Become Lost with the EVIL in Your Head. “Faye” reviewed! (Reel 2 Reel Films / Digital Screener)



Author Faye L. Ryan has found success as a career writer penning personal growth and self-assurance books, but the renowned author has hit a mental wall in growing out of the process of mourning for her deceased husband, killed in a car accident in which Faye was at the wheel.  Scarred physically and mentally with painful reminders of that fateful night, Faye struggles to focus on her next new book, threatened to be dropped by her publisher if she doesn’t meet their deadline, and interacts with her husband as if he was still with her in person.  In a last ditch effort to get Faye back to writing before cutting her loose, the publisher offers up a lakeside vacation house to help focus on her work, but as Faye settles into her new, quiet writing space, she finds herself unable to escape a haunting presence tormenting her. 

Working solo is tough.  Having no one to bounce off dialogue or react to their disposition can be daunting and unnatural for most actors and actresses.  Yet, the titular character in “Faye” must do very that to ensure Kd Amond’s 83-minute feature directorial about loss, grief, and the supernatural representation that braids into a broken reality will exist without suffering stagnation.  “Faye” is a 2021 female-driven horror-drama written by Amond and the film’s lone wolf star Sarah Zanotti as the two filmmakers reteam from the previous year’s dysfunctional family thriller, “Rattled.”  Shot between Nashville, Tennessee and the cabin resort of Lacombe, Louisiana, “Faye” is cut from an all-female producing team of by Amond, Zanotti, Sara DelHaya, and Nicole Marie Lim under Amond and Zanotti’s independent film production company AZ if Productions.

So, how did Sarah Zanotti perform going at the role alone with not another single body in sight?  Aside from the performance scale, initial first thoughts about an emotionally processing Faye rings clear that she is definitely alone with her thoughts without ever confronting her past head-on.  Faye, more or less, brushes the incident to the side, drowning herself in wine and loathing, until vague, intermittent memories pull her back down to reality every so often.  The role gratifies a sense of a struggling individual’s unintended and deeply personal isolation stemmed by unable to grasp with the hard to deal with issues to where’s she’s invented an imaginary friend in the form of her late husband in this pretend world of being normal, routine, and safe.  Looking from the outside in, Faye invokes pity on the saddest level as she converses with thin air as well as drinking large quantities of wine alone. There’s even the suggestion in either flashback scenes or maybe representational moments of despair that she, at one point in time, committed to, or thought of, suicide. As for the “Archaon: The Halloween Summoning” actress Zanotti? The actress, singer-songwriter, and proud cat mother (as stated on her personal website) breathlessly engrosses herself in Faye’s darkest moments with a ramble of insecurities that skate around the main issue until that issue manifests as a specter of duality, haunting “Faye” with her own scarred image that won’t allow her to leave until she combats the guilt eating her away. However, Zanotti’s a bit one tone through the entire storyline, never zig-zagging in a full range on emotive spectrum when face-to-face with the emulated specter. There are guest voices in the film whenever Faye takes or makes a phone call, including vocals from Corri English as Emory the publisher, Dean Shortland as Bobby, Brian Vance as Jacob, Kd Amond as Faye’s mom, and Zanotti as Elle.

To carry an entire feature film on your shoulders is empathetically tough for the one and only principle lead Sarah Zanotti and also the director Kd Amond as well and I wouldn’t declare “Faye” to be an overstimulating visual film albeit snazzy editing and makeup effects when sucked into supernatural self-reproach and suffering. “Faye” leans heavy into self-centered conversation in an acerbic chaptered and non-linear context that can be difficult to follow it’s pathway structure at times when the titular character is not framed in the cabin but rather sitting, speaking on a well-lit platform that fits her personal growth expatiate, like a Tony Robbins-type, connecting back to Faye’s mindset or actions in the cabin. Though much of the conversion is directed toward herself or the mental image and two-way communication of dead husband, a good chunk of the dialogue is the unwavering tough love business-speak between agent and client. Faye publisher rakes in money based off book sales and if Faye isn’t writing up drafts than a publisher does not care about your personal tragedy. That dynamic during the calls feels utterly cold with no pity or sympathy for Faye in the voice of the agent who cares solely about client image for publicity and is determined to nag a draft out of a woman who has lost her best friend in life – grief and guilt be damned. As a spook show, “Faye” whips up a few moments of fearful highlights but does little to the film’s self-proclaimed horror label when more of the acidity of internalizing the death and destruction of her life becomes more manic without the monster that’s introduced too late or comes too little often to be integrated into the story properly and stands out as negative concentrated symbolism.

Oozing with heartbreak and melancholy, the fracturing viability in “Faye” calls forth the detrimental impact and for reinstation back in the society, one needs to fall before getting back up. Reel 2 Reel Films brings the American-made, woman-driven, atmospheric and apparitional “Faye” to the United Kingdom on digital home video come May 9th. Since a digital screener was previewed, there will be no critique of the audio or video qualities. Kd Amond was really a one woman show behind the camera by taking on not only the directing duties but also many others, including cinematography and visual/practical effects and for “Faye,” the film was mostly captured with natural lighting outside the cabin, practical lighting for cabin interiors, and key lighting of Faye on stage. There’s use of a filters during the more supernatural plights and to tell night scenes that don’t look natural, leaning toward a more style-choice purple. For any extras, there were no bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Faye” has strong bones for a good grief and guilt ghost film in the indie realm and while it doesn’t have the star-laden power of other similar themes of its kind in “The Babadook” or “Hereditary,” “Faye” still invokes the power of hurt and the summoning of self-condemnation.

Let the Heavens Fall to Cleanse the EVIL Away! “Undead” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / Bluray)

The small finishing town of Berkley, Australia comes under siege by blazing meteoroids that turn the quaint residents into mindless flesh-hungry zombies. A small band of survivors led by the town’s dismayed local beauty queen and a fisherman turned doomsday prepper fight the undead hordes in order to escape the carnage by reaching the city limits, but when faced with an otherworldly monolithic barrier surrounding the town and blocking the exits, a hopeful way out becomes quickly fleeting. To make matters worse, unusual rainstorms drench them with fear of what’s really in the rainwater of the apparent alien attack. In a last-ditch effort, the remaining survivors board a personal prop plane to scale the great extraterrestrial wall that’s imprisoning them with the undead. An onslaught of end of days catastrophes drives their instinct to battle on, to push forth toward living, despite all the evidence of a contrary methodology to the misunderstood, overwhelming alien actions.

A 9-year marriage, three children, the death of my dog, two states, a new home, four jobs, four presidents, and a global pandemic in more than almost two decades’ passing has transpired since the first and last time I saw the Spierig brothers’ 2003 zombie-comedy “Undead” and, still, the 2003 Australian film impresses with a large-scale gore show on a small-scale budget. Before terraforming new vampire words with Ethan Hawke in “Daybreakers” and taking a stab at an entry in the “Saw” franchise with “Jigsaw,” the brothers Michael and Peter Spierig’s first full feature-length venture was an ambitious love letter to their’ most endeared cult films of their youth, more heavily influenced by Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead.” Blowing through the meager budget halfway into filming and shooting an insane 40 to 50 shots per day for the better part of two months, the completion of “Undead” was a must for the self-funding brothers under their production banner of Spierigfilm and the success of “Undead” also jumpstarted the careers of cinematographer Andrew Strahorn (“Hostel III,” “Lethal Weapon” television series), production designer Matthew Putland (“San Andreas”), and special effects artist Julian Summers (“Bait,” “Mortal Kombat” ’21).

“Undead” was the first film for Felicity Mason and Mungo McKay in a lead role as that dismayed local beauty queen, Rene, and that fisherman turned doomsday prepper, Marion, mentioned in the above synopsis. Rene seeks to leave the town of Berkley in the wake of the tragic death of her parents before becoming the burdened beholder of their debt; instead, she thrusted into a crisis that won’t allow her to escape so easily from a destiny laid out for her in hometown. Mason’s humble portrayal of Rene is nearly invisible compared to her more boisterous and gun-fu counterparts but grounds us to an agreeable realism of reactions whereas Marion’s limitless gun-toting out of his fishing overalls and Matrix-like gunplay moves adds that layer of voguish fun of the Chow Yun-fat variety. The other four survivors fall into the run-of-the-mill of yowlers and cutting personality types who throw around their weight and cowardly sarcasms in immediate show of unfounded animosity. Supposedly, a longer cut of “Undead” provides more backstory for father-to-be charter pilot Wayne (Rob Jenkins, “Australiens”) and the law enforcement neophyte Molly (Emma Randall, “Bullets for the Dead”) but the release copy which this review is based off was not of that longer cut. Dirk Hunter supplies a purge of negative comic relief as Harrison, the chief constable without a clue, and Lisa Cunningham’s Sallyanne is Wayne’s antagonizing pregnant lover of bitterness as she comes in second place next to Rene at the local beauty pageant and seizes moments, during all Hell breaking loose, to confront Rene’s rope-wrangling talent that won her the cast prize.

Over the past year, I watched and reviewed another Australian sci-fi horror “Dustwalker” from director Sandra Sciberras where crash landed space objects turned the local dustbowl residents into the resemblance of zombies and connected to the chaos is a not from this world creature. I likened “Dustwalker” to be a lesser, weaker, total rip-off of the Spierigs’ ozploitation rager and I still stand 100% behind my claim as I reaffirm “Undead” to be the reigning supreme champion, and “did it first” as far as story goes, between the two nearly identical narrative plots. There’s an uncrushable affinity for “Undead’s” bold risk of looking at the bigger picture head on and absolutely landing each scene whether in prosthetics or in post with better than your average computer rendered imagery. Are the effects the sleekest, most realistic, graphics you’ve ever seen? Absolutely not but what they are are ultra-rich in creative detail rather than quality detail and can give most substantial budgeted films a run for the money, especially in the closeup shots that can be an obvious slapdash, might as well be silicone, fake. The Spierig brothers also don’t overcomplicate the plot with survivors trying to simply quickly decamp the overran town madness with plot points sensible to character designs and not relying on gratuitous happenstance scenarios for the sake of gore alone. However, do believe me when I say that “Undead” will delight gore geeks with a gut-spilling, face-lifting, head-decapitating mixture of zany zombie knockoffs that are steady throughout. If you’re deciding between the more recent “Dustwalker” and the now almost considered antique 15+ year-old “Undead,” the choice is clear with “Undead’s” superior campy, shoot’em, blood-splattering zombie mayhem.

For U.S. horror viewers looking for something that borders obscurity and might be out of their comfort zone, “Undead” has yet to make an appearance on Blu-ray, surprisingly enough. Only the Lionsgate DVD version is the known, and authorized, copy to be released in America. For those searching high and low, the all-region Blu-ray from the Australian distributor, Umbrella Entertainment, offers a 2-disc alternative with a new 1080p, Full High-Definition, release as volume # 12 on the company’s World on Film: Beyond Genres banner. The Aussie cult modern classic is presented in a widescreen 1.77:1 aspect ratio and with a runtime of 97 minutes, mirroring the U.S. DVD length which is a bit disappointing as longer cuts of the film do exist on other European releases. Day scenes play into an agreeable enough flat, more natural, color scheme with some serious grain in the 16mm film stock use, moving the photography toward a retro de-aged semblance courtesy of Spierigs’ cult film homage, but the darker scenes, mostly through a moderately intense blue filter, sees the unstable pixelation flareups, especially in black blank spaces and I’m taken aback by the lack of touchup to clear up any stylized misgivings. Umbrella offers two audio options – an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and an English 2.0 DTS-HD Stereo. Paired with an excellent soundtrack, the audio tracks do “Undead” complete justice without a smidgen of lossy fidelity. With plenty of action to go around – firearm discharges, explosions, zombie grunts/groans/sneers, and sundry of miscellaneous and oddball effects – each elemental output is distinct and clear. The dialogue renders nicely as well. Umbrella holds a few exclusive and rehashed special features that include an audio commentary from Peter and Michael Spierig and cinematographer Andy Strahorn, a raw video behind-the-scenes look on the set of “Undead,” the more production quality making of “Undead,” “Attack of the Undead” short films from the Spierig brothers that inspired the feature, home-made Dolly Video, the camera and makeup tests, still gallery, and theatrical trailer. Plus, an exclusive Simon Sherry illustrated art on the front covers of the snap case and the cardboard slipcover along with reversal DVD cover art and a second disc containing the complete 17-track soundtrack from Cliff Bradley. The rating is listed as an Australian certified MA 15+ for horror theme, medium level violence. which sounds severely tamer than it is for the more recent video nasty with all its zombies punching holes through hapless skulls, bloody brain munching, gooey face ripping, and severed torsos with spine exposures.

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!

When Greed Induces EVIL at “The Estate” reviewed! (Vertical Entertainment / Digital Screener)



Spoiled rich gay son George despises his cheapskate father.  George’s equal in age, and similarly spoiled, horny step mother Lux also equally despises the loaded philanderer who rarely stays in town, leaving them with little to do and with little money to do it with.  When they meet tall, dark, and handsome Joe at a bar and invite him back to their estate house, a psychosexual love triangle leads to a murder-for-hire plot against the patriarch billionaire to collection the opulent inheritance.   Complications arise when unbeknownst bastard children cause a legal clog in their pipedreams of being insanely well-off.  One murder after another begins to unravel not only their lust for wealth and each other, but also a deeper, darker secret to rue for the wealth they wished (and killed) for.

An over-the-top, narcissistic machination-built dark comedy of greed, self-importance, and lust is how I would personally define the first feature length film, “The Estate,” from director James Kapner.  Diverging from his own comedy web series, “Baker Daily,” to work again with Kapner, from their previous collaboration on the political lampooning “Baker Daily:  Trump Takedown,” is Chris Baker, screenwriter of “The Estate,” who not only pen strokes the worst-of-the-worst of diabolical super-egos but also plays one of the downright flamboyant scoundrels as the lead role.  Majority of “The Estate” takes place inside the grand titular location, compartmentalizing the indie film’s budget solely on the sordid activity of three main characters without much of else as a distraction.  The Los Angeles shot film is independently produced by comedy producer Rod Hamilton, Kapner’s business partner Adam Makowka, and the second producing credit for Alixandra von Renner (“Boogeyman Pop”), with Mark Boujikian, William Bruey, Nicholas Lyons, and Scott R. Long as executive producers and is made under the Stone Lake Production and Runners Films production companies. 

“The Estate” is a haute and brutish trio’s tale of sex, lies, and murder.   At the head of the snake is George, an entitled son seeking elegance and power as he longs in the background to attend the prestigious Black and White Gala, and is played bitingly by the film’s genesis writer, Chris Baker.  Baker, a Harvard graduate and a gay man, certainly utilizes both personal traits for George he’s clearly written for himself.  George is smart under that superficial Versace façade and, also, is a gay man looking for a romantic connection, but like any relationship single person, told by one’s own vantage point such as George’s, a wash of doughy-eyed thick-headedness just completely engulfs his rational senses when a pretty face suddenly shows up.  That rugged handsome face just happens to be of “iZombie’s” Greg Finley as hunky hitman Joe who George unexpectedly bumps into due in part of his oversexualized and, too, vain Stepmother Lux donned wonderfully with a wickedly crass tongue of comedienne, Eliza Coupe.  Together, a charcuterie board of carnality ceases to no end between the three in a back-and-forth, pass-the-man around pansexual affair with plotting and murder speckled in the middle.  Performances are concentrated with tongue and cheek, black matter comedy with ultra-ostentatious gab and garb to deliberately set the satirical tone metaphorically for the super-rich attitude of white, wealthy America.  With all that jazzy, pent-up, entitlement, add Eric Roberts into the mix, then you really get the worst-of-the-worst from the “Best of the Best” actor as the filthy rich patriarch.  Roberts can exude sleazy well with his own mannerisms and deliveries, solidifying his own Eric Robert’s laidback version of a despised billionaire debauchee.  “The Estate” rounds out with Rif Hutton (“The Thirteenth Floor”), Ezra Buzzington (“The Hills Have Eyes” remake), Lala Kent (“The Row”), Kyle Rezzarday, and “Hostel:  Part II’s” Heather Matarazzo as the tech-savvy lawyer office secretary who shamefully peters out after an interesting turn of events with the character’s involvement.

“The Estate” is one of those dark comedy thrillers where one wrongdoing subsequently creates a domino effect for more wrongdoings.  How’s that saying go?  Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.  Indeed, the characters do get what’s coming to them as one killing turns into two killings and two killings turns into three etc.  As the bodies pile up in between the bedroom sheets sex and the coy flirting during initial stages of affections, the kind where butterflies flutter inside the stomach, what turns from an aloof pair of spoiled rotten solitaries is a false confidence in blindly following boredom’s famished way of saying death and sex is all-around exciting.  There’s also this vying of the sexes to see who can sweep Joe off his feet and while there’s obviously no issue with the polyamorous pansexuality, the story’s a bit lopsided with Baker’s intimate scenes with Finley being more expositional compared to Joe and Lux’s more implied romps and that inherently leads viewers onto one obvious path without the spice of unexpected chance.  Though George is written to be an alter egocentric doppelganger of his creator, Chris Baker, the Frankenstein theory only works well to extent before seeping into obnoxious conceited territory.  This is where “The Estate” begins to show signs of wearing out it’s welcome with living in George’s weighted down perspective of the high life.  Purpose seems vague mostly yet “The Estate” is also one of those nonchalant, throwing caution to the wind dark comedy narratives, sinfully funny, for the sake of touting an exaggerated resemblance of a detached privileged mindset. 

Things are not so nice and cozy at “The Estate” that has arrived this October on VOD and in theaters from Vertical Entertainment. Clocking in a 85 minutes, “The Estate” is paced to fit the conspicuous cinematography from the Texas born Mike Simpson with mood lighting mixed with tinting and as well as using a spherical lens to set the current tone. Simpson keeps shots tights between medium and closeups for more intimacy between the trio as well as to keep within the confines of a smaller production and set location. Since a digital screener was provided, I can’t comment on the quality of the audio and video aspects, but “The Estate” comes with an eclectic soundtrack that includes tracks from Lucky Beaches, Viagra Boys, Ritchie Valens, Joy Downer, and Toots and the Maytals. There were no bonus material or after credit scenes. Witty, dark humor that teeters always on the cups of being too much for one sitting, “The Estate” deadeyes the caricatures of the 1% with fatal attractions and an inheritance stocked with greed culminating to an unbelievable finale

EVIL Lays All the Cards on the Table. “As the Village Sleeps” reviewed! (Indie Rights / Digital Screener)

Sarah is throwing a birthday party at her stepdad’s large house on Indian reservation land.  What should have been a quiet, boozy night with a handful of close girlfriends turns into a bigger and tense shindig of drugs and alcohol when her ex-boyfriend’s band and her step brother and sister unexpectedly show up at her doorstep.  With them comes a game, called Lynched, her ex purchased at the nearby gas station, but after playing, then drinking, the night away, the quickly find out the game is far from being over.  The mysterious card game comes to life, pitting friend as foe, and Sarah’s friends disappear one-by-one in the order of their in game deaths.  Leveled heads tip in the balance of fear and loss as the game plays havoc on their psyche, creating nightmare visions and that feeling of being watched and hunted, and the rules are anything goes when the game goes halfheartedly unfinished.

Werewolves.  Witches.  Vindictive townsfolk.  Murder.  Lynched, the game, sounds like an intense and medieval whodunit that insidiously presents mistrust into who you think are your closest friends and allies.  An interesting setup for the Chloë Bellande penned and Terry Spears directed 2021 released horror-mystery thriller, “As the Village Sleeps.”  The feature is Bellande’s first produced script based off her short, “While the Village Sleeps,” she wrote and directed in 2012 and with a few tweaks to the characters and location, the “American Terror Story” and “Hell’s Belle” director Spears, whose career as a musician only recently sought expansion into filmmaking, depicts that some games should never be played.   The independent film is a production of Spears’ 19 Artists Development and is co-produced by Kris Young as well as award-winning producer Gray Frederickson of “Apocalypse Now” and “UHF.”

Starring in her first feature film, Eleonora Saravalle has to be puzzler piecing together the deadly mystery intruding upon her character’s remote birthday bash.  The rather tall Saravalle is paired up with a rekindling love interest in the rather short Oliver Rotunno in their respective roles of Sarah and Alex who hold onto a sparkle with a rough patch in a rocky relationship history that stays in the past never to be fleshed out from their backstory involving Sarah dumping Alex for unsaid reasons.  That dimly lit sparkle doesn’t really shine through much between Saravalle and Rotunno with a dynamic resembling more big sister and little brother than crisscrossed lovers.  More so than the sibling rivalry from Sarah’s stepsister Tala (Shiah Luna, “Age of the Living Dead”), and stepbrother Jacey (Daniel Olguin) with an uptight and contentious static background noise that, again, fails to come to ahead about why Tala is stubbornly irritated with Sarah; instead, the attempt at building something more between them during shared terror experience quickly fizzles out of complacency without so much as a hurdle to make their bond more impactful.  None of the characters are terribly impressive or worthy enough for sympathy, not even the flawed ones had any emotional weight when meeting their maker, falling into uncomplex tropes stapled to the genre such as with the naïve party girl Connie (Chloe Caemmerer), the immature rocker Matt (Rane Thomason), and the I-hate-city-slickers town cop (Mark Adam Goff).  The more interesting characters, like the old, long in the tooth, gas station attendant who sold the game and walks to work every early morning, doesn’t receive the time of day though very important to the plot.  “As the Village Sleeps” rounds out the cast with Michael Gum, Tyler Malinauskas, Kenzie Leigh Spears, Victoria Strange, Winnie Du, and Otis Watkins as the elusive Midnight.

“As the Village Sleeps” has too many strikes against it to ignore.  Between significant plot holes, underdeveloped characters, snuffed out offshoot side stories, and an arterial scenario struggling to stay cohesive by a bunch of no-named actors, who more or less do okay in their lackluster residing roles, the already low-budget production deserves every grain of a derisible reaction with its horrifying-veneered derivative hand at “Jumanji.”  Instead of a stampede of elephants, a ferocious crocodile, and a hairy Robin Williams being roused from out of the board game world by the roll of the dice, the card game Lynched barely rears itself back into the fold after the players supposedly don’t finish the game in order to drink themselves into a stupor.  Only just a handful of cards reappear on the spot where those disappeared, turning the game into a supernaturally present character without ever manifesting tangibility and that becomes a running motif for Spears’ film, that lack of finishing something to elicit a gratifying arc of completion.  We see fragmentary elements everywhere with the aforementioned character dynamics between Sarah and Alex and Sarah and Tala, the unresolved routes of unearthing the game’s racist atrocities against Native American origins by investigating the obvious gas station merchant Midnight who sold our protagonists the game, and the characters who don’t disappear at the game’s hands, but just vanish without so much of a word about their fate.  From what I’ve briefly watched, Bellande’s 2012 short would be a tad improvement over the 2021 release and might be more worthwhile with a mindful production value that’s more attuned to being budget friendly and a sound design that’s not a stock file folly with depthless growling wolves and overexaggerated footsteps.  The overall experience just might be more pleasant. 

Become lost and hunted down in the gameplay of “As the Village Sleeps” now available on Amazon, currently free with Prime Video, under the distribution of Indie Rights Movies with more streaming platforms to be announced.  Titus Fox serves as the film’s cinematographer whose most intriguing scenes are under the latticed deck.  Between the combination of steady and handheld camera work, Fox implements a voyeuristic and stalking POV of the shadowy werewolves coupled with the stark contrast between black negative space and sphere of torch light.  The scenes are brief but well-executed to drawn some visual aesthetic and sense of threat with the remaining cinematography reliant on common swivel panning and edited stationary positions.  There are no extras or bonus scenes accompanying this streaming release.  Whether be the filmmaking inexperience of Terry Spears, Bellande’s perforated story, or the limitations on the production and sound design, “As the Village Sleeps” should be slept through to not rouse exhaustion from consistent frustration. 

“As the Village Sleeps” is available on Prime Video!