EVIL is a Giant Cockroach Trying To Bite Your Head Off…Man! “Love and Monsters” reviewed! (Paramount / Blu-ray Review)

For seven years, monsters have ravaged the human race to nearly extinction after nuclear nations destroyed an planet killing meteor in space, but the radioactive debris that fall back to Earth mutated the smallest creatures into monstrous killing machines.  Humans have been divided into colonies forced into underground bunkers.  Joel Dawson has been barely surviving with bunk mates who see him as a liability in his inability to act when faced with a monster situation and has been unable to connect, romantically, with another person.  When Joel discovers his high school sweetheart is 85 miles away in another colony, Joel decides to leave the bunker safe haven and journey across the dangerous surface for seven days for the sole purpose of love.  Forced to face his fears and adapt to survive a perilous land full of giant centipedes, hungry massive toads, and a crusty crab the size of a two story building, Joel must rely on his instincts and the help of rule-following topside survivors to see again the girl he thought he lost.

Add “Love and Monsters,” a monstrously romantic creature feature, right up there with “Warm Bodies” as this decade’s version of horror and love dancing the tangled tango in this kill or be eaten comedy-love pursuit directed by Michael Matthews.  The 2020 release is Matthews’ sophomore directorial from a script co-written between Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson off a Duffield’s original “Monster Problems” script.  Duffield is best known for penning last year’s water leviathan success, “Underwater,” starring Kristen Stewart, with “Monster Trucks’” Robinson coming aboard to finesse the grand adventure mechanism that makes “Love and Monsters” a singular trek through heart-thumping terrorland.  The Canadian production filmed in the amalgam terrain of Australia is produced by Dan Cohen and Shawn Levy, who both know a thing or two about doomsday premises in producing Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and the Denis Villeneuve sleeper sci-fi first contact film, “Arrival,” under 21 Laps Entertainment in association with Entertainment One and Paramount Pictures distribution in North America.

A singular journey of bushwhacking and survival falls upon the shoulders of a young man who hasn’t yet transitioned to be an adult. From the time he was 16 years old, Joel Dawson knew love, but didn’t know how to fend for himself when life gets tough….really tough, like, full of carnivorous creatures in an end of humanity and heading to extinction tough. Yet, as adults, we thrive on challenges as our brains have learned to adapt with each new level of adversity and obstacle. For Joel, being stuck in the past, reliving a swift romance, has suspended him in nowheresville as he struggles to find love and age-appropriate interaction with of his kind peers. Dylan O’Brian captures Joel’s inability to see the clearly world around him because, literally, he hasn’t seen or experienced the world for about a third of his young life. Portrayed early on in young adult fiction with his feet firm in the heartthrob remake of “Teen Wolf” television series and coming out of adapted for film “The Maze Runner” trilogy, O’Brien discovers that being feeble and lonely can be just as powerful as being a werewolf or a dystopian survivalist; instead, O’Brien up-plays the quirky, quick-witted, outcast with delusions about his solitary and unpopularity as he finds fortitude by trekking seven days through a monster-riddled hell to rekindle his relationship with Amiee, the last person he personally felt a connection to who hasn’t been squished under the foot of a Granddaddy Long Leg. “The Head Hunter” and “Underwater” star, Jessica Henwick, retunes her vocal chords to present her best American English accent in order to be Joel’s live-or-die love interest, if she hasn’t changed in the last seven horrible years. Yet, before Joel and Amiee reunite in what’s a finger-crossable moment of love again at first sight, the meek Joel Dawson needs to go through, what half the monsters outside have already gone through, is a metamorphosis of sorts to be bigger, tougher, and more self-reliant. This is where MCU alums, Michael Rooker (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) and Ariana Greenblatt (“Avengers: Infinity War”) step in. As Clyde, Rooker’s the Bear Grylls of monster land, knowing all the tips and tricks of topside survival all the while sporting a Richard Simmons perm, whereas Greenblatt, as the orphaned Minnow traveling in companion with Clyde, is just rugged despite her pintsize. “Love and Monsters” really focuses on these four individuals that mainly perpetuate only one of them, Joel, to be the best survivor he can be at the bottom of the food chain, but other minor characters do arise and nudge brash action that requires the solidity of an unbroken community chain. Dan Ewing (“Occupation”), Ellen Hollman (“Asylum”), Pacharo Mzembe, Tre Hale, Senie Priti, Amalie Golden, and “The Road Warrior’s” Bruce Spence makes a cameo appearance as Old Pete.

What I find interesting about “Love and Monsters,” that’s more prevalent in most post-apocalypse themed plots, is the lack of dog-eat-dog between humans.  While the story mainly skirts around the concept with a running gag that the real reason Joel left his colony is because he’s a no-good food stealer, Joel’s interactions with his and Amiee’s colonies, plus in his travels with Clyde and Minnow, showed no sign of deception or greed, a rare and humbling dynamic when starved, weary, and scared people are backed against a wall and cutthroat advantages are at arm’s length; instead, a real sense of community and compassion is committed that brings a sense of hope, not for just Joel in a world conquered by monsters, but for also audiences with pessimistic views about the volatility of man.  Even with all the fears of A.I hostile takeover, tender moments of man face-to-face with machine seals that threat into inexistence as Joel comes across a damaged MAV1S unit, an anatomical automaton built for servicing humanity, borders that plane of complex human emotions with all the right things to say and able to read what Joel needs to here to keep him moving in a sacrificial scene of the androids’ last hurrah before complete battery drain.  “Love and Monsters” doesn’t do a complete withdrawal from the hypodermic needle of inhuman poison, but the concept is certainly not the emphasis.  With a title like “Love and Monsters,” you want the monsters to be, at the very least, half of the story, as promised, and we’re treated to a slew of different monsters with different personalities and with different innate weapons. Not all the monsters are blood thirsty. Some are gentle, but judged for their immense size and scary physical attributes and Matthews points this important theme out in a trope about-face, signifying that just because this is a monster movie, doesn’t mean all monsters have been unjustly deemed vicious and terrorizing. In a way, these monsters parallel in being judged just as inaccurately as Joel is by his survivalist peers without so much as the benefit of the doubt and only when a trust evolves from out of being scared is when judgements wash away with sheltered conventional thinking. Diminutive inside a fantasyland of behemoth horrors, “Love and Monsters” has a tremendous heart with an interpersonal message about understanding connections with people inside the mixed-messaged confines of coming into adulthood.

If we don’t nuke ourselves out of existence first, the lifeforms underneath the soles of our shoes will gladly seize dominance for an easy, human-sized, snack in Michael Matthews’ “Love and Monsters” now released on Blu-ray plus digital, as well as 4K Ultra HD and DVD, courtesy of Paramount Pictures. The PG-13 action-adventure creature feature is presented in high definition, 1080p, widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Australia is already a futuristic land of gorgeous overgrowth and untouched wonder, Lachlan Milne trades in the practical (zombie horde) aesthetics of “Little Monsters” to a transcending larger types of monsters to scale an open world environment to eventually be combined with post-production visual effects of Kaiju-sized myriapods, crustaceans, and amphibians to just name a few. Award winning VFX company, The Mill, has seamless and organic creations that blend truth and deception with the scariest of ease as creatures explode out of the ground or lumber above head with no angle left uncovered or underdeveloped in giving audiences unmistakable visuals of our nightmares. The English language 7.1 DTS-HD master audio mix is the epitome of well balanced with clear dialogue, a complimentary soundtrack, and a long range and diverse depth of sound engineered monsters being monsters from low, sonorous gutturals to the high cracks and pops of creature movements. Inside a cardboard slipcover, The Paramount Pictures Blu-ray comes with a digital movie code to add to your digital movie collection to watch anywhere, but the release also comes with deleted scenes, a “Bottom of the Food Chain” featurette feature snippet interviews with the cast and crew, and “It’s a Monster World: Creating a Post-Apocalyptic Landscape” that dives into the natural preserve combined with production design to create the apocalypse illusion. Adventurously invigorating and outside the norm of telling story patterns, “Love and Monsters” romanticizes the post-apocalypse with a self love theme in a hope-inspiring and fun creature-crammed monster movie.

Blu-ray of “Love and Monsters.” Click poster to purchase at Amazon.com!

In the S.H.U., The EVIL Comes From Within. “Caged” reviewed! (Shout! Studios / Digital Screener)

Psychiatrist Dr. Harlow Reid is sentence to life in prison after being convicted of murdering his wife.  With his assets frozen and his legal representation dropping him as a client, Reid is forced into being his own legal counsel.  To make matters worse, a female prison guard’s perverse pleasure is to slowly torture him while in her custody at solitary confinement.  His only means to enter general population is to behave and confess to the crime he contests, but he continues to maintain his innocence by refusing to sign the confession, remaining alone and withstanding abuse until he can write a formal plea to a judge to reconsider the facts in his case.  As the days turn to weeks and weeks turn to months, the usually stable minded Dr. Reid, alone with his thoughts, has his fortress of reality buckle under the heavy burden of isolation compounded with the maltreatment and his personal demons that struggle with the actual events in his wife’s sudden death, questioning himself that her death might have been at his hand.

Inside the clink is a maelstrom set in a pressure cooker. Ready to explode at any moment are cons of, mostly, unsavory personalities simmering with pent up anger, desperation, and ill-will positioned by equally fraught guards harried by timebomb temperaments and undervalued in training and payment. In Aaron Fjellman’s written and directed debut feature film, “Caged,” the strain festers toward being hell behind bars in a ruthless determination of survival. Also once known as the working title, “The S.H.U,” Fjellman constrains his American-made, and inspired, big house thriller with a minimalist approach set with a backdrop of chiefly the solitary housing unit to lock up viewers in, as witnessing accomplices, with a protagonist’s downtrodden path of mental degradation as well as being humanly degraded. Aaron Fjellman produces his film for production company Panic House Films and Shifty Eye Productions with the latter a company created by the film’s star, Edi Gathegi, serving on the board as executive producer.

It’s no big surprise that Edi Gathegi dons the prison house jumper and clanking shackles in this social commentary thriller. The “Blacklist” and “X-Men: First Class” actor knows a good role when he sees with, especially inside the body and mind of one Dr. Harlow Reid. Gathegi regularly has to battle with himself filtered through the madness of the S.H.U. mind-breaking solitary with a little fanning of the flames from sadistic prison guard, Officer Sacks. In an extremely ghastly transformation, Melora Hardin goes from a classic beauty with a big smile and high cheek bones to baring an unflattering lumpy posture with hair pulled back in a tight, short ponytail overtop a demonizing trope of a scar down the left side of her face and an assured cockiness symbolized by the gum smacking that’s sometimes becomes the only thing in the camera frame. As Gathegi masters the ideals of a convict presuming himself innocent, Hardin lurks beyond his cell door as the devilish guard over his shoulder. Officer Sacks defines a face with a story and her story has a hard on for power over prisoners, especially affluent ones or, maybe, those of African American descent in a tinge of racist undertones as Fjellman notes on the racial injustices in the prison system. A smidgen of that notion is supported shown in Officer Sacks behind-the-back passive aggressiveness toward Warden Perez. “Annabelle’s” Tony Amendola truly delivers being a heartfelt ally, yet sturdy firm handed warden with Reid. Perez, an expressed Catholic, seeks Reid’s redemption through the admittance of wrongdoing and that becomes the steadfast barrier Reid has to hurtle that will test his convictions and his sanity. “Caged” rounds out with Mick Jagger’s son, James Jagger, as Reid’s unhinged S.H.U. bedfellow who speaks in hyperbole of inmate hauntings in an opaque analogy of guilt mixed with madness, and “Westworld’s” Angela Sarafyan told through flashbacks and supernatural induced psychosis as Reid’s wife, Amber.

To tell an inmate’s nearly yearlong story succumbing to the brutal and segregating abuses surrounding him in solitary confinement is a tremendous feat working into the mental cracks and exploring the fallacies. Yet, Aaron Fjellman made his fictional interpretation look easy by relating a surreal, but telling story in just 80 minutes, gripping with metaphorical concepts of an overcrowded prison system preying on uncontested obedience, even if the lengths taken to obtain complete compliance is trauma exacting torture of draconian policy, by primarily privately funded institutions with little-to-no funding or resources to manage. “Caged” is very fleeting with montage upon montage of Harlow Reid’s day-to-day, but never becomes a monotonous roundabout vivarium of Reid sitting hopelessly-looking in his cell. Gathegi’s put to work as a man determined to challenge the system that engages Reid to keep sharp and in shape by working out in various exercises, entertain an unhinged neighboring inmate with his ramblings and blurbs of crazy talk truths, and feverishly work on his legal case by any extraordinary measures, including using his own blood as ink. Yes, “Caged” can elicit a genuine sense of horror, a perspective on psychological terror, and be an eye-opening gasp of real life prison dread when good versus evil is mirrored in reverse with the good guys not being the prison guards. Fjellman imprisons us all in “Caged” by culminating the fact that no matter your social circumstances, the S.H.U. breaks everyone.

Orange may be the new black, but Aaron Fjellman’s bleak fretting “Caged” jars with somber authoritarian power. The new thriller released by Shout! Studios premiers unrated on VOD and digital January 26th. “Caged” is film by director of photography, Jessica Young, with an Arri Amira camera and presented in a widescreen format, 16×9 aspect ratio, and, typically, the Amira camera versatility is in the use for low-budget films, perfect for “Caged” in it’s nearly singular setting and two-tone, steely gray and black, atmospherics that naturally have devoid color vibrancy. CJ Johnson, who will soon see his musical scores in a pair of upcoming Friday the 13th fan films, lines “Caged” with a soft, building industrial score that tunes the disquiet in Reid’s racked inner conflict. With this digital screener, there were no bonus materials or any bonus scenes during or after the credits. Through the use of visual and audible horror tropes and with potent performances from Edi Gathegi and Melora Hardin, “Caged” is a ghost story told for the unspoken voices victim to long-term confinement.

Click the poster to pre-order “Caged” at Amazon!

To Unearth a Lifesaving Plant, You Must Survive EVIL! “Yeti” reviewed! (High Flier Films / Digital Screener)

When a medical research team scouring the Himalayan mountains for a miracle plant that can cure cancerous cells disappears without a trace, a second team, armed to the teeth, venture up the harsh terrain to locate them and recover any evidence of the mythical plant dubbed the Yeti plant.  They discover the research station has been abandoned with examination equipment and notes left behind.  With a storm brewing and the topography jamming their radio signals, the only thing to do is push themselves to setup a triangulated perimeter in order to boost the radio strength and comb the mountainside for the plant before hunkering down from the storm, but little do they know that they’re being hunted by a primordial and fabled creature, the Yeti, stalking prey to protect his uncharted, stuck in time territory.

As the third film to be titled “Abominable” in the last 15 years, this particular 2020 creature feature on the ever elusive and mysterious Himalayan Yeti is helmed by the 2018 released scurrying little feet of those mischievously cursed “Elves” director Jamaal Burden might not be at the top of your search engine results, but if you search “Yeti,” you’ll see High Flier FIlms aims to detach from the previous moniker inhabitants.  Burden’s modestly budgeted, internationally shot, sophomore film returns the filmmaker right back into the mythic subhuman category with yet another timeless storybook creature living in legends slithered within the shadowy veil from a script written by J.D. Ellis (“The 13th Friday”) that’s of indie caliber with a touch of jaw-ripping, blood-sprayed snowy carnage in this post-Holiday, winter-horrorland super beast feature.  “Yeti” is the latest in a long line of horror schlock produced by Justin Price, Khu, and Deanna Grace Congo under Pikchure Zero production company and is filled in St. Petersburg, Russia. 

Confronting opposite the terrible Yeti is a cast of alien talent without so much as a recognizable genre name or face to anchor “Yeti’s” marketing success, beginning with Katrina Mattson in her debut lead performance as a young scientific assistant to the terminally ill-fated Dr. Helen whose played by Seattle born Amy Gordon.  The body of dialogue or visual communication didn’t flesh out Mattson’s assistant’s strong yearning to support Dr. Helen’s obsession in rooting out the never before seen Yeti plant other than stating she will do anything to help the Glioblastomas-doomed doctor by whatever means possible.  The disconnect in dynamic between the two supposed friends is not well established and completely melts away faster than the Himalayan snow on a Summery day when the two barely reunite after separating from the abandoned research station.  They’re each accompanied by a couple of mercenaries hired to be an armguard, for a reason why scientists needed M16 assault rifle toting ex-special forces types is beyond me, but actors Robert Berlin and Brandon Grimes serve as such, adding a tinge of military machoism that could have been amped up more against a Jason Voorhees worthy disappear and reappear act Yeti with the given inherent superhuman strength. Berlin wildly over performs at times just spouting out his lines as if reading off an instruction manual. Plus, his character is poorly developed as a money hungry Yeti hunter with an extremely naïve and arrogant personality to the point of yelling in the Yeti’s face when the Yeti is clearly not dead or incapacitated.  Victims pile up with the remaining cast becoming Yeti chow, including supporting performances from Justin Prince Moy, Magdaln Smus, Victir Ackeev, J.D. Ellis, and with Timothy Schultz passing as the scraggily titular abominable snowman.   

The reason why Burden’s “Abominable” might not be numero uno on your search engine results shouldn’t be total surprise, but even “Yeti” may not produced the same desired outcome.  Aside from not having any grade of star power attached to it, audiences will be awkwardly thrusted right into a perplexing point in the story of dropping us right into complication with a rescue team entering the abandoned Himalayan station and, from then on, a straight forward, uncompelling path of infinite chase with the ball incessantly in the Yeti’s corner trounces on any kind of hope or resistance for survival.  The man-in-a-suit Yeti and makeup effects are not too bad as an admissible effort for an indie production and what’s even more impressive is how Burden felt confident enough to actually show the creature. There have been Yeti, bigfoot, sasquatch, etc., films aplenty of that stray away from displaying much of the hairy beast, only providing glimpses of the large feet, ape-like hands, or fanged teeth to represent a presence, but for “Yeti,” the creature is proudly displayed in all it’s full glory despite being half hairless with patchy spots of snow-stuck fur. Joe Castro, an effects guru for off-the-wall horror for the past three decades with credits including “Night of the Demons III” and “Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat”, created the Yeti suit while also dishes out some surprisingly decent gore effects that have a real palpable face mangling fetish and so bloody great. On the other hand, the visual effects and props are an abomination in themselves with obvious toy guns and lack of continuity and cause and effect visual effect givens.

 

Is “Yeti” another filmic miss on the missing link or can there a slither of entertaining gore with creature lucidity amid a trite script? I do think the latter in Jamal Burden’s “Abominable” from High Flier Films slated for a January 11th DVD release in the United Kingdom. Producer Khu is also the director of photography, using the steady and handheld cams to capture a heap of medium and closeup shots without seizing the opportunity to get a lay of the actual snow covered forest which the characters are heaving hot breaths in the frozen air. Khu does exude the fact of actual frigid conditions with the use of a bluish tint in every outdoor scene. “Rave Party Massacre’s” Matt Jantzen composes a tense-situated, industrial epic score that doesn’t fit “Yeti’s” marginal story structure and can be nearly rave-like and repetitive at times while overpoweringly robust. Sound design is another favorable aspect in “Abominable’s” chaos with a discernible range and depth, especially when working with crunchy snow and a lot of bulky clothing that can be heard rustling when characters move around frantically. Gore scenes are laced nicely with gooey, gushy sounds that can be tangibly slimy. There were no bonus material included with the digital screener nor where there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. The great Yeti adaptation still eludes our ever curious eyes as “Yeti” quenches a only blood thirst through an over-trekked, over-defiled snowy path of the subhuman subgenre.