, through Jim’s sometimes off-topic flashbacks and startling visions of the dark figure, that lead up to, what I consider to be, one of the best simply shot and powerful climatic endings experienced to render a pitfall of rueful heartache with a gory final moment.

On December 21, “Repossession” came a-knockin’ on the North American market’s digital door with a multi-platform release from Gravitas Ventures in association with Kamikaze Dogfight. The film has a runtime of approx. 96 minutes and bares a not rated certification. Since “Repossession” is a digital release, the audio and video quality critiques will not be covered. However, I was impressed with cinematographer Chow Woon Seong’s wide lens celebration of Singapore by capture various sentimental landmarks in the area and establishing a contrasting space between the actors and the stunning visuals screen monolithic and serene, creating a conflicting blend between ominous and wonder that also translates into the film’s industrial-lite soundtrack by composer Teo Wei Yong with a brooding mechanical perfunctory to match Jim Tan’s hardly lifting a finger effort. There are no special features or bonus scenes included with the digital release. Powerfully relatable, the human condition for survival, despite the trivial circumstances surrounding one’s dignity, can turn deadly in the blink of an empty bank account.

“Repossession” Available on Amazon Prime Video!

EVIL is All in Your Head! “Implanted” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)

Year 2023.  After a devastated global pandemic, health companies engineered an experimental personal diagnostic nanochip called LEXX that is surgically implanted into the a human’s spine.  For Sarah, a woman down on her luck living homelessly after being let go from her job and struggling to cope with her mother’s early stages of dementia, quick cash is essential for survival and this experimental program, that uses advanced AI technology, tempts a desperate Sarah into participating in human trial runs.  Initial implementation serves Sarah with quick vitals and healthy lifestyle recommendations articulated by an artificial voice in her mind, but when the AI has other plans for Sarah, such ordering the assassinations of the health startup’s top leadership and destroying all evidence of the program, Sarah has to either obey every lethal command or fight against the insidious tech that has complete control over her pain sensors as well as her mother’s life.

COVID-19 has been the baseline culprit for millions of deaths worldwide.  The impact of the pandemic has inspired filmmakers to a creative outlet of churning out stories surrounding a lifechanging and devasting virus.  Some are ridiculous, off-color, cash grabbers – “Corona Zombies” comes to mind – but there are a few out there that challenge the gratuitous advantage-taking by folding in more substance into the story.  Fabien Dufils attempts to go above and beyond the here and now with a post-pandemic, self-containing thriller entitled “Implanted” and is the first written and directed non-made for television feature length independent film for the once music video director set in the urban jungle of New York City.  “Implanted” spins A.I. tech horror with the whooshing fast track of the health care system to eagerly push experimental drugs, in this case a clinical artificial intelligent grafting, upon the desperate, often marginalized, public.  There’s also an allegorical smidgen of mental illness thrown in there as well.  Dufils co-writes the script with fellow Belgium screenwriter David Bourgie under Dufils’ Mad Street Pictures production company.

Making her lead performance debut, mentally wrestling an invasive cybernetic nanochip, is Michelle Girolami who also serves as associate producer.  We all have that little voice inside our heads, telling us what do and think to an inevitably end of accordance with that ever so delicate whisper of persuasion and that’s how Girolami has seemingly approached this role with that little suggestive presence cranked up to the level of full-fledged chaos on two-legs.   Girolami ultimately is a reverse mech with all the cold puppeteering directed shots directed by programmed software and so much of the actress’s performance is solo, feigning responses to a bodiless voice and reacting to pain generated from within whenever she doesn’t comply to the relentless LEXX.  Unable to bounce dialogue and reactions off of others can be a tough sell for most actors, but Girolami really slathers it on thick the vein-popping strain of integrated torture.  Opposite Sarah is Carl (Ivo Velon, “Salt”), another hapless experiment participant forced into assassination servitude, but Carl’s purpose isn’t exactly crystal clear.  His LEXX unit shepherds him down a collision path with Sarah, but the two separate LEXX units have no shared intentions and while that’s wonderfully niche to provide individual A.I. with their own personal liberties and schemes, Carl just wanders the city, sometimes murdering the program’s top leadership or doing something polar opposite of Sarah with no substantial collusion about their subversive attacks.  The what could have been interesting cat-and-mouse game tapers off and the story leads into more of characters trying to regain back their autonomy and this is where Dufils’ narrative shines using LEXX as a symbol for mental disorders and how those impoverished or distressed are struggling to cope can lose themselves and give in to the internalized madness slipping outward.  Parallelly, Sarah’s mother (Susan O’Doherty) suffers from dementia that reinforces the theme.  Martin Ewens, Shirley Huang, Sunny Koll, John Long, and David Dotterer wrap up the cast list.

“Implanted’s” sci-fi concept can be described as if Amazon’s Alexa, with all the internet connections and text-to-speech bells and whistles, suddenly became murderously woke inside your cerebral cortex.  “Implanted” relays humanity’s lopsided dependency on advanced technology that continues to make us even more less connected to each other and the possibility of a machine takeover just that more feasible.  However, much like when a software program crashes, a malfunctioning script error ravages the narrative for not being tight enough, leaving unaccompanied loose ends as devices that fail to progress the story along stemmed by sudden drop off character development and unknown, speculation at best, motivations.  There’s also no discernable backstory to the why LEXX’s A.I. has snafued.  At least with “Terminator,” Kyle Reese provides exposition about Skynet’s sudden upheaval and domination over the human race whereas “Implanted” dives into none of that rich framework and tossing it aside for the sake of just tormenting Sarah into being a killer pawn, moving her across the NYC chessboard with the intent of taking down the king, queen, and knights of LEXX’s program.  To what ends?  Explanation on the specified targeting isn’t made entirely clear as programmers to CEOs are solely liquidated for just being involved.  

“Implanted” is a warzone for headspace and there can be only one victor in this psychological, sci-fi thriller released now, digitally, from Gravitas Ventures.   The unrated, 93 minute film also showcases the various hats of director Fabien Dufils with one being cinematographer.  Dufils captures obscure, slightly neglected, areas of New York City that’s becomes refreshing to consume because even though the Big Apple is well known for glass and steel skyscrapers, the undergrowth locations ground “Implanted” as relatable without the monolithic structures and hustle and bustle tropes.  In juxtaposition to the down-to-Earth background, the decision to sprinkle in visual effect blood splatter taints “Implanted’s” realism.  Though not gory by any means, digitally added blood can’t be cleansed from the physical veneer and being an indie feature, I would have though a run to corner store for a bit of red food coloring would have been a cost saving measure.  “Implanted” adds another layer to the man versus machine subgenre with tinges of mental illness and too reliant on tech themes but undoubtedly leaves gaps in the narrative coding, racking strenuous mental effort without the egregious assistance of an A.I. nanochip.

That Little Strip of Tape Keeps EVIL From Spying On You! “Eye Without A Face” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / U.S. DVD and Miracle Media / UK Digital)



A lonely agoraphobic hacks into the laptop webcams of six beautiful women across the Los Angeles area, tapping into their lives as a compassionate friend from afar.  His voyeurism allows him interaction, even if it’s virtually, and to deal with his severe introverted panic attacks brought upon him by an extremely abusive father and an absent mother as a young boy.  As he continues to stare at the screen, watching the women’s every move, he becomes convinced that one of the women is drugging, killing, and cannibalizing her one night stands.  Trusting his struggling actor and eccentric Youtuber roommate with his secret, too much ambiguity divides their suspicions until the recorded videoclip files of the women’s death show up on the hacker’s computer one-by-one, leaving the hacker vulnerable to possibly someone watching him. 

Every time your laptop monitor is in the upright position, you’re face-to-face with the onboard camera reflecting every movement you take and everything that happens in the background.  Voyeurism is a powerful drug, a contactless addiction where the depraved eyes crave the lifestyles of others to either stimulate the opiate-secreting pleasure endorphins or for more nefarious reasons, such as obtaining sensitive information that can be used for blackmail or theft.  “Eye Without A Face” represents that all-seeing laptop camera lens peering into what should be a private space, quietly invading without making a sound, and possibly turning into the big brother you never wanted.  Ramin Niami’s written and director voyeuristic thriller plays into that unobstructed power over someone by an antisocial hermit and the more that hermit stays reclusive in his shell the more he feeds into his feed of women, becoming more delusional in his attachment for them.   The L.A. shot thriller is a production of the Iranian-born filmmaker’s Sideshow Films with leads Dakota Shapiro and Luke Cook co-executive producing alongside Karen Robsen and Somme Sahab.

Playing the agoraphobic, voyeuristic, hacker Henry is Dakota Shapiro making his feature film debut.  Henry on paper sounds like an oily and unscrupulous lowlife unable to fit as a piece inside society’s puzzle as he watches women from the comforts of his untidied home and unwashed sweatpants.  Niami saw Henry on the contrary as an abused loner seizing at the thought of being out in the world, being around people, and finding comfort incognito with being these women guardian angel.  Henry is empathetic, modest during more private acts, and speaks to them like an equal in a guiding, positive voice without a hint of aggression.  Dakota Shapiro accentuates Henry’s unthreatening existence with dopey eyes and a lethargic posture. Shapiro’s decelerates so slowly that he makes Luke Cook appear like Speedy Gonzales. “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” actor is Henry’s house tenant, Eric, an aspiration Aussie actor trying to land a gig, any gig, in Hollywood and his influencer status is an obsession in itself as he garnishes followers for his own path toward Tinseltown stardom. Eric’s intense self-arrogance can be a put off, but he’s oddly chumming with Henry even after Henry lets him in on his little watcher setup, buying his landlord breakfast nearly every morning, providing him drugs, advising him to stop taking prescription drugs, and trying to find a crack in Henry’s impervious shell as if it was a personal challenge extended to him undertake. Their relationship is night and day, hot and cold, and often splashed with awkward friction with Cook laying on the thick, goofy charm with great attention; yet despite Eric’s knack to have money for everything else but Henry’s rent, the struggling actor eagerly wants to befriend Henry in who might be considered Eric’s only friend as sad as that might sound. All of Henry’s other friends are unaware their performing for the all seeing webcam eye as the cast rounds out with Vlada Vereko, Rebecca Berg, Ashley Elyse Rogers, Evangeline Neuhart, Sarah Marie, Danielle Hope Abrom, and Shekaya Sky McCarthy.

There’s more to “Eye Without A Face” than what meets the…uh, well…eye. While the voyeurism isn’t sexually gratifying but the act itself certainly a core aspect, the blatancy of it is more a distraction to what’s really being conveyed by Niami’s script that’s more aligned with “Henry: A Portrait of a Serial Killer” as the film exhibits key homages to the Michael Rooker starring and John McNaughton directed film. Henry falls into the hazards of a blackhole by becoming entangled in a web of women, drugs, and mental illness without almost never leaving his chair.  Eric unintentionally perpetuates Henry’s reasoning for deviating from his straightened arrow path and constant routine.  In all fairness, that arrow was already severely bowed and wavy at best as the 30-something-year-old has more than definitely broken a few federal and local laws by spying on women through their hacked webcams.  Between the nightmares of an abusive father, memories recalled at Eric’s prying, and being fed the disillusion that the medication he’s taken for years is a figment of a society system trying to control him, Henry has to choose to stick with his current reality or try to be something more than a slug in his inherited home, going as far as to calling into one of the girl’s Onlyfans type website and striking up more of a branded I-am-a-stalker conversation than clearly expressing interest in just casual conversation that sends her into a panic defense mode.  From there, “Eye Without A Face” nearly resembles a theme of anti-confidence resulting in Henry blowing up his quaint and satisfying lifestyle when reaching for a little more that ends with disastrous consequences and becomes woke to his triggering of quelled past.  The surprise twist fails to hold water, making no splash when easily discerned, as it’s slathered way too thin and too revealing around Henry’s anxiety-riddled and panicked life.

The invasion of privacy leaves chills with an overwhelming uncomfortable take on the voyeur thriller while the shocking twist kicks around an underwhelming subplot too easy to spot in Ramin Niami’s “Eye Without A Face,” released on U.S. DVD on August 10th from Gravitas Ventures and on UK digital this coming Monday, August 23rd from Miracle Media. The region free Gravitas Ventures DVD is presented in a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio on a DVD5 and is displayed with a healthy serving of natural digitally recorded coloring that only strays toward a yellow-mustard tint more noticeably whenever Henry dips into a tense or distressed state. The cinematography is the debut feature film work of Sideshow Films’ Tara Violet who has clever POV shots of characters in front of the camera and characters sitting in front of another camera while acting their individual personalities by a high resolution webcam. Among using different types of distortions to render Henry’s mindset, Violet also takes a page out of Terry Gilliam with a wide-angle lens and touch of a Dutch angle to compound the crazy factor. The Dolby Digital English language 5.1 surround on has prominent dialogue unimpeded by shoddy equipment or mic placement that renders good sound design with passable range and depth, especially during webcam dialogue and other miscellaneous sounds. DVD lacks special features aside from a static menu and, obviously, digital releases don’t usually come with any extras well. No bonus scenes during or after the credits. Despite some elements extracted respectfully from inspired classics, “Eye Without A Face” shares a troubling angle on creepy in a digital world and the calamitous ill-effects of ill-advised help that’s no more useful than saying to an uptight person with an anxiety disorder, “you just got to relax.”

“Eye Without A Face” available on DVD / Blu-ray / Prime Video!

Don’t Be Fooled By the EVILs of Your Mind! “Open Your Eyes” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)



Screenwriter Jason is on a deadline.  The producer is looking for his next script and soon.  The writer finds himself in a funk in not only fleshing out his script but also with his memories as a lingering sensation clings to him as flashes of moments that don’t seem quite right haunt his reality.  As he plugs along with his writing, other strange occurrences happen all around him:  a portion of his apartment wall is deteriorating from a leak in an adjacent upstairs unit, a cat has seemingly made it’s way into AC ducts, and objects disappear and reappear.  His dormant apartment complex is frustrating and lonely when he can’t reach the upstairs neighbor or the building manager about the leak that’s destroying his wall, but when he runs into Lisa, a neighbor from down the hall, many of his concerns fade away with her striking beauty and the two start up the beginnings of a possible relationship.  Yet, there’s still something amiss he can’t put his finger on and his newfound friend Lisa might just be the key to his awakening.   

Modest psychological horror has always been a tough one to pull off.  Instead of a straight forward zombie apocalypse or a killer behind a creepy mask slashing to bits half-naked teenagers, the psychological horror subgenre has to develop disintegration details and piece together fragmentations in a whirlwind character study that hopefully materializes into logical sense.  Writer-director Greg A. Sager tackles such threadbare cognizance with the filmmaker’s latest feature, “Open Your Eyes,” a Canadian psychological horror-thriller released this month.  Sager remains firmly in the horror realm with his fourth feature film behind 2012’s demon-seeding “The Devil in Me,” 2014’s supernatural penancing “Kingdom Come,” and 2018’s extraterrestrial thriller “Gray Matter.”  Continue the trend with all his independent productions, Sager self-produces alongside his co-founding Matchbox Pictures Inc., partner, Gary Elmer, who is also the cinematographer on the project.

“Open Your Eyes” is also modest in casting with two backbone characters keeping Sager’s narrative from being an bodiless work of art.  Doing much of the heavy lifting is the Toronto based Ry Barrett and with his close connection with filmmaker Chad Archibald, Barrett has had, in many different capacities, a role in a string of B-horror, including such films as “The Drownsman,” “Antisocial,” and “Neverlost” which are all tied to the Ontario director.  “Open Your Eyes” serves only as the second time Barrett and Sager team up following the release of “Kingdom Come.”   Barrett exudes an unconscious performance in Jason’s unravelling from crunch-time screenwriter to an unglued madman living in Jason’s version of a tenantable matrix.  Jason is almost sleepwalking through a lonely existence even before meeting his neighbor Lisa, a role played by Joanna Saul in her commencing feature film act, and the struggling to keep structural integrity writer hardly suspects and worries about strange manifestations that are happening all around him.  I don’t think Sager captures Jason’s full autonomy awareness that leaves the character more blank than bothered.  Barrett and Saul have adequate enough chemistry to make their barely a courtship romance intriguing, but her character’s implementation into restoring Jason’s vital grip on reality just kind of falls into his lap without a pinky being lifted on Jason’s part to assist in his own deliverance.   Heather May and Julianna Suzanne Bailey round out the small cast.

Aside from the nuisances with the character development, the sterilized comforts of Jason’s living conditions alone provide an unconventional chill.  Though living in an apartment complex is normally assumed chockablock with tenants living their lives, Jason’s apartment building is virtually vacant, void of the hustle and bustle of occupants, with not as much as a whisper from the exterior of Jason’s top-to-bottom, side-to-side walls.   What seems to be an idyllic environment for a concentrating writer becomes an oppressive variable that yet doesn’t seem to slow down or question Jason’s momentum or leave any kind of sense of threat along the way, leaving his what should be an ominous place of mind-bending confinement hanging out to whither and dry up .  I thought the plot twist to be shrouded enough to warrant a semi pleasantly surprised and unexpected ending that connects topically to today’s real-world climate.  Not to be riding a one trick themed pony, Sager also plays upon the themes of grief over loss and how the mind compensates with overactivity and gap fillers to avoid a complete mental system overload while also subtly adding a static charge of illusory sensations to make unsettling disturbances.  “Open Your Eyes” will not scare your socks off as it’s not that kind of film; instead, expect a slow-burn mystery more puzzling than panicky as the walls begin to crumble…literally. 

Okay, puzzlers.  Get puzzling on the new mystery horror-thriller, “Open Your Eyes,” that was distributed this past June by Gravitas Ventures on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital.  Producer Gary Elmer, as director of photography, paints the dark corners with softer figures that provides a really good shadowy contrast between character and background.  Elmer’s small use of the blue tint, his over-the-shoulder hallway delph, and shallow focus add tidbits of appeal without just “Open Your Eyes” seeming like another flat indie production.  Since I was provided with a digital screener, I can’t comment to confidently on the audio and video qualities of a physical release, but presented 2.35:1 widescreen was digitally shot on a CineAlta series Sony Venice camera that effectively provides a smoother grain, especially in the inky shadows, that transmit a really rich data scheme for post-production and offers that flexibility in producing range.  Another byproduct of the Venice camera is the natural looking skin tones seen with Elmer’s film when not under a tinted lens.  No bonus material offered with the digital screener and there were no bonus scenes during or after the credits.  Perhaps with a runtime a little longer than necessary, clocking in a 99 minutes, “Open Your Eyes” is a quaint terror touching the tattered strings of a mind, body, and soul pushed over the edge and into a falsehood bred by fear and loss.

Own “Open Your Eyes” on DVD or Watch on Prime Video!