Reap the EVILS You Sow. “Wired Shut” reviewed! (101 Films / DVD)

The failings of a once famed novelist, Reed Rodney, have come calling after a horrific car accident leaves Reed with reconstructive surgery and his mouth wired shut.  Stuck in remote mountain home, sipping pain meds through a straw and hitting terrible writer’s block after the critically trashed last novel, fortune and distinction never seemed so lonely until his estranged daughter, Emmy, shows up at his front door, looking to spend some time with him before going to school abroad.  Their hoary embattled relationship, built on alcoholism, lies, and abuse, urges Reed for a change of heart, willing to reconnect with Emmy by any way necessary, even if that means being a punching bag for her bottled up emotional outpourings.  When an unexpected intruder exposes a callous secret and lives are at stake, Reed and Emmy must rely on each other to survive a twisted prowler’s sadistic games. 

“Wired Shut” is the teeth-clenching, family quarrelling, sociopathic surviving inaugural full-length feature from Vancouver born director Alexander Sharp.  The home-invasion thriller too hails from Vancouver, Canada with an old-fashion tale of an inside job story co-written by Sharp and the director’s steady collaborator Peter Malone Elliott in which the project is also the first full-length script for the two writers.  “Wired Shut” houses a single location with a small cast but indulges varying levels of crazy and a good amount of bloodshed initially pie-eyed by the immense build up of downtrodden characters.  Singed family relations, the ebb and flow of trust, and the untangling of an ugly knot to retether a stronger bond becomes the parallel of reconnecting in this GoFundMe crowdfunded film under Lakehouse Productions and Alexander Sharp’s Sharpy Films presented by Motion Picture Exchange or MPX.

In a role where you have to keep your trap shut at all times because you’re playing a former self-centered rake who crashed his Lamborghini and had to have your mouth wired shut, Blake Stadel (“Rise of the Damned”) has one of the easiest parts in all of move making history.  Thank about it.  Zero lines of dialogue, you’re feigning an ego that is as shattered as your character’s jaw, and you write or type if you have to communicate.  Now, I’m not belittling Stadel’s once famous novelist, Reed Rodney, as the actor has to absorb the pity, the verbal abuse, and the overall confinement resulted by his injury as a sort of surrender to unfortunate happenstance.  Reed’s moment of life-altering clarity came pre-introduction when crashing the Lambo that left him vulnerable and alone, two bad, pre-depression dispositions of mind and being.  Across the table stews the stark opposite with Reed’s daughter Emmy, played by Alexander Sharp’s sister, Natalie Sharp (“Baby Monitor Murders”).  Pent up with anger and seething with intent, Emmy is executed with these qualities with perfection by Sharp.  However, Emmy extinguishes her fiery eyed hate too quickly in the fate upturning twist that creates a dubious bubble around her and not in a good way.  Emmy’s defining moment of clarity is weakly pawned off just for her and her dad to have a slither of reconnection in a breakneck transition without any struggle or sacrifice to change her mind.  Her blurry change of heart quickly becomes moot by Behtash Fazlaili’s (“The Evil In Us”) unhinged performance as Emmy’s delinquent boyfriend, Preston.  Preston eclipses the entire father and daughter dynamic with a clichéd villain by monologuing and squandering wasted opportunities to end it all and getaway scot-free.  Fazlaili’s performance also doesn’t inspire terror or much of anything at all except for frustration with the cavalier, walk-on act that’s supposedly a mentally broken man fallen to and reshaped by life’s hard knocks.  What’s on screen is Joker-esque mush relating little backstory that drives him to scheme and to be completely off his rocker whereas, in contrast, we know what motivates Emmy and we know what motivates Reed.

The slow burn of “Wired Shut’s” first two acts attempts to humanize Reed as a dejected and alone with Emmy sparking life into an object he can now be fixated on to mend his meaningless, post-accident existence, but Emmy, herself, lugs her own daddy-issue baggage giving way for the two to buttheads in exacting their feelings upon one another.  Sharp fishes for sympathy but keeps loose with expressing Reed and Emmy’s contentious relationship; a relationship that truly never existed with an alcoholic Reed’s persona no grata behavior around Emmy’s mother and her that extends his jet setting lifestyle with the next mistress.  Though loose, you can see both stand and the foreseeable twist coming because of it in an unsurprising turn of events.  What is surprising is Preston’s sudden Jekyll and Hyde as if Reed’s salivated score is Sharp’s theme that for the love of money is the root of all evil.  The theme is peddled and not exactly discerned in Fazlaili’s character who’s more concerned with the cat and mouse game of unbelievable hilarity.  Part of the absurdity has to do with Reed’s three story house with a built-in elevator and if you’ve ever ridden an in-home elevator, the cramped, smaller versions of a regular Otis are slow as Hell dripping with molasses.  Yet, somehow, Reed and Emmy happen to beat Preston down a meager two stories with the push of a button while Preston stops to take an injury breather at the third story landing.  Getting in the elevator should have been easy pickings when exiting, but in entertainment for some, keeping the audience attentive is pinnacle even if that means sacrificing the story for cheap thrills by stretching the realism just a little bit.

“Wired Shut” will leave you speechless with a pedestrian anticlimax after watching the DVD. Distributed by the United Kingdom’s 101 Films, the region 2, PAL encoded, 91 minute thriller is presented in an anamorphic widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio on a DVD5 and thoroughly soaked in a sea of tenebrous blue tint as the first, many firsts for these filmmakers, feature length cinematography for Martin Taube. Crystalized sleek and fresh with a modern, straight-edge finish, Taube main objective centers around personal space and to detox comfort with the strain and psychopathy, using close ups and up or down angling to exact an uneasy position during strenuous moments. The continuous tinting from start to finish could have been done without as it chokes the story in nearly an unviewable consumption. The English language Dolby Digital Stereo AC3, 5.1 surround sound mix, is a LFE sound cannon with a bass-heavy rattling industrial soundtrack by Oswald Dehnert and Rayshaun Thompson. The soundtrack’s sonorous tone crackles at the format’s compression, leaving granulated pops when the volume levels peak, which is really surprising for today’s digital and format spec cautious handling. Dialogue levels render nice and clear and the sound design’s not bad either with a complex range of soundbites inside a single setting, especially when Reed pops the wires when forcing open his mouth. The DVD is bare bones with special feature and the DVD cover itself is poorly misleading with a hooded figuring, standing backlit in the woods, with a large blade in hand. There is no such slasher figure in the movie. “Wired Shut” is not a slasher. I repeat. Not a slasher. “Wired Shut” is rated 15 for strong threat (gun pointing, knife to the throat), injury detail (stabbing, slicing, and surgical fastening coming undone), and language (Yes, foul language is present). As far as home invasion films go, “Wired Shut” says nothing new about the subgenre, but offers an intriguing ingredient of incapability and the strength to push through to the other side with the if there’s a will, there’s a way mentality underneath intruder chaos.

In EVIL’s Chair and Ready for a Cut. “The Stylist” reviewed! (Arrow Films / Digital Screener)

Excellent at styling hair, but not so much at making friends, Claire lives a solitary life as she’s unable to personally spark connections, even with those who she interacts with on a daily basis.  As a hairstylist, she absorbs a plethora of private information provided willingly by her clients who see her as someone not significant enough to be troublesome or detrimental to hurt them, but, little do her clients know, Claire has a dark secret with obsessively overstepping into their lives and, sometimes, directly into their shoes as murder becomes a conduit for Claire to experience a slither of momentary solidarity and belonging happiness.   Brief in its euphoria, the elated feeling doesn’t last and Claire finds herself back into a vicious cycle beginning with being defeated, but when a regular client, Olivia, begs for wedding hair help, Olivia befriends the stylist who begins to sink deeper into a misinterpreted friendship with Olivia fabricated inside Claire’s disturbed mind. 

Whenever stepping onto the hair clippings of a barbershop, sit on the padded, pump-hydraulic chair, and be asked by a for certain fallible person how I want would like my haircut, my hands nervously clutch each other, the space between my eyebrows fold in and crunch, microscopic beads of sweat go down my hair raised back and the agitation in my mind grows louder than a blow dyer on a high setting.  Why do all these externally stemmed irritants happen to me at the seemingly communal and smile gracing barbershop?  Think about my situation, one driven by introverted behaviors and pessimism for the human race, this way:  your neck is choked tight with a hairdresser body-bag resembling cape, sharp, haircutting sheers clipping swiftly overhead, and the loud buzzing of a motor purring around your ears’ edge before they detailing the side of your face with tiny razors moving hundreds of miles per hour.  Let’s not also forget about the straight-razor across your neck to attack the five o’clock shadow!  No, thank you!  So, there was already an abundance of established anxiety heading into Jill Gevargizian’s written-and-directed hairdresser horror, “The Stylist,” that takes just a little bit more off than just what’s on top.  The “Dark Web” filmmaker reteams with co-writer Eric Havens to extend the profile of the quiet and quaint, Victorian chic hairdresser, Claire and her lonely killer inclinations based off their 2016 short film of the same title and add Los Angeles based copywriter and “Night of the Wolf’s” Eric Stolze into the salon of psychological horrors mix. “The Stylist” is a production of Gevargizian’s Sixx Tape Productions, that also includes Eric Havens and lead star Najarra Townsend, alongside co-productions Claw Productions, Method Media, and The Line Film Company.

Najarra Townsend reprises her role as Claire, the lonely hairstylist bedeviled by a lack of belonging and rapport with no family or friends. Claire spirals into internalized madness that unveils when trying to step inside the lives of others as her own. The “Wolf Mother” star becomes a granular speck of torment plagued severely by social awkwardness to the point of her need for perfecting the imaginary bond between her and Brea Grant’s character, Olivia, goes into destruction level transgressions that’s normal, living rent free, in Claire’s headspace. Grant, writer and director of one of our favorite films of 2020, “12 Hour Shift,” and in the recently released, critically acclaimed, Natasha Kermani thriller, “Lucky,” has to be a larger than life persona whose the center of attention, as soon-to-be-bride going through the throes of wedding planning, that can draw in the wide-eyed and impressionable Claire like a moth to a flame. Townsend’s a specific kind of talent to get inside Claire’s ennui state not once, but twice. The latter precisely nails down Claire’s outlying, exterior behavior, but also smooths out a mustard nuance veneer of vintage chic that becomes a part of the building blocks peculiarly exclusive to her quietly disruptive cause. Starkly contrasted against Claire, Grant relates to who we all see on the outside as Olivia, a shining glow of smiles and worries that most people can digest with ease on a daily bases and while her life, as chaotic as may seem with a wedding near on the horizon and questioning a deep down decision about marriage, is juxtaposed with such distinction that Gervargizian literally puts Claire and Olivia side-by-side in a split screen early in the film to expose one hiding her secrets and the other letting them all hang out. Sarah McGuire (“The House of Forbidden Secrets”), Millie Milan (“Clownado”), Davis DeRock and Laura Kirk round out the supporting cast.

Take a moment and breathe the very essence of women-driven horror that’s as stylish as it is deliciously deranged.  “The Stylist” echoes similar psychopathic traits of William Lustig’s “Manic” and displays self-careening elements soaked in barbicide and Gothicism.  The junior film of Jill Gevargizian narrates through the eyes of Claire’s unraveling humanity from the stylist’s quick fix of bloody hair removal to the potential for climbing out of that deep, dark hole of loneliness only to be suddenly sideswiped by the falters of manufactured delusions. “The Stylist” is wrapped in a sullen hairnet that never shows the jovial side of Claire’s pleasures as she’s embodying someone under their locks after calculatingly cutting more than just their hair; a perspective exclusively held within Claire’s head, leaving viewers entangled in her in seemingly normal beauty shell and her inner demented chaos. You feel sorry for her forlorn life, but creeped out by that same life’s byproduct. One aspect that “The Stylist” lacks, that can be off-putting for some, is the mold that made Claire. Miniscule slips of her upbringing becomes not enough to paint an exact portrait of Claire as a malevolent monster with sociable dysphoria and as the story builds to a climax and Claire tries to imitate her mother, who died in her mid 30’s when Claire was 17, the mimicry fairs to say that her mother also had similar problems that has innately passed and has coped a different way of dealing with mental illness by way of alcoholism, mentioned by Claire in a moment of courting a friendship with an eager bridezilla, Olivia.

What a fitting film to be discussed and celebrated on International Women’s Day 2021 in the Jill Gevargizian directed and Najarra Townsend lead “The Stylist” now released exclusively on Arrow Film’s UK VOD platform ahead of the physical Blu-ray package and digital HD releases come June 2021. Film film clocks in at a 105 minute runtime and is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Behind the camera is Robert Patrick Stern whose composition of imagery is based mainly in natural lighting while dabbling in warm coloring such as reds, the occasional vibrant magenta, and a consistent yellow mustard, a favorite not only in Claire’s wardrobe but also tinged on the lens whenever a part of Claire’s localized disturbia. Stern’s clean and sleek picture palpably elevated John Pata’s editing of montages that were superimposed with transitions and the soul searing music of Nicholas Elert’s melancholic inducing piano-industrial score. There were no bonus features included nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “The Stylist” honors the past by reinventing the wheel in Jill Gevargizian’s clipping thriller with a hair-raising performance by Najarra Townsend as the maniacal hairdresser lonely next door.

When EVIL Knocks at the Door, Don’t Answer It. “The Strangers” reviewed! (Second Sight / Blu-ray Screener)


Kristen and James return home late from a wedding reception to James’ isolated family home off the main road. The joyous occasion becomes an afterthought when an unprepared Kristen declines James’s subtle engagement proposal outside the reception venue, straining their once jovial relationship into uncertainty of where it stands now. Before the couple discuss relationship next steps, a strange knock on the door around 4am becomes the initial stirrings of a clouted atmosphere brimming of paranoia, fear, and confusion when three masked strangers menacingly toy with the couple. The fight for survival in the dark early morning hours will determine their fate against strangers compelled to kill them just for the sake of killing.

Call me 12 years behind as I catch up on getting caught up into the brutal home invasion thriller, “The Strangers,” from writer-director Bryan Bertino. “The Strangers” has been panned by critics for being nihilistic and fraudulent with no plot twist In a premise that pits two innocent people against three violent hungry intruders, finding common ground with Wes Craven’s more sadist-driven “Last House on the Left” and the Charles Mansion murders of the late 1960s while also pulling harrowing experiences from Bertino’s own small town suburbia. As Bertino’s debut film, “The Strangers” has become something of a cult film over the years with discussion upon Bertino’s themes, especially the act of pure random violence upon another person, that has become more relevant today than ever. Universal Pictures also saw an intriguing quality illuminating in it’s filmic soul and farming it out the spec to their offshoot, genre label, Rogue Pictures, in association with Vertigo Entertainment, Mandate Pictures, Intrepid Pictures, and Mad Hatter Entertainment.

Bertino’s script attracted it’s leading lady in “Heavy” and “Armageddon’s” Liv Tyler who had to stretch her vocal range to the max in order to scream her head off like her life depended on it. As the disenchanted Kristen, Tyler brings beauty and tenderness to the heartrending woe of the newfangled corroding relationship Kristen and James are experiencing while serving as a stark contrast to the barbarism oppressed upon her. Opposite Tyler, and equally as disenchanted stricken in character, is “Underworld’s” Scott Speedman as Kristen’s beau, James, who difficulty to express himself in an unpredictable moment is greatly felt. Tyler and Speedman exact a crystal clear your head moment of awkward silence, frustration, disappointment, and heart ache that’s suddenly ripped from them, stolen in a away, by masked psychopaths. We’re never privy to their faces, keeping the mystery alluring and suspenseful, but the three actors, Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, and Laura Margolis, exude a haunting and chilling performance of random acts of violence.

While performance wise is solid, the character logic struggles slightly for a viewer to embrace their actions seriously. I find that when the couple, being the only two terrorized people isolated in a quiet house, split up thinking the act as a sensible way of survival and is completely logical when, in reality, is hell to the no it isn’t! Three versus two together is better odds than three versus two split up, but, thinking outside the box, what if the split is emblematic of their dissolving relationship; no longer will Kristen and James do things together that make them more stronger and more accomplished as a pair. “The Strangers” can be indicative of many themes, whether instilled by Bertino or not who had complete control over the script and direction. Is there a theme of nihilism? Yes. Is there a theme of grim, unprovoked violence? Yes. “The Strangers” purposefully deviates from conventional cinematic means and outcomes, leaving that gutted feeling of dread and psychological torment in an unsullied, overwrought terror film. That uncomfortable pit in the back of your throat is the thick tension your unable to swallow in every moment of breathtaking fear; a feeling that’s very real when the hot flash sweat, producing adrenaline beads down your hair-raised skin, senses danger. The sensation is the welcoming byproduct Bertino’s “The Strangers” fosters toward being a legacy cult film, pivotal by all means as a rightful modern horror.

For his first feature run, Bryan Bertino has captured fear in a bottle with is shocking home invasion thriller, “The Strangers,” that’ll receive the Blu-ray treatment from a Second Sight limited edition release come September 28th. The UK release will be a region B playback format and presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio that’ll include the theatrical cut and the extended cut of the film. Limited to only 3,000 copies, the package will include a soft cover book with new essays by Anton Bitel and Mary Beth McAndrews plus stills and behind-the-scenes images and also include a poster with new artwork. Tomandandy’s floating and distinctive one tones, stretched and strung with the occasional interweaving string and percussion, score is not anything I’ve heard from them being unlike their sonorous scores from “47 Meters Down” or “Resident Evil: Afterlife” that meld a static-electronic rock, sometimes injected with adrenaline, to the action or inaction of the scene. Since a Blu-ray screener disc was provided for review, there will be no critique on the A/V quality. However, the screener did come with special features, including new interviews with director Bryan Bertino, editor Kevin Greutert, actress Liv Tyler, and the masked Pin-Up girl, Laura Margolis; however, be aware and warned that all the interviews segue into the sequel, “The Strangers: Prey at Night,” so there might be some spoiler moments for those who haven’t seen the sequel…like myself. Plus, rehashed special features from previous releases that dive into the same material the interviews provided, but also some exhibits shot locations, technical challenges, and some other brief interviews with cast and crew. A pair of deleted scenes are also available, but, surprisingly, the release won’t have the cut extended climatic finale you hear a lot of about in the new interviews and was in fact filmed, which would give the masked characters more depth into their methodology. Yet, the overall bonus material is vast with wealth of insight from the lengthy new interview material coursing through ever facet from the story’s genesis to the current reception of a film after little more than a decade ago. “The Strangers” is an advocate for the underdog independent narrative told through the eyes of a major studio willing to market and take a chance on pure terror over just putting butts in theater seats.