EVIL Will Have You Die Laughing! “Too Late” reviewed (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)



Non-stop and around the clock, Violet is the worked obsessed assistant to legendary showman and standup comic Bob Devore at the Too Late comedy club.  Violet books new talent and schedules the lineup day in, day out, but that isn’t all she does for her overly demanding boss.  Bob Devore has been around for a long time and during a very specific moon cycle, Bob needs to eat and we’re not talking pizza or Subway sandwiches.   Bob is a literal monster who feeds on devouring entire people, especially no comedy talent hacks provided by his assistant, Violet.  The longevity of Bob’s Life spans decades, if not centuries, as he sees people come and go right off existence.  When Violet meets a nice guy comic who Bob takes a shining to, the long time lonely assistant decides enough is enough and the time to stand up to the eternal stand up comedian and monster boss is now before what little she has is taken from her. 

I hear the Los Angeles stand-up comedy scene is tough.  Sometimes, even cutthroat.  In D.W. Thomas’ comedy-horror “Too Late,” a blend of mic night funnies with a hunger for full body snacks, dying on stage turns into a whole new meaning!  Thomas’ debut feature film kills it as a low-budget horror that incorporates figurative levels of monstrosities behind the curtain of a stand-up’s spotlight.  The 2021 film is the first screenplay credit for Tom Becker that tackles underappreciated long hours and work ethic of female workers in a typical male dominated profession., touching upon the toxicity of the business.  “Too Late’s” underground comedy-horror sees the light of day under the indie production studio, Firemark Media, and is produced by Thomas and Becker as well as executive producer and long time industry vet, Lonnie Ramati, a production business affairs manager dabbling in producer with the selected credits including “The Expendable” sequels, “Leatherface,” and 2019’s “Hellboy” under his belt. 

“Too Late” marquees mostly tongue-and-cheek talent in a cast list chocked full of comedians, starting with actress, writer, and jack of all trades stand-up comedian Alyssa Limperis in the headline role of Violet.  What’s ironic with Limperis’s “Too Late” role is that Violet is perhaps by design the least funniest amongst the characters as a lonely, borderline depressed, and overworked slave of an assistant to Bob Devore, a renowned variety show presenter and entertainer played by one of my favorite spoof performances by Ron Lynch from last year in Travis Irvine’s “Killer Raccoons! 2! Dark Christmas in the Dark!” as General Negligence.  As Violet begins to blossom after meeting humble comic, Jimmy Rhodes (Will Weldon), after bumping into him renting out one of her friend’s closet since, you know, L.A. is a tough, expensive town, this give Limperis ammunition to turn Violet sour on her abrasive, glass ceiling mentor.  Limpers excellently conceals intentions in each relationship step taken with her new unassuming and amiable beau and this really brings out Devore’ darkness crafted so well by the New York born actor and comedian with a gloomier roaring-twenties vaudeville vibe.  One thing I will say about the chemistry between Limperis and Weldon is I didn’t think there was much spark as their flirting banter catered to good friendzone material.  Perhaps used for their more syndicated appeal, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Fred Armisen add very little to the mix.  “24’s” Rajskub is a no-nonsense hotshot comic who has Devore wrapped around her finger whereas Armisen plays a nearly simpleminded stage hand who adds a bit of levity to the darker tone with his pudding cups and indecisiveness on blue filter gels for the spotlight.  The rest of cast pans out with Jack De Sena (“The Veil), Brooks Wheelan, Jenny Zigrino, Billy Breed, and Paul Danke. 

“Too Late’s” opening drive buildups a focuses around Violet’s passively aggressive position in being an undervalued assistant to her bark-and-you-jump Boss.  Constantly scribble but unenabled to perform her own material be her own self-starting, stand-up comedian, Violent falls into a lonely state that she is unaware of and it takes her best friend/roommate’s lighthearted berating to get Violent to come to a Jesus moment with her total profession and lack of relationship unhappiness. What’s not in the prevalent in the first act is Bob Devore’s permanence, his beastly transmogrification, and his appetite for anthropoids. If you didn’t read the synopsis beforehand, the acute dark turn “Too Late” takes comes at a shock because of how little-to-no prep there is setting up the true Bob Devore. A backfill of creeps a long, like opening the little chocolate stuffed doors on an advent calendar, in a wait and you’ll get more character treats up to a grand finale. About two-thirds of the way through, “Too Late” starts to flounder with what to do about Devore as a character, never expressing a full delineation of character to how Devore ended up at a nightclub, or who, or actually what, the actual hell is he and how Violet, who isn’t as innocent as one might believe, became so fatefully involved. The underlining theme here, noted explicitly in the title, is don’t hold yourself back no matter the circumstances, whether be an actual monster or a monstrous personality, because life is short, time is of the essence, and carpe diem! Violet, a hard working female in a male dominated industry and is undercut by not only her dominating boss but also her advantage taking male peers, need a monkey wrench in the gears of a monotonous, browbeaten life and that happened to be Jimmy Rhodes, a nice, non-threatening, and unimposing comedian who seemed to be just be handed the keys to Violet’s rightful castle just because he’s a man, and though she falls for Jimmy, that’s the career careening straw that breaks Violet’s abuse absorbing spirit.

With a dry wit, “Too Late” black humor is more figurative than funny but first time director D.W. Thomas makes good on her debut horror-comedy that has released this month in select theaters and on digital platforms, such as iTunes, Google Play, Fandango Now and all major cable/satellite platforms from Gravitas Ventures. A digital screener doesn’t allow me to fully dive into the A/V quality but the Scott Toler Collins cinematography grasps the underground comedy scene experience, selling the location of an boutique variety show club, hard mood lit in various colored staged lighting with a smoky irradiance, of tight medium and closeup shots that kind of hover amongst the characters. “Too Late” is not effects heavy though maybe should have been to make Bob Devore a real menacing presence as much of his late night snacking is done off screen, through shadows, or blurred during a shallow focus. We always get the aftermath Bob Devore, bloated and bulging at the seams from a big meal, like a secondhand Eddie Murphy fat suit from “The Nutty Professor.” Still, kudos to Mo Meinhart (“The Walking Dead”) in making Ron Lynch appear farcically 40lbs heavier in what you might typically seen in a Looney Toons episode. Bucking the more modern trend, this indie picture has no bonus scenes during or after the credits. The in-film stand-up is spotty at best but “Too Late” has a lot else to focus on with a deeply disturbing look at machismo arrogance and sexism inequality that are the relevant horrors of today.

“Too Late” on Amazon Prime!

To EVIL, Just Another Slab of Meat for the Butchering. “The Slaughterhouse Killer” reviewed! (Breaking Glass Pictures / Digital Screener)



The local swine slaughterhouse perfectly suits the solitude of Box, barely sating the fervent urge of his killer spirit, but when a young ex-con, Nathan, who is trying to walk the straighten arrow with his girlfriend, falls under Box’s wing at work, keeping that urge at bay is proving more difficult with a likeminded companion.  When the workplace bully pushes Nathan too far, Box orchestrates a killer opportunity to murder the bully in his own home as a gift to the young parolee.  The death of their intimidating colleague solidifies an unique relationship between the men, opening Pandora’s box in their small town where no one is safe from their lust for blood.  As the bodies pile up and their corpses are ground up into chuck at the slaughterhouse, their relationship is tested when a child becomes the unintended next victim, severing the unspoken principles of their bond. 

“The Slaughterhouse Killer” is director Sam Curtain’s entry into the minds of bloodlust wolves living in sheepskin day-to-day amongst the clueless flock.  The senseless violence-laden thriller out of Tasmania, Australia is the sophomore feature from the “Blood Hunt” writer-director and is co-written with Benjamin Clarke.  The pair harness their continued onslaught for aggression from “Blood Hunt’s” human race cruelty with a rumbling storm brewing, waiting, for the right conditions when two very different people find a common interest by setting a little part of their world on fire.  The indie picture is streamlined through Curtain’s Stud Ranch Films entertainment banner and is backed by Black Mandala, a big and upcoming label showcasing an expertise in extreme low-cost horror, under the producer’s eye of Nicholas Onetti who has supported a number of genre fan favorites under his banner such as “The Barn,” “Aquaslash” and has even collaborated with brother, Luciano, on the 70’s giallo inspired  “Abrakadabra” and “Francesca.”  If Onetti is attached, prepare yourself for merciless and bloody circumstances in this particular ozploitation maniac thriller. 

You obviously can’t shoot a film titled “The Slaughterhouse Killer” without the slaughterhouse setting garnished with meathook strung up and process gutted livestock much in the same way the killer can’t fall into the average-looking joe category.  In steps Craig Ingham, a Sydney born 6’4” big fella with distinct facial features that includes a gleaming bald head and an angry sneer delineating fiercely from his bulbous, pink-as-a-pig cheeked face.  Ingham has an uncompromising maniacal approach of being large and in charge under a lame façade of a daft abattoir employee.  To balance out the oversized archetype antagonist, usually from one that lumbers around in slashers genre circles, hacking away at sex-crazed teens, James Mason buoys “The Slaughterhouse Killer” from capsizing in that humdrum trope of tasteless, flat water by adding a pretty face to the madness that is equally as ugly on the inside in character in what becomes the Laurel and Hardy of exploitation horror.  However, there’s nothing remotely funny about the performances of two men becoming unlikely best buds, drinking beer, and making hamburger out of the sheila from next door, but they do act like a pair of chuckleheads searching for motivation with their roles and instead come up empty handed in the arbitrary of Curtain and Clarke’s headway halting story.   “The Slaughterhouse Killer” is simply a two man show that aims to cycle through their unusual connection with Kristen Condon (“Sheborg”) as Nathan’s girlfriend, Tracey, and Dean Kirkright (“Cult Girls”) as the unfortunate workplace bully rounding out the small cast of collateral damage characters.

One of the biggest problems with “The Slaughterhouse Killer,” a tale that’s supposed to be driven by the characters’ dysfunctional ties to society and their knack for violence, is that very lack of purpose Box and Nathan get out from the random bloodlust.  Nathan, on parole for we don’t know what, easily falls bewitched by Box’s gore giddiness and willingness to let Nathan into his little big secret.  Without Nathan’s incarcerated backstory, a sentence served that proved nothing but his ability to still land a job, doesn’t age well as the film progresses and just seems to be there in a glint of development substance that never circles back.  Box falls onto the same static line of where the hell is his arc heading as the film opens with Box resting sweaty in his whitey-tighty inside his ramshackled shack.  There’s not much too Box’s creepy disposition other than keeping his squinty eyes glued to a rather attractive woman’s behind and taking abusive orders from the abattoir boss, but what he sees in his new guy to take him on a journey of bloodletting is something of a mystery that never pans out.  Even Box’s bound and blinded plaything in a padlock trunk transcends every act met, creating a glass ceiling of knowledge to the inner workings of his warped thinker.  Box and Nathan’s nihilism and madness unleashed is the purest part of Curtain’s film as the sensation is like a fat kid in a candy store where the two men can just go to town by butchering the residents of their own town by any means seen fit to them, but in the grand scheme of cinema, there are far superior violent films to consider.

As if it was destined to be, “The Slaughterhouse Killer” finds friendship with a kindred, malignant soul to carry out dark fantasies and Breaking Glass Pictures brings us this tale of two treacherous serial killers onto VOD and DVD this month of April. Digital platforms will include Vudu, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Fandango, and more. Presented in a widescreen, 1.78:1 aspect ration, and recorded in 4K, cinematographer Leuke Marriott rejoins Curtain on the director’s second feature, providing 78 minutes worth of intimate imagery invasive on Box’s grimy lifestyle and Nathan’s furrowed brow by corralling much of the action directly in front of the camera. Marriott might not employ novel angles and techniques but makes up with holding tight and fast on the brutality and the meatgrinder of Box and Nathan’s vile run while also supplying a few bold filters, such as a rich blue and a light yellow, in more unsettlingly taut moments and capturing some of Tasmania’s landscape with aerial drone shots of Arthur’s Lake with the trees seemingly floating up out of the tenebrous water. “The Slaughterhouse Killer” has the title of a 80’s printed VHS SOV and leverages the ogre villain to the max, but can’t muster a rooted sense of purpose, not even a simple reason such as pure, unadulterated evil, to drive a span of violent behavior to be a worthwhile token to the viewer.

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Transcend This Life With an EVIL Elixir! “At Night Come Wolves” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)



Leah has tirelessly tried everything to please her misogynic and negative husband Daniel, even going as far as dressing up in a skimpy and sexy Wonder Woman outfit and serving him his cake in more ways than one.  Yet, nothing seems to be chipper his spirit as he barrages her with meanspirited down talk that disparages her in every possible way.  Fed up with it all and hightailing their home before she does something rash, Leah drives aimlessly to get away from him and winds up, out of gas, at a diner where she meets Mary May, an acolyte to cultist Davey Stone who believes an elixir made from a forgotten, thought extinct, plant will transcend their existence beyond the cruel world of the now.  What the elixir actually does is something far more horrifying.

Verbal abusers, cult leaders, murders.  The crazy doesn’t stop there in Thomas J. Marine’s debut feature film, “At Night Comes Wolves,” landing it’s anti-sexism and anti-misogynistic messages upon the world on digital platforms this month.  Marine comprises his three short 2015 through 2017 films – “Paris, My Love,” “The Call to Future,” and “Object in Reality” – together with central narrative to bring new life into each one of his projects and also create something new from half the work being already filmed years earlier. Marine, or TJ as credited, writes a genre abstract story out of the pieces he tries to puzzle together, wildly cutting and pasting his shorts together as he continuously self-funds that extends into the filler narrative of his 2021 film under his own copyright, leaving “At Night Come Wolves” as a piece of true work from an auteur.

Beyond the first scene of a bound woman to a chair, bleeding from her hungry eyes and mouth, “At Night Comes Wolves” opens with Leah, “On-Site’s” Gabi Alves in her sophomore feature film, coming under hellfire from her loathing husband Daniel (Jacob Allen Weldy). Alves comes off with the submissive, will-do-anything to be a pleasing wife starkly contrasted against Weldy’s take-it-all and give nothing sexist persona; however, their relationship strays into Daniel’s bizarre sexual fetishes and watching his sexually objectified wife become the plaything for another man, a black man to be specific. The scene is brief, but powerful, perhaps the most powerful 10 seconds in the entire film that could have been, or rather should have been, the very principal theme of “At Night Comes Wolves'” subjugating prejudice roots. Instead, Leah throws in the towel and deadheads to nowheresville, serendipitously running into cult acolyte Mary May (Sarah Serio) and cult leader Davey Stone (Vladimir Noel). Stone’s fancies himself as an alchemy enthusiast, mixing his vintage bottled potions of unmarked substances that produce a variety of outcomes, usually ones Stone doesn’t expect and that thinly becomes the plot point genesis of Marine’s shorts. The entire dynamic becomes a glass ceiling as the story kind of just ceases to make logical sense when Leah deliveres Stone and Mary May to Daniel in a reconnect from the past of bad blood crossing paths again and along for the ride is Daniel acolyte Susanne (Colleen Elizabeth Miller “Leaf Blower Massacre 2”) whose down to drink Daniel’s demented womanizing Kool-Aid. Joe Bongiovanni, Myles Forster, Madeleine Heil and Byron Reo are sprinkled into servitude of “At Night Comes Wolves'” contorted three prong story.

Marine might repurposed his shorts into a Frankenstein feature to resuscitate new life into his lifeless projects, but the concept of regurgitating material itself isn’t totally unheard of while also being not widely popular amongst the mainstream crowd and even well-backed, risk-taking B movies due to the innate choppiness consequence.  Whether the restructure comes in the form of a web episodes strung together as in Nicholas Tana’s “Hell’s Kitty” or from lengthy shorts of one continuous story as with Joe Lujan’s “Rust” being a prime example of his short films, “Rust” and “Rust 2,” having been meld together years later, the narrative planes always seem and feel fragmented and staggered to the point where convincing audiences of a seamless story becomes a blurred line of why even try as filming styles, crews, actors, and even equipment change over time and “At Night Comes Wolves” suffers from that very incoherency with an intended non-linear storyline inelegantly sewn together by backtracking segues. Marine has two, if not three, very different ideas floating around his feature with one being very poignant, another identifying ideological radicalism with sexism undertones, and the other being just for the hell of a horrific good time with the undead. Of course, you don’t ever see the finale coming because, let’s face it, there’s never an established clean and clear objective in the narrative that floats in time and space. Hell, I don’t even know if it’s supposed to be partly a comedy or not with the incorporated park ranger scenes with Joe Bongiovanni and Vladimir Noel that are offbeat funny. This is the hand Marine dealt himself and it wasn’t a pretty one, yet somehow his ambition made a semi-intelligible presentation of a cult group toppling another more depreciating cult group before transcending into the seedlings of the apocalypse. And all I can do by the end of the movie is ask myself, what the hell did I just watch?

Don’t let this review scare the preeminent pants off of you from checking out and judging for yourself TJ Marine’s 2015, 2017, or, maybe, 2021 released films within a film as “At Night Comes Wolves” hit digital platforms this month of April, including iTunes, Google Play, Fandago as well as available on cable and satellite VOD services. Clocking in at 77 minutes, the unrated “At Night Comes Wolves” is out now released by worldwide film distributor Gravitas Ventures.  Aside from that singular moment of marital dysphoria that leads into an uncomfortably potent fetish of sexual desires and some witty repartee between a pair of colorful characters, TJ Marine’s reworked story might actually weaken the mystifying intrigue of his shorts as he plucks holes and fills gaps with new footage in a forced teetering of trying to make a comprehensible notch in the movie market.

Rent or Own “At Night Comes Wolves” at Amazon.com!

Two People Living in Different Times Linked By an EVIL Secret. “Dead Air” reviewed! (Freestyle Digital Media / Digital Screener)

As a single parent of two teenage girls, William stows away the painful memories of the death of wife some two years ago.  When rummaging through boxed away belongings, he stumbles upon an old ham radio and a diary that once was his late father’s, who tragically was killed during William’s youth.  Psychiatric sessions aim to resolute a traumatic event from the past William can’t seem to recall and has plagued him over the decades and well into adulthood, but all his problems converge when he befriends another amateur radio user, a woman, that simmers a progression of unraveling his past rooted by an unfathomable secret the woman holds that will collide William’s past and present to alter his future. 

Not to be confused with the 2009 same titled film of bio-terrorism turned zombie horde starring “The Devil’s Reject’s” Bill Moseley or mixed up with 2000’s “Frequency” where Dennis Quaid’s character phenomenally reconnects with his deceased firefighter father over an old ham radio, Kevin Hicks’ “Dead Air” also shears linear time by embracing supernatural elements over the air waves of an archaic means of communication and though flesh eating maniacs don’t ravage the world, another terrible humanoid race in the Nazi’s are brought to the proverbial table.  Nazis, traumatic past, jumbled paranormal radio transmissions, clandestine spies – Kevin Hicks directs a multifaceted suspense mystery thriller penned by wife, Vicki Hicks, marking yet another notch in their collaboration history that includes a strong history of horror-thriller credits from 2010, such as “Paranormal Proof,” “Behind the Door,” and last years “Doppel.”  The husband and wife combo produce the “Dead Air” under their homegrown production company, Chinimble Lore.

However, Kevin and Vicki Hicks do a little more than just be a presence behind the camera, they’re also in front of the camera, co-starring across each other as the principle leads who never come face-to-face as they interact solely by tuning into the radio frequency of the ham radio.  Their respective roles of William and Eva douse “Dead Air” with plenty of cover-your-base exposition in building a long distance friendship that turns sour when truths are revealed by supernatural circumstances.  Before the pinnacle reveal, a stitch in time ripe to be altered, Hicks has to be a widowed husband and father of two teenage girls while parallelly secretly dealing with an unidentified trauma from his past.  The trauma doesn’t peak through in Hicks’ performance as William goes about his day either emotionally comforting his temperament diverse daughters with the loss of their mother or always sitting in front of the ham radio eager to speak with a newfound chat buddy, the adversely taut Eva.  Vicki Hicks shelters in place as the paranoid agoraphobic, though not yet understanding what that term means just yet, as the cagey Eva and Hicks cements Eva’s covert dealings with suspicious eyes and a cryptic gait that tells us she’s chin deep into counter intelligence.  “Dead Air” focuses nearly exclusively on the William and Eva radio hour, but minor characters are sprinkled for support traction with Luca Iacovetti, Chris Xaver, Ryan C. Mitchell, and real life sisters playing sisters on screen and co-producer Mark Skodzinsky’s daughters, Madison Skodzinsky and Mackenzie Skodzinsky. 

As far as indie films go, Chinimble Lore is well versed in the expense saving concept providing “Dead Air” with limited locations of about three or four primary small and conventionally decorated indoor sets, low-key in the little-to-no high-dollar, high-concept action, and having the filmmakers step into the shoes of the principle characters of William and Eva. Don’t expect “Dead Air” to be knocking socks off with mind blowing choreographed sequences or any type of painstaking visual or practical special effects in a story concentrated script constructed to be a fable filled with second chances and righting the wrongs through unexplained phenomena; yet, when blindly vehement to correct the past, the unintended butterfly effect could also take away what’s precious to you. Vicki Hick’s script meets that cautious tale bar, but doesn’t exceed the darn thing as the mystery element, William’s insights into who Eva’s true self and calling and how he’s supposed to stop her despite living decades a part, to which the film could only express verbally instead of plastering a veneer to show, can be quickly solved in “Dead Air’s” blueprints of foreseeable plot points. One thing that teased the imagination and should have been explored further is William’s psychiatrist performing hypnotherapy to unearth his trauma, but then opens the Pandora’s box of well, why the hell didn’t the psychiatrist try this in the first place?!? William notes spending $40 an hour on therapy sessions and we see him sit in at least 3 times with dialogue extending that to a higher number. Either William’s psychiatrist is a hornswoggling swindler or a daft healthcare worker with poor practice management. Either way, team Hicks, between their repertoire of directing, screenwriting, and acting, can’t smooth out the film’s rough patches enough to be an original twisty thriller backdropped with an ethereal external force communicating from beyond the grave to save more than one soul, leaving “Dead Air” radio silent.

Freestyle Digital Media sends signals from the dead with Kevin Hicks’ “Dead Air” available now on Video-On-Demand across North American digital HD, satellite and cable VOD through platforms Including streaming services iTunes, Amazon Video, and Vudu and cable services Comcast, Spectrum, and Cox.  The 91 minute runtime could have been cut to a leaner 70 to 75 minutes to not only dilute the impact of a dialogue-saturated narrative but also trim a forced subplot of William’s cancer-struck wife that doesn’t quite enact the depth to William’s background that it was intended to do.  Presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio, cinematography by Kyle Carr is digitally clean with a blanketed combination of hard and soft lighting in a rather warm glowing color palette of yellow, red, and jade, but the camera work and shots are standard in technique, not offering much in the way of style since most of the shots hover on medium closeups of William and Eva chit-chatting over the radio.  The light rock tracks composed by Kevin Hicks and performed by the versatile music man Lonnie Parks are sprinkled in to engage a sense of passing time correlated with the storyline events, but the soundtrack’s genre tone sounds like a transistor radio out of place of a story built on a ham radio’s static and garbled messages and would have been more poignant with more of Parks’ mellow-brooding engineered score.  The digital screener was not accompanied with any bonus features and there were no bonus scenes during or after the credits.  Part of “Dead Air’s” demise is the fact that “Frequency” established an already familiar foundation over 20 years ago with nearly the same plot studded with star power and a large pocketed budget, but the story’s engaging enough with supernatural radio waves and the clandestine ties to Nazi spies to keep a progressive interest despite our good hunch on the climax and the finale. 

Rent or Own “Dead Air” digitally on Amazon Video by Clicking the Poster!

When EVIL Isn’t That Black & White. “Choir Girl” reviewed! (Nexus Production Group / Digital Screener)

Eugene lives a lonely, pitiable existence.  Residing with his ailing father in a slum neighborhood, his photography background captures the crime and the desolation that surrounds him, snapping pictures without ever interceding with his crime-riddled subjects, in an attempt to hold an exhibition or sell his work to a high profile magazine, Slipstream, as his ticket out of the despair that engulfs him.  When Eugene stumbles upon young teenage girls being drugged and held for prostitution, he becomes fixated on Josephine when a low-level editor, seeing her as a professional stepping stone, prods him for more pictures that evoke hope out of her situation, but when he finally intervenes, helping her escape, Eugene falls into a world of a massive prostitution ring with doctors, cops, and major organizations on the payroll and a kingpin named Daddy at the helm.  The deeper the debt placed upon him for showing compassion to Josephine, the more the lines blur on whether he’s become his muse’s lone savior or just his meal ticket out his current life.

How far will your moral principles take you to save a teenage girl when you’re locked into a no-win situation?  That’s the theme explored to a shocking sexual assault conclusion in John Fraser’s 2019 unscrupulous Australian thriller, “Choir Girl.”  Introducing Fraser’s first credited written and directed full length feature film, shot entirely in black and white, the Melbourne arthouse and a goose egg-fairytale version of “Pretty Woman” speaks volumes toward the perceived illegality of immigration, the horrors of sex-trade, and the touch-and-go balance act between doing what’s right and self-serving opportunities with a 15-year old girl’s fate dangling at the end of a line.  “Choir Girl” is produced by Ivan Malekin under his Melbourne based label, Nexus Production Group, along with Lucinda Bruce serving as co-producer.

To carry “Choir Girl” through the muck of it all, a strong performance must arduously burden the gravity of the content and Peter Flaherty astounds with an ingloriously flawed and unlikely hero, Eugene.  “The Butcher Possessions” and “KIllervision” actor masts a greasily haggard with bordering neurodevelopment issues, disheveled in his attire, and walks with a noticeable limp, made intentionally noticeable when as he walks away from characters and situations.  Though Eugene seems meek, the shutterbug aches to improve himself by seemingly exploiting others as a freelance photographer and being persistent in that pursuit until becoming engrossed into a 15-year-old prostitute’s life struggle blossoming before our eyes a rather unsettling grown man and teenage girl relationship that assumes a pedophilia ideology of adoring the child to the extent of protection, but also falls in to grooming and sexual exploitation.  The film introduces audiences to Sarah Timm, playing Eugene’s muse, Josephine, an Eastern European illegal immigrant who literally has nothing left that is her own, this including her body, when forced into sex slavery so when Eugene and other characters call her diminutively by Jo, she immediately corrects them to call her Josephine in order to keep the one thing left that is still hers, her name.  In her first feature role, and a mightily demanding role it is with the amount of discomfiture of playing essentially an abused child, the German native will have audiences overlooking the fact that she’s portraying a teenager in the sordid sultriness of sex-trafficking with crafting Josephine’s war-torn history and pre-adolescent childhood stories as always the girl in the background, the unpretty forgotten girl that blended in and no one noticed, until she’s a part of a much larger, more ferocious, uncompromising system that Daddy (Jack Campbell) dictates with CCTV live feeds of every sleazy, scummy hotel bedroom in his syndicated footprint.  The cruelty that Jack Campbell reins savors every facet of Daddy’s being on screen with an intent to be a immovable roadblock in Eugene’s advanced for progress and for John Fraser’s “Choir Girl,” the character development and personalities find justification from the cast with the exception of one, the low on the totem pole and self-absorbed Slipstream magazine editor, Polly.  Krista Vendy imposes on Polly’s rabid  narcissism with an incredibility that becomes the underbelly amongst a bloc of solid performances.  Andy McPhee (“Wolf Creek”), Lee Mason (“The Caretaker”), Jillian Murray (“Body Melt”), and Kym Valentine fill out supporting roles. 

I love the juxtaposition opening of Eugene in his dark room in the middle of photographic processing his oblivious subjects, including a drug abusing child with a hypodermic heroine needle sticking out of his arm, a blowjob being serviced between a wall and bushes, or the aftermath of man being beaten with his assailants walking away from his leveled body, and then the title fades in from black and the next scene is of a framed magazine cover with the cover title “It’s All Back and White.”  The sequence sets up perfectly the entire premise driving “Choir Girl’s” gray area circumstances that nothing substantial, meaningful, or controversial can be black and white. Plus, the entire film is shot in black and white furthering the contrivance of the theme. The gray area challenging Eugene is a tightrope walk when squeezed for payment for snatching Josephine by the amoral organization claiming property theft, making him submit to the idiom of pulling his strings like a marionette or shooting at his feet to make him dance for insatiable perverse satisfaction. Eugene rarely displays remorse in his demeanor, face, or actions for the things he does and doesn’t do when faced with adversity in a slither of sociopathic idiosyncrasy, but when outright criticized for his inaction, he’s able to right wrongs with deplorable methods like a toddler trying to mop up a grape juice spill with mother’s expensive, white dress. There’s a bit of innocence or naivety in Eugene’s mind as you can almost see the gears slowly spinning when confronted but in the defense of the man who no really gave the time of day, those gyrating mice wheels of delicate thought snuck past every contingency against Eugene surviving Daddy’s deadly game, leading to an unsavory solution that puts the viewer in an awkward spot to either avert the eyes or remained captivated to see it through.

 

I, for one, remained seated, steadfast to the end, hypnotized by audacity of John Fraser in his feature film directorial, “Choir Girl,” that has arrived onto Apple’s iTunes. The unrated film is presented in it’s original aspect ratio of a widescreen format and will have an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound availability. Though derided as kitschy at times, the black and white veneer works here inside “Choir Girl’s” vascular system of catch-22s and director of photography, Mark Kenfield, rides a consistent straighten arrow style with steady cam shots, decent framing, and some tracking shots without pushing the envelope in regards to angles or oscillation. There were no bonus content or additional scenes during or after the credits. “Choir Girl” sings no praises of hallelujah. Offers no solace in time of hardship. If you’re looking for a movie that touches you, then you’re in for a rude awakening as “Choir Girl” obliterates the moral standards, leaving faith outside, with a severe penance in abetting the Devil’s work, selling their soul to do what’s right.