Being Dismissed is EVIL That’s Hard to Choke Down. “Swallow” reviewed! (Second Sight Films / BD-R Screener)

Newly pregnant housewife, Hunter, putters around the house while her workaholic husband enjoys the fruits of success and friendship with colleagues.  When she’s not cleaning the house or preparing a meal for herself, Hunter stares into the oblivion of her isolating environment.  The country girl who really had nothing to her name has fortunately found an opportunity to never be worried about financial insecurities and with every material thing a person could want in their right at her fingertips.  All Hunter has to sacrifice is her control.  Feeling lonely, powerless, and trapped, Hunter discovers swallowing inedible, dangerous objects gives her great joy and something she can control.  As she goes deeper into this obsession and her perfect world begins to crumble, she’s confronted with reexamining her dark past that stems her unusual eating habit.

Sometimes it’s our strange quirks, our self-destruction behaviors, and our subconscious need to be noticed, or in control, or out of the pockets of others that can deliver horrid outcomes that, ironically enough, can be also our incognito liberator.  As such displayed in Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ written and directed introductory feature film, a blend of family melodrama and interior body horror, with “Swallow.”  The 2019 released psychological thriller is difficult to digest, literally, as the protagonist struggles coping with external control issues in a seemingly perfect life, a life that has never quite felt like her own, while also encouraging an alarming new physiological appetite for what is known in the eating disorder circles as Pica.  Set in upstate New York, shot around the idyllic Hudson Valley area, “Swallow” is produced by the award-winning “Nomadland’s” Mollye Asher and “Black Box’s” Mynette Louie, who have a long history in investing into bold and interesting emotional depth tales, and is a production of the France based companies, Charades and Logical Pictures.

Undertaking the daunting task of Pica emulating is Haley Bennett.  “The Haunting of Molly Hartley” and “Hardcore Henry” actress tethers a line to the core basis of her character Hunter who has to gradually chip away portions of her blank exterior of a person subconsciously suffering from similar symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome.  Hunter very much believes in the social saturation of wifely duties at an attempt to please her bread-winning husband Ritchie (Austin Stowell, “Colossal”), constantly gathering reassurances and happiness from him.  I also like the play on words with the husband name Ritchie that speaks to his haughty behavior.  Bennett, in great detail, captures Hunter’s disfigured, uncertain happiness and wholehearted attempts to join the ranks of a proud housewife, an area mirrored by silent authority from her mother-in-law Katherine (Elizabeth Marvel, “All the Little Things We Kill”).  As soon as Hunter swallows that very first foreign object, Bennett derives true delight from the bizarre action.  From then on, blistering is away is being a slave to Ritchie’s wealthy ties as that little object, that spherical inkling of hope, gets the marble rolling down the gullet of taking back what’s hers, her life.  Bennett and Stowell finesse their characters’ relationship with a teetertotter of genuine sympathy and ingenuine gratification in what’s a blurry line of compassion or a total fake façade for the allusion of appearances.  The weakest character, for me, is Luay, the Syrian expat who fled the turmoil of homeland war and has become something of a caretaker to Hunter.  Played by Laith Nakli, Luay’s sympathy for Hunter runs deeper than her psychological disorder, and Nakli can dish out awkward, slow burn compassion with the best of them, but that connection between Luay and Hunter misses the timely mark with a blank and acute switching of allegiances gone unspoken and with inaction.  Luna Lauren Velez (“Dexter”), David Rasche (“Cobra”), Babak Tafti, Nichole Kang (“Ten Minutes to Midnight”), Zabryna Guevara, and “American Horror Story’s” Denis O’Hare rounds out the cast.

Hunter’s fixation can be compared to the likes of any other vice and soul-swallowing addiction – gambling , drugs, sex – but the very fact that it’s Pica, and on a certain level of the OCD spectrum, makes Mirabella-Davis’ script somewhat of a curious oddity as the filmmaker builds a story around a dysfunctional family and one’s own personal grasp on destiny.  Though set in modern times, “Swallow” very much has a 1950s-1960s vibe with the dynamic of the working husband and the wife stays home to spruce up the house; there’s even a particular scene of Hunter vacuuming in a 50’s-ish tea length swing dress.  Despite the story’s curious and odd nature and the stuck in time antiquated gender inequality veneer, Mirabella-Davis utilizes these aspects to shape and shed light on the more diabolical of inner detriments with Hunter’s lack of confidence and autonomy stemmed from a difficult to swallow past and a financially affluent relationship that actually disallows personal freedom.  “Swallow” is oppressive in ways as Ritchie and his family and friends attempt to squeeze every ounce of value out of Hunter with value being the unborn child amongst other things.   The psychology of “Swallow” melds past and present together to form Hunter’s dangerous method of taking over the reigns of a life she never steered and Mirabella-Davis crafts an exquisite niche thriller to encourage us to gobble up.

Second Sight Films, a label known for it’s substantial and lavish re-releases, snacks on another high profile film with their profound limited edition Blu-ray of Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ “Swallow.” The single disc, PAL encoded, region B BD-25 is presented in the original aspect ratio of a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Since a BD-R was provided for review purposes, I am unable to comment on the true characteristics and qualities of the audio and video, but do note Katelin Arizmendi’s stunning cinematography that’s full of palpable texture to every minute piece of inedible edibles Hunter puts down her throat and the gorgeous long shots of Hunter being engulfed by the depth with the isolating forest setting that looks to be lurking in the background. The limited edition release hit shelves this past Tuesday, the 22nd, and has a ton of features to check out, including a new audio commentary by director Mirabella-Davis and producers Moilye Asher and Mynette Louie, A Personal Story exclusive interview with the director that’s seriously in-depth and passionate about his work on “Swallow,” Something Bubbling Underneath exclusive interview with producer Moilye Asher, The Process exclusive interview with editor Joe Murphy, Metal and Glass exclusive interview with composer Nathan Halpern, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’s take on “Swallow” A Room of One’s Own, Mirabella-Davis’ short film “Knife Party,” and a rigid slipcase with new artwork by Haley Turnbull along with a soft cover booklet with an introduction by the director and containing essays by Anne Billson, Jordan Crucchiola, and Ella Kemp. Lastly, at the tail of the special features are 6 beautiful collectors’ art cards. “Swallow” is rated UK 18 and runs for 94 minutes. Bennett wins the prize for making “Swallow” a throat-clearing success and bravo to Mirabella-Davis for being brave enough with an unusual story set around an uncommon eating disorder and directing the hell out of it.

Limited Edition Blu-ray from Second Sight Films Available at Amazon.com

Love. A Complicated EVIL. “Me You Madness” reviewed! (STX Entertainment / Digital Screener)

Catherine Black, a materialistic and narcissistic hedge fund businesswoman, prides herself on expensive fashion, a healthy appetite for wealth, and a keen appreciation for 80’s music.  There’s also one little other aspect of Catherine’s life that excites her immensely, she’s a total sociopathic serial killer and cannibal who gets off on inviting the detrimental to society to her Malibu home for the slaughter.  When petty thief Tyler thinks he’s pulling a fast one over the megalomaniac by casing her lavish home full of luxurious jewelry, cars, and décor, he’s actually walked into a trap set by murderess.  Toying with her prey before springing her trap, a typically emotionally detached and cold Catherine begins to feel something for not only Tyler’s ruggedly handsome looks but also for his down to Earth knowledge of the world around him, but upon his discovery of her freezer full of preserved dismembered body parts, a love and hate cat-and-mouse game ensues as Catherine and Tyler battle it out between either their individual survival or to pursue the sensation of madly falling for each other. 

A hyperbolic whirlwind in how opposites attract to the new wave tune of an 80’s soundtrack with a glitzy siding of the modern macabre, “You Me Madness” visually defines the coined idiom to be crazy in love.   The debut dark comedy of 2016’s remake of “Cabin Fever” and “The Midnight Man’s” actress, Louise Linton, introduces the Scotland native not only as a director, but also as a screenwriter, penning “You Me Madness’s” unflinching admiration to homage music, films, and their clichés and incorporate them into a fiercely funny comedy that sows unusual seeds of love.  Shot primarily on location in Malibu, set atop of a promontory in and around the sleek modern Ed Niles’ glass-and-steel architecture of the marvelous Henman House, that lists with a hefty price tag of nearly ten million dollars in today’s housing market, and has been the backdrop as Johnny Rico’s family home in Paul Veerhoven’s 1997 authoritarian war on the bugs, “Starship Troopers.”  Linton’s Stormchaser Films serves as the production company with financial backing from Christopher Rush Harrington (“Dead of Winter”), Jijo Reed (“Deadly Famous”), and Christelle Zeinoun.

If I didn’t know any better, I would say “Me You Madness” is the riley, subconscious projection of Louise Linton who not only directs and writes the film but also leaps into to the star role as the self-absorbed Catherine Black.  It is my opinion that Linton’s desire to be a filmmaker stems from her love of moves, especially from the 1970s and 1980s, from the slew of references deliberately spoken throughout to either bring attention about and to avoid the overused tropes all together or a story structure style to galvanize the, sometimes historically ridiculous, long lineage of serial franchises like with “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” when Catherine wields a chainsaw and stops to quickly turn toward the camera to harp about the series longevity.  But, in any case, Linton is wonderful as the powerful corporate sociopath saturated in elegance and is near impervious in breaking her principles about stylish perceptions whether be her designer made outfits during kill mode or keeping red wine, and blood, of her Italian-purchased sofa…or is it a couch?  Linton is opposite the sweet, yet skillfully crafty, innocence radiated from Ed Westwick as conman Tyler Jones.  The British born actor steps into an entirely lighthearted, yet dark, role that’s undoubtedly different from his previous cache of disconsolate films of “Children of Men” or “S. Darko,” the sequel to “Donnie Darko,” with stories of gut-wrenching dread and a general sense of uneasiness throughout.  Despite having a black-comedy tone, “You Me Madness” evokes Westwick to gleam with hopeless love for a smart and beautiful woman undeterred by her then wanting to then needing to kill him because he knows too much about he in spite of her feelings for him.  As you see, the coupling dynamic in this Catherine Black and Tyler Jones show is tremendously complex and both actors are able to reach that level of radical commitment of killer zany passion but only to a limited extent.  Linton terribly overshadows Westwick’s dry, almost deadpan, manner that leaves Tyler feeling unworthy of pursuit because here you have this beautifully intelligent and aggressively possessive woman with Linton’s grand presence coming to life on screen over everyone, and everything, in the film and in strolls a rather silent and express soft Westwick that doesn’t quite fit the bill. 

What I found to be thoughtful and carefully worked was Catherine Black’s image from the male perspective.  Like I said, Catherine is a power-hungry, manipulative, and material-driven narcissist but also beautiful, elegant, and well-versed at stratagem, but this larger-than-life character isn’t demeaning to women as a whole nor is she degraded by the, essentially, the one man in this story with her.  Most rape-revenge or women with a cause narratives inflict a barrage of choice nasty descriptors, such as cunt or bitch, toward the heroine or anti-heroine because she’s battling back against the man or men who’ve wronged her or a loved one. Linton further moves away from the odious layers of destruction lamina by stylishly beefing up the neon effervesce exterior and glam lifestyles of the rich and famous hyperextended upon with a love of an 80’s music soundtrack complete with 80’s arbitrary dancing with Ed Westwick jumping, kicking, swaying, and hypersexualizing dance moves around the Black’s house to the omnipresent soundtrack that includes bands Yello, New Order, The Pointer Sisters, A-Ha, The OJ’s, and Thompson Twins just to name a few. Linton also adds a meta touch where the main characters can turn and narrate directly at the audience to narrate their thoughts.  The unlikely of couples Tyler and Catherine have a relationship that’s being sewn together during their deadly love skirmish right before our eyes as the Catherine led audiences with a narrative disclosure of her confined world seeps into Tyler’s unguarded bubble to the point where he can now turn to the camera and speak to the audience that forms a stronger bond between them.  Yet, “Me You Madness” doesn’t quite have that perfectly coursed transition from enemies to lovers with a story that starts to become lost in itself from being built up strongly by Linton establishing, overtly, Catherine Black’s dark lifestyle choices and the kill scenario plot on this street smart thief to then watering down Catherine’s intense resolute that peters into a shoulder shrug of giving up and in to Tyler after a ferociously hellbent to cut his throat and Hannibal Lector him for dinner.

“Me You Madness” starts off hungry like a wolf film that gets physical with a smooth criminal but turns into a total eclipse of the heart that’s addicted to love and is never gonna give you up!  “Me You Madness” hits video on demand services Valentine’s weekend, releasing February 12th, distributed by STX Entertainment (“Hardcore Henry,” “The Boy”). The 97 minute duration is a celebration of enriched love more powerful than money, fancy things, and diabolical desires while also contributing playful banter and dazzling with the overkill of a voluptuary femme fatale. Ray Peschke’s cinematography grasps the “Miami Vice” vibe. Peschke’s can be on both sides of the coin with a sterilizing bright white of elegance to then flip around into a drug-fueled, kind of smoky robust color variant scene chosen carefully from a broad palette to accentuate the mood. Obviously, going full neon is important too and with Catherine’s dark room spin class, you get that rich fluorescent coloring when all riders are adorned in wearable glowsticks and a neon light illuminates their light colored clothing. Since “Me You Madness” is a brand new film opening right into the video on demand market, there were no bonus materials with the feature nor were there any extra scenes mid-or-after credits. Often wordy to be an adjunct of pop culture name-dropping, “Me You Madness” still renders as a beautifully shot, sybaritic-inclined film that slightly misses the intended mark of connection and love, but does take us out of our dreams and down the lane of playful nostalgia and frivolous fun.


Watch “Me You Madness” on Prime Video! Click the poster to watch!

Slavic Folklore EVIL Goes Full Amber Alert in “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” reviewed! (Digital Screener / Shout! Studios)


Still reeling over the loss of his mother, a disheartened Egor has moved to a new apartment on the forested outskirts of the city with his father, step mother, and infant half-sister. A nanny is hired for house upkeep and to look after him and his sister, but the nanny’s strange behavior borders hostility toward him while also bewitching his father with her beauty and charm. Since her hire, the nanny cameras alert Egor of movement in the nursey, projecting an unknown and disfigured woman in the room hovering over the baby. When his parents don’t believe him, there’s nothing more the older boy can do until his baby sister goes missing and his parents don’t remember her, as if she never existed. Egor, along with his friends, track down a man living in the woods who seems to have an inkling about the mysterious disappearances of children and why everyone forgets about them as he has experienced the loss of his daughter and can barely remember her. Based off the man’s ramblings, their search for Egor’s baby sister leads them to an old and abandoned power shack that serves as conduit to the world of Baba Yaga, a Slavic witch with the influencing ability in kidnapping and devouring children’s souls for power and Egor’s sister, along with the rest of the nearby children population, have been abducted to lure in the pivotal pure child to set her free into their world.

“Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” is the second part of this unintentional two part Russian horror film appraisal following our extrospective look into Olga Gorodetskaya’s psyche serrating “Evil Boy” that just happens to have another protagonist by the name of Igor, but in this case, the spelling is Egor and, instead of a middle-aged doctor, Egor is a pre-teen boy with pre-teen issues – just to jazz it up a little. Also originally known as “Yaga. Koshmar tyomongo lesa,” the supernaturally Slavic folklore tale, directed by Snyatoslav Podgaevskiy (“Mermaid: The Lake of the Dead”), was released February in motherland Russia and is making a distributive second coming toward the States on September 1st courtesy of a collaboration between Shout! Studios and Leda Films. Penned by Podgaevskiey as well as Ivan Kapitonov and Natalya Dubovaya, the scribing trio pickup right where the wrote off form the gritty mysticism of fabled creatures beginning with “Mermaid: The Lake of the Dead” and into a classically frightening and morose villain salivating for juvenile souls spurred from one of the numerous variations of one of the more popular, if not grotesque, Russian mythological being. “Baba Yaga” is a production of the Cinema Foundation of Russia, Central Partnership Productions, Non-Stop Productions, and QS Films.

In much of the reverse from “Evil Boy,” Podgaevskiy’s “Baba Yaga” rocks the cradle in a “Goonies” approach with a condiment and courageous group of pre-teen, developmentally spongy, angsty, and hormonal driven children to solve the big bad witch mystery that not only afflicts the very lives of their brethren age group, but also the parental halfwits who have their minds erased like a chalkboard with nothing more than tiny dust particles to cling to to keep their missing children alive in their memories. From the visually powerful alien invasion thriller “The Blackout” (ItsBlogginEvil review here), Oleg Chugunov spearheads a trio of adolescents on the cusp of being witch-fodder. Chugunov plays Egor, a dispirited youth unhappy with his father’s remarriage to another woman and the target of bullies at his new school before becoming the chosen meal plan for Baba Yaga’s unholy escape for an ethereal world. Egor’s experience of an afterthought to a savior of child-kind isn’t represented well through Chugunov and how the character is written as Egor just falls into the “pure” child role without much explanation to why, staying flat on the personal growth scale for 113 minute runtime. Egor’s followed by a love interested in Dasha (Glafira Golubeva) and lead bully Anton (Artyom Zhigulin) who both have bouts with their parental caretakers; Dasha’s mother is a scorned beauty hellbent on controlling Dasha’s life form outside influences while Anton is a parentless brute with a guardian who is equally as callous as him, if not more. Svetlana Ustinova (“Hardcore Henry”) has two roles in this film and both are bad guys: Baba Yaga and Baba Yaga’s half-bird, half-human hench-thing. Ustinova shows immense range by fielding human to hybrid to full out witch qualities, inching the insidious intentions through the storyline that requires varying degrees of discourse with other characters along the way. The cast list rounds out with Aleksey Rozin (“Leviathan”), Maryana Spivak (“The Outbreak” TV series), Igor Khripunov (“The Bride”) and Marta Timofeeva (“Welcome to Mercy”).

Out of the two terror inducers from Russia, “Baba Yaga” inches out “Evil Boy” on the supernatural spectrum. Between Anton Zenkovich’s colorfully prismatic photography, Vlad Ogay’s sleek-straight and modernally tight architectural designs juxtaposed against a vastly rustic and chaotic woodland lore, and topped off with Podgaevskiy’s highly effective misdirection jump scares, “Baba Yaga” inveigles to a palatable lore horror invigorated by a two-timing enchantress with a sweet tooth for kid blood. Despite not being exact to the Baba Yaga’s tale, as the creature’s house is supposed to erected by actual chicken legs, Podgaesvkiy shoots a fear-laden heartstopper where anything can happen in any scene at any moment. Yet, something is indubitably missing from “Baba Yaga.” Perhaps, what’s missing is that meaningful message about rekindling that spark between parent and child, patching up the tears in the relationship that’s been strained by XYZ reason. Perhaps, what’s missing is the unsatisfactory ending of easily dethroning of a powerful and mighty mage. Perhaps, what’s missing is the explanation on why Egor is the key to Baba Yaga’s tyrannical freedom from cursed exile. I’d say all three contribute to the cause and not much, not even a wonderfully animated s storybook prologue depicting the phantasmal enterprise and downfall of Baba Yaga, could save the heartache in wanting more substance from the already loaded story but, then, we would be looking at another hour of runtime though its sorely warranted. In sum, “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” slips in a variant version dispersing a tingling tale of Russian folklore with stunning visuals and dutiful scares that ends deficiently and mediocrely.

Hide your children! “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” will be unleashed on VOD, digital, and on Blu-ray and DVD September 1st from Shout! Studios and Leda Films. You can look for it digitally or on-demand from the following providers: AppleTV, Amazon, VUDU, GooglePlay, PlayStation®, XBOX, hoopla, Fandango Now, DirecTV, Comcast Xfinity, Spectrum, Cox, Charter, and AT&T U-verse. Since the review is based off a digital screener, the A/V aspects will not be examined but the Scream Factory Blu-ray and DVD release will be region A/1, presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and will include a powerful Russian language Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix with English subtitles and will also include a dubbed English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Unlucky for me, I had to screen the movie with the dubbed version. Lucky for you, I can confirm that though obvious, the dubbing isn’t horrendously overly-hyperbolized or too asynchronous. There were no bonus features or bonus scenes included nor none announced on the press release. Grab a bottle of Vodka, pop some Zefir candies, turn off the lights, and sink into an Eastern European mythos horror with Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy’s “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” that’ll scare the Ushanka right off your head.

Pre-order “Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest” on DVD or Blu-ray for Sept 1st release!