EVIL is Out For Blood! “Attack of the Unknown” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)

A Los Angeles SWAT team raids a syndicate congregating big narcotics deal that leads to the arrest of the local high profile drug lord named Hades.  In transporting Hades into federal custody, massive alien ships suddenly loom over the city, beginning a merciless extraterrestrial invasion that forces the close knit SWAT team, Hades, and a handful of low on the totem poll federal agents to take shelter at an inmate detention center housing dangerous criminals as everyone outside, fighting for their very lives on the streets of an ablaze metropolis, are swarmed and killed by tentacle spearing, blood sucking aliens.  Running low on ammo, cut off from any kind of rescue, and aware that an attack on them is imminent, the survivors must band together to plan their continuous survival and understand what the aliens want from them before being raided for their blood.

“Independence Day” meets “Assault on Precinct 13” in the blood marauding mayhem of the alien invasion action film “Attack of the Unknown” from writer-director Brandon Slagle (“House on Manson,” “The Dawn”) based off a story by producers Michael and Sonny Mahal of the Mahal Empire production company. The American made, Los Angeles and Las Vegas shot Sci-Fi embattled entanglement labors an intensive visual effects heavy bombardment that bares an unbiblical similarity of the David versus Goliath parable.  Instead of using stones and a slingshot to bring the formidable giant down, gunfire and hand-to-hand combat serve as the nearly useless weaponry of choice against these spacemen, with a slight inspiration of H.R. Giger’s biochemical flare, searching for the junkie’s high of medicinal hemoglobin.  Alongside the Mahal Empire, the company behind the artistry of supernatural-sins, “Art of the Dead,” Spicy Ramen Productions (“Murder Van”), FilmCore (“Clownado”), and Blain-Y-Bootleg Films also stick their producing tentacles into the narrative that entails expropriation of human blood by otherworldly beings.

“Attack of the Unknown” reunites “Art of the Dead’s” Richard Grieco and Tara Reid once again in a non-scene sharing feature, but, this time around, Grieco lands the lead role of Vernon, a long-in-the-tooth cop going through a brutal divorce, going through cancer, and must be the person to save during the invasion…wait, what? Yes, forget the women, children, and possible any other last hope for mankind, Vernon, through the eyes of his SWAT brethren, becomes early on the favorite for survival, but only later into the story does the fact of Vernon’s fatalistic, cancerous blood is the cure for dominion dominance, something that should have been noted when Vernon is labeled as must live. Grieco’s austere soul for Vernon disposes a man without a care or is unpredictable and while the role is overall solid, Grieco is a bit theatrical with the performance. On the short end of the stick is Tara Reid whose barely in a folklore tale told by Hades as a severely brief conclusion on why these malevolent space invaders have landed on planet Earth. Former “Hellraiser: Revelations'” cenobite, Jolene Andersen, and typecast bad guy, “Strangeland’s” Robert LaSardo, without an alternative, had the most intrigue without having a lick of depth with their characters. Andersen is the only female SWAT member, Hannah, with an unexplained connection between her and Vernon other than being colleagues, but Hannah is a bit of a Jane of all trades able to hold her own in a humbling kind of way, making her more likable. On the other hand, the mysterious temperament challenges us to figure out what LaSardo kind of person is Hades; obviously named after the lord of Hell, the drug kingpin isn’t devilish in the least and has the tendency to be more of a stubborn and angst tween. The cast list is huge but the main players involved rounding out the cast list is Douglas Tait, Robert Donovan, Paul Gunn, Mouine Omari, Clay Trimble, Gerardo de Pablos, King Jeff, and, not forgetting to mention as Featured Dancer #1, adult actress Tasha Reign.

Slagle has to reign over and rein in the slew of competing talents and the story’s first act of an indeterminate direction. When the narrative finally settles upon the alien encircled detention center with the survivors’ back against the wall, a harried subplot with two, nearly off the clock San Fernando cops encountering a crashed ship in the desert on the outskirts of town is pushed aside; instead of a smaller, parallel story alongside the SWAT’s predicament, the two cop encounter becomes a bookend story that feels sorely out of place and sheepishly wrapped up. Another out of place aspect, an unfillable character arc within the core story, is with an out of element survivor, a vlogger from Texas, who is the only unqualified defender against an attack and supposed to be on this tangent of earning his “got your back” badge (anyone from Texas, the Alamo state, should know a thing or two about a last stand), but by the time the vlogger musters the courage to shoot back at the bloodsucking tentacles during an elevator escape, the moment is way too late and way too underwhelming to make an impact, leaving his presence wasted amongst a motley crew of rough and tough officers and criminals. Luckily, the Mahal production has plenty of capital to go around to render a bolstering blend of practical and visual effects that tags “Attack of the Unknown” as Slagle’s Michael Bay attempt of a Sci-Fi action film. The visual effect composites are verisimilar in comparison to big budget Hollywood and the practical work, whether be with the fleeting gruesome deaths (ripping off the crown of the head scene was pretty nasty), the alien spacesuits, and the alien’s classic bug eyes and small mouth, harped back on a throwback science fiction alien attack sans the ray gun trope.

For an indie production, “Attack of the Unknown” has a palpable core story with promising visuals that has invaded all major VOD platforms this past August courtesy of Gravitas Ventures. The A/V qualities will not be reviewed due to the digital screener provided, but just to comment on the rigors of budget films, the depth perception issues in the composited effects and the sounds effects not always necessarily syncing properly with the action (i.e. explosions), cold cocks us back down a peg that “Attack of the Unknown” is an indie film. The music score is provided by Scott Glasgow (“Hatchet III”) and the shots are provided by Michael Su, who I thought garnished really neat scenes with smoke and brilliant light. Bottom line, “Attack of the Unknown” just ekes out being entertaining enough but the space vampire’s ground assault traverses a rocky road of dry performances and unfocused bearings that cultivates earnest dramatics progressing into one ginormous space ship-sized cliché.

Available to Rent on Amazon!

EVIL Begins With A Simple Pizza Delivery in “Chop Chop” reviewed! (Kamikaze Dogfight / Digital Screener)

Married couple Liv and Chuck Matthews are enjoying a quiet and romantic night in at their apartment complex.  That is until a pizza delivering psychopath, who relishes chopping off the heads of his victims, knocks at their front door, interrupting the Matthews’ serenity with his own homicidal desires.  The skirmish puts forth the Matthews onto a series of misguided and bizarre encounters with an underground criminal syndicate that upends and jeopardizes their very lives, but the Matthews are not as innocent as they appear and harbor a dark secret of their own that just might get them out alive, barely. 

Flying under the October release radar this year, amongst a swarm of horror films that we thankfully have this unprecedented Halloween season, ekes in the debut feature film, a USA-made, independent horror-thriller entitled “Chop Chop,” from writer-director Rony Patel.  Co-written with Andrew Ericksen, the sleeper film echoes notes of Lynchian themes embroidered with idiosyncratic personas toiling uncomfortable tensions that are dryly humorous.  The Temple University educated in film studies Patel is no stranger to the metaphysics of the genre, pulling influences from and expanding upon his short film catalogue over the last decade with narratives that revolve around the dread of situational surrealism and detour from tropes of traditional tangible horror.  “Chop Chop” is a production of the Patel founded LA based company, Fairwolf Productions, LLC.

Jake Taylor and, the uncanny Zoe Saldana lookalike, Atala Arce, star in their first principle roles as a seemingly normal husband and wife, Chuck and Liv, who are introduced into the initial beginnings of date night that turns into a stay-at-home night of relationship bliss, but as the story progresses, even before the psychotic pizza boy’s entrance into their lives, setting off a string of deadly incidents, a latent secret itches within them as if toiling an escape plan from a previous unsavory life connected by the unexplained red spade symbol tattooed on both of their bodies.  Ambiguity fills the air between the mysterious tattoo and Taylor and Arce’s sanctum mind and side-eyed performances that convey very little of their unspoken plight and reveal very little about their existing purpose in an organization comprised of odd, but dangerous, jobs and dubiously offbeat and clandestine characters.  However, the face of “Chop Chop” draws an intense paroxysm of eye popping curiosity from the character actor David Harper (“Sick Boy”) in a dual performance as Teddy, the head chopping pizza delivery man, and Teddy’s mute twin brother who wields a samurai sword with a glaring look conveying malevolence.  Harper’s distinct face becomes transfixing when the scarred skin and bedecked with silvery braced teeth jut out from the bowed lips of a sinister smile.  To continue the trend of eccentric, quite rememberable, dark characters, Mikael Mattsson (“Scariest Night of Your Life”) and Nicholas Correnti contribute warped opposition encased inside an intermittent individual of horrid killer instincts reinforcing the already loaded with tension thriller.   “Chop Chop” rounds out with Jeremy Jordan, James McCabe (“Drifter”), Natasha Missick, and Lizzie Chaplin to wring Liv and Chuck’s out, whatever that might be from, even more life-and-death.

“Chop Chop’s” immensely cryptic diagram tones more evocatively by the uniquely rich characters planted from moment to moment inside Liv and Chuck’s inescapable conundrum of cascading misadventures.  Whereas Patel and Ericksen scribe persona diversity that’s interlinked to the fermenting innards of the scene, these characters would not be as fruitful if not exuberated by the actors who portray them, instilling a symbiotic coexistence of selling viperous rouges. Mysterious elements don’t solely lie with the veiled married couple, but also with Terry and his brother who are said, and is shown to an extent, to have powers with the abilities to walk through walls and be clairvoyant; yet, cliff notes of the beyond elemental are nixed and the omission of faculty talents are obliquely positive.  Where the characters flourish in a cesspool of strange and usual criminal activity, the story steps back as a murkier shadow game that’s about as translucent as pea soup and while understanding Liv and Chuck’s more exact role in the whole scheme of events isn’t a complete necessity, Patel and Ericksen’s narrative shell loses the cohesive glue to hold and sustain everything in into a diatonic cadence to the end.  Viewers will be kind of left stuck on the precipice by the finale led up by a perpetual tease of haphazard affairs thinly connected by one inexplicable common source that was surrounded by spies, murderers, and a malicious carcass disposer.  Evading a near total fumbling of the story, “Chop Chop” whips up fresh, new characters for the fray scattered throughout the playing field, keeping the loosely lassoed narrative structure from disastrously crumbling down into hollowed heap.

Ding, Dong! Pizza’s here! “Chop Chop” is a deliciously devilish dish from newcomer Rony Patel, landing onto Digital HD and Cable VOD on October 20th to rent or own on Amazon, iTunes, Comcast, Spectrum, Vudu and more, distributed by Kamikaze Dogfight in partnership with Gravitas Ventures. Since a digital screener was reviewed, critiquing the A/V aspects will not be covered. There was also no bonus material available and no bonus scenes during or after the credits. The cinematography scenes from Ryan Emanuel and Carter Fawcett produce striking setups that immediately dictate an artistry of vest-pocket anarchy that stick out gorgeously from the more darker laden respite between meetups. The English audio mix entangles the dialogue into murky territories underneath the swathed action, creating minor clarity issues to chase when trying to understand Liv and Chuck’s subdued spats that are telling of who they really are in “Chop Chop’s” lethal, but still trippy, Alice in Wonderland variation. Keep an eye on Rony Patel’s future cinematic endeavors as the young filmmaker’s tenebrous thriller, “Chop Chop,” has a meticulous sound design and a marvelously simple flare for character prototypes that energizes the rough enigmatic mystery.

 

EVIL is in the Eye of the Beholder! “Perception” reviewed!


When developer project manager Daniel, on the verge of a lucrative deal in flattening an old rental property , meets Nina, a clairvoyant who rents space on the property, an mystifying, and on the house, psychic reading opens up old wounds of Daniel’s previous life involving the death of his beloved artist wife, Maggie. The successful developer becomes frantically obsessed with reaching Maggie from the other side, believing he is paying Nina handsomely to be a vessel conduit, but as a single mother on the verge of losing everything, Nina exploits Daniel’s fixation on the past that’s more dangerous than initially presumed. Daniel and Nina become sexually and spiritually entangled on two false pretense fronts while behind the scenes, a malevolent presence orchestrates a sinister campaign of perverse revenge.

In her fiction feature film debut, Ilana Rein writes and directs “Perception,” a 2018 suspense thriller aimed unsheathe and reactivate the agonizing secrets and those who reap the benefits from them. Rein, who previously helmed documentaries that includes the award winning Battlestar Galatica fandom documentary, “We Are All Cyclons, pivots from non-fiction into creative invention alongside producer and writing partner Brian Smith. “Perception” tackles various themes from severe mental illness, to dangerous obsession, to how we initially and naively perceive individuals without knowing exactly who they really are, especially when they’re in the white collar, high dollar, social category. Rein focuses on rooting out psychotic and sociopathic qualities through the power of flashbacks while chucking in a scornful spirit into the background for good climatic measure.

“Perception” perceives hard bodies and chiseled faces over a few recognizable ones, which typically isn’t a bad aspect of filmmaking but may not draw a wide viewership. Though in the entertainment industry for some time, Wes Ramsey is one of those fresh faces, headlining as Daniel, the successful developer with an unhealthy mania for his deceased wife. Ramsey has seen more roles in television than in feature films, but the “Brotherhood of Blood” and “Dracula’s Guest” actor pockets horror theatrics here and there and uses his tall, dark, and handsome charm to be a good source for Daniel as the presumptuous, if not stereotypical, good guy. Opposite Ramsey is Meera Rohit Kumbhani, an Indian American actress with beautiful big and round eyes, to star as the clairvoyant Nina. Kumbhani has solid onscreen sincerity and a sexiness to match, but as Ninia’s has a principle crises, Kumbhani is able to sell practically a RickRolls performance that fools us all as uncertainty clouds judgement about her ethics when it’s whether to exploit a desperate widow or pay for her troubled young son’s educational necessities. Together, Ramsey and Kumbhani contently compliment each other’s performances and when you mixed the specter playing Chaitlin Mehner in flashback sequences, an out-of-body love triangle experience ensues. Rounding out the cast is Max Jenkins, J Ro, Vee Kumari, and J. Barrett Cooper as the only face I recognize more recently from Nathan Thomas Millinar’s “A Wish for the Dead.”

The depth of the story, especially with main characters Daniel and Nina, really hinders judgement on the outputted result. Not enough vivid and harrowing memories of Daniel and Maggie’s rocky relationship stir very little toward a stroppy receipt for disaster. Their coupling went from casual to 120 mph in two scenes flat never laying down a sturdy foundation on why viewers should put stock into their story if there’s no stock to really sell. Same can be said for Nina and her son’s simmering obtuse relationship where Nina believes all is hunky-dory, despite her son’s suddenly mute stature, and her unmotherly attentiveness to his disturbingly illustrated clues to his inner demons. Stronger supporting characters saw through the boy’s facade, such as Nina’s friend J Ro (who plays himself, by the way) and her mother; both of whom are on the polar opposite sides of the clairvoyant spectrum. Those underwhelming characters flaws suck the energy out from the main arteries in Daniel and Nina’s carnal exploits and meddling to thwart the very fiber of “Perception’s” thrilling suspense.

Ilana Rein’s “Perception” comes to DVD home video courtesy of Gravitas Ventures and presented into a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ration. Image quality is obvious clean as with all digitally shot, yet the hues are a slightly warm, favoring more of a yellowish tint into every scene, and while maintaining solid definition, some scenes bask in a softer glow at times. Stylistically, not much to report as the film follows conventional strides. The English language 5.1 surround sound has strong, dialogue favoring, and balanced with depth and range. There is also a dual channel track available, but not really needed, as enough dramatics flare up to tip into the five channel. As bonus features go, there are none. Ilana Rein’s debut into the feature film market could have been worse, but “Perception” is a strong entry into the horror-thriller market with some Hitchcockian undertones. Definitely sexy and psychotic, “Perception” puts onto a pedastal humanity’s worst when the sheep’s clothing has finally shed and that’s worth reviewing.