A Massachusetts foursome of girls, Wren, Chloe, Hallie, and Katie, invoke the summoning of an internet lore named Slender Man after watching an instructional online video on how to evoke his presence to reality. After the video completes and the girls dismissively chalk this activity up as hoax-filled rubbish, an embattled and disconnected Katie vanishes a few weeks later during a school sanctioned field trip to a historical graveyard, thrusting the remaining three friends into investigating her abrupt disappearance all the while they each experience an ominous figure haunting them in and out of consciousness. As the continue to look for Katie, Slender Man keeps popping up into the findings. Wren’s convinced, after suffering from terrifying visions, that Slender Man wants the four who’ve contacted him and when her friends dismiss Wren’s frantic ravings, she employs Hallie’s sister, Lizzie, to assist in stopping Slender Man. All of reality is being skewed while Slender Man hunts them down one-by-one and if they’re not taken, those left in Slender Man’s wake will forever be deranged with madness.
Straight from it’s internet meme playbook origins comes the constructed next chapter in “Slender Man’s” mythology from the “I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer” director Sylvain White and written by David Birke (“Elle”) that feels very familiar to “The Ring” premise. Based of the mythos created by Victor Surge, aka Eric Knudsen, “Slender Man” fruition onto the Hollywood scene finds a home under Sony’s Screen Gems division, the same division that delivered the Paul W.S. Anderson “Resident Evil” franchise. While not a mega-glossy action horror piece for Sony and Screen Gems, White’s take on one of the internet’s most popular and mysterious spawns revels in it’s own crowd funded supernatural element and White is the grand puppeteer behind the scenes piecing the material together that builds upon, and extends, “Slender Man” canon into film and video visuals. “Slender Man” provides the character flesh, extenuating doubt where special effects can make monolith his presence of inception and flourish from imagination to terrifying reality. If looking outside the box, “Slender Man” could also be translated into symbolism for the online predatory habits men take towards young, sometimes teenage and impressionable girls. There in lies references to this notion with such in Katie, who is a runaway teenage girl with a fixation toward an obscured man from the internet, aka Slender Man, and also Hallie’s vivid nightmares of being pregnant with the very Lovecraftian-esque spawn of Slender Man as tentacles shoot out from her large, protruding stomach. Yes, she’s a high school girl…
“Slender Man” centers around a four female, high school age characters: Chloe, Katie, Wren, and Hallie. The latter being the leader, Hallie, played by Julie Goldani Telles, is an unwavering non-believer of Slender Man, contributing her visions and feelings as some sort of coming of age Freudian bizarro show. The now 23-year old Telles convinces to pull off a well adjusted teenage girl spiraling into Slender Man’s otherworldly oblivion and absolutely turns the corner when younger sister Lizzie, Taylor Richardson, becomes an unwitting participate. Hallie almost comes toe-to-toe with her confident and frantic friend Wren, a character bestowed to Joey King of “Quarantine” and “White House Down.” King’s townboy-ish approach has served well to keep her character apart in order to not clash with other warring personalities. Yet, there’s not a whole lot interesting aspects associated with the other two characters, Chloe and Katie. If audiences were expected to be concerned for Katie, then Annalise Basso needed her character to have more screen time. The “Ouija: Origin of Evil” actress barely had a handful scenes to try to convey a poignant life with an alcoholic father before she’s whisked away to never been seen again. Chloe had a slight more substance as means to exhibit the result of not being taken by Slender Man; “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s” Jaz Sinclair didn’t really add any pizzaz to her poorly written flat character.
Though Slender Man’s origins surpasses being a byproduct of an internet meme and becomes woven into a lore of all it’s own through a global, technological network, the very fabric “Slender Man’s” tech horror theme had laid a negligent foundation. Viewers without a hint of Slender Man knowledge will find the connection between the shadowy figure that stalks and kidnaps children and the domain from which it was born, witnessing the technology used in the film being wielded as a tool of evil rather than a conduit of to connect two worlds. What works for Sylvain White is his knack for shaping Slender Man into physicality in an applauding effort that combines chilling atmospherics, well timed visual and audio cues, above decent special effects, and the crunchy, contorted body of Javier Botet as the Slender Man. We’ve covered Botet before in “Insidious: The Last Key” as the antagonistic KeyFace creature. KeyFace and Slender Man, two similar but still vastly different villains, wouldn’t be as influential or be brought to such a horrifying fruition if Botet was not behind the mask and it’s because of Botet’s blessing, but also a curse, Marfan Syndrome physique that he’s able to accomplish a wide range of distorted and malformed characters.
Sony Pictures presents “Slender Man” onto HD 1080p Blu-ray under the Screen Gems label. The Blu-ray is presented in widescreen of the film’s original aspect ratio, 2.39:1. “Slender Man” doesn’t sell itself as high performance, resulting in more details in the range of textures rather than relying on a clean, finished look. Colors are remain behind a cloak of darker shades to pull of gloomy atmospherics, but do brighten when the scene calls for it. The digital film looks great, if not fairly standard, for movies of today. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is quite high performance, like revving an engine on an imported roadster. Slender Man comes with his own cache of audio tinglers to send chills up your spin and invoke cold sweats. Every branch breaking ambiance and desperate and exasperated breath being took by the teen girls aligns cleanly and nicely with the visual representations. Dialogue is lossless and prevalent as well as being integrated seamlessly during more active sequences in a well balanced fit all with range and depth. Thin extras do put a damper on the release with a bland featurette entitled “Summoning ‘Slender Man:’ Meet the Cast.” The featurette doesn’t do much more than give the actors’ and White’s opinion of their characters and Slender Man. The shame of it is that the internet is a vast place of information and knowledge and, yet, the featurette doesn’t knick the surface of who and what is Slender Man. Plus, if remembering correctly, there are scenes omitted from this release; more intense and bloodshed scenes that would have granted a more adult friendly rating. This release doesn’t offer up two versions of the film. Despite embodying a rehashed, bi-annual story of supernatural and psychological tech horror of the PG-13 variety, “Slender Man” endures through with a sliver of appreciation for the easily missed facets that work as a positive in Sylvain White’s 2018 film, such as bleak atmospheric qualities and Javier Botet’s performance, but the diluted final product, released on Blu-ray, benches what could have an at home video entertainment home run for Sony Pictures.
Hot off the Quinn Brenner case, parapsychologist Elise Rainier receives a phone call from Ted Garza regarding paranormal activity at his house in Four Keys, New Mexico. The location happens to be the childhood home of Elise, where her father viciously abused Elise to stop her supernatural gifts and also where her mother was brutally murdered by a fearsome and hatred-energized demon known as KeyFace. Reluctant to return where memories revel in persistent and continuous nightmares, Elise and her two eager assistances, Tucker and Specs, take the case to aid the Garza’s request for a cleanse and to conclude the haunting and scarring chapter in Elise’s life, but the demon yearns power by luring Elise back to where it all began. With the help of her brother and two nieces, Elise’s family and friends aim to be a force against pure and undiluted evil hidden in the further.
Full disclosure….Insidious: Chapters 2 and 3 is not in my well versed cache of watched movies. I thoroughly enjoyed the atmospheric hit that is James Wan’s 2011 “Insidious” film starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, and the incredible Lin Shaye, but since that time, neither of the sequels have wandered into my unsystematic path. Except now. “Insidious: The Last Key” is the latest installment to the “Insidious” franchise and universe that’s directed by Adam Robitel, screenwriter of “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” and written by franchise writer Leigh Whannell. In the grand scheme of chronological viewing, catching “The Last Key” first won’t divert and confuse too much from those on a methodical storyline timeline. Robitel’s chapter is a sequel to the prequel, “Insidious: Chapter 3,” and aside from an Easter egg here and there, there’s little reference and nothing substantial bonding to the next two films that are in sequential order.
Lin Shaye returns to reprise her role as parapsychologist Elise Rainier for the fourth time, picking up her character’s telepathic shtick like it was yesterday. Shaye’s one of acting talents that just flourishes like wild fire no matter what the type of role or movie she’s in or even affiliated with. Her ability to adapt and to get down and dirty with her characters proves why we love her thespian range from bust-a-gut comedies like “There’s Something About Mary” to indie horrors like “Dead End.” The now 74-year-old actress is more red hot now than ever as Elise Rainier whose even more popularized by her co-stars, writer, Leigh Whannell and and Angus Sampson as Specs and Tucker, whom like Shaye have reprised their roles for a fourth time. The comedic duo lighten up the dark toned premise, offering up dad jokes and snickering hairdos to offset to jump scares and gnarly KeyFace. Spencer Locke (“Resident Evil: Extinction”), Caitlin Gerard (“Smiley”), and the original 1971 Willard, Bruce Davison, play the supporting cast of Rainiers long lost, reunited family members caught in the middle of her quest for conclusion. Rounding out the cast is Kirk Acevedo (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”), Tessa Ferrer, Josh Stewart (“The Collector”), and contortionist, and Doug Jones’ Spanish rival, Javier Botet as KeyFace.
“Insidious: The Last Key” works on many positive levels: has a solid premise with Elise burning to finish the nightmare she had unleashed many years ago, subplots involving Ted Garza’s role and Elise’s abusive father, a dysfunctional family relationship between all the Rainiers, and some serious eye-popping scares throughout. The further also opens up more and becomes a vast area for exploration into all the creatures, ghosts, and demons that lurk in the otherworldly dimension, setting up future sequels and/or spinoffs. What doesn’t work as well is the rather anemic and lackluster climatic finale that took KeyFace from an extremely high frightfully monstrous pedastal, continuously building up the character to be the most powerful antagonist Elise has yet to encounter, and have the rug pulled right from under it’s horrid feet by squandering it formidability, flattening it with the single uppercut swing of a… lantern.
Adam Robitel’s “Insidious: The Last Key” finds a home on a Blu-ray plus Digital HD combo release by Sony Pictures and Universal Home Entertainment. The release is presented in high definition 1080p with a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The image quality just tops out with overly spooky cool blue hue that’s gloomy, dark, and ominous, all the attributes perfect for a supernatural thriller, while managing to sharply define the details on the actors and their surroundings. The English 5.1 DTS-HD track stings where jump scares are prevalent and appropriate. Dialogue has clarity with mild ambiance supporting the localized and conventional horror audible moments while brawny LFE bursts on-screen in a bombardment of scare tactics whenever KeyFace suddenly shows face. Bonus features include an alternate ending (complete with cheesy one-liner from Lin Shaye), eight deleted scenes, a look into the “Insidious” universe, going into The Further, Lin Shaye becoming parapsychologist Elise Rainier, and a segment entitled “Meet the New Demon – Unlocking the Keys” to KeyFace. Perhaps not the epitome of the franchise, but “Insidious: The Last Key” absolutely fits into the franchise’s ever expanding universe and unlocks more of the spine-tingling backstory to one of horror’s contemporary and unremitting heroines ready to confront evil.
From the demented minds of Brian Dorton and Douglas Conner, “The Horror Network” anthology has set sail on it’s first volume maiden voyage, shipping five petrifying and on the edge of your seat horror shorts right to your television set. Stories so darkly atmospheric and spine tingling that leaving the lights off while watching would be a horrible mistake. Each tale tells a different kind evil including demented demons, child stalking predators, family abusers, and a sadistic plaster saint. Certainly not intended for the faint of heart or the easily offended for each episode turns up the intensity, the fear, and the scares. Leave the lights on, take a blanket to hide under, and make sure you grab a couch partner to watch with you and then ask yourself, are you ready to tune into “The Horror Network?”
A young woman named Georgia drives through the English countryside to get away for a few days. When she arrives at her remote farm house, a strange sense of foreboding overcomes her and weird, sporadic noises emit from all around her throughout the day and into the night. When the digital clock nearly reaches 3:00 A.M., she hears a concerning noise from downstairs and when she investigates, a ghostly presence lies in wait.
Before the anthology’s credits even begin to roll, the Lee Mathews directed film “3:00 A.M.” will for damn sure kickstart anybody’s heart. The atmosphere is violently tense when Georgia explores the strange occurrences downstairs and even before the night falls. Initially, the main focus kind of misguides you through much of, what were led to believe to be is, Georgia’s imagination from the one after the other false jump scares: a branch scratching at a window, a cat jumping out of the shadows, a jack in a box toy. Okay, maybe that last one is a bit obvious and not so much a surprising jump scare, but the toy does tie into the story near the end, giving the toy a reason to exist and a hint of menacing. Many of the jump scares are accompanied by screeching sound effects, like fingernails across a chalkboard, which would make any poor soul, who fears the dark and supernatural, jump out of their skin.
“3:00 A.M.” is a good introductory 10 minute short that sets the tone for the four other films in tow; a tone with a subtle message that insinuates the maturity of this anthology. Despite being a little redundant with the classical jump scares, especially with the cheesy jack in the box jump scare that could be seen coming from miles away, for director Lee Mathews, with “3:00 A.M.” being the only credit to his name, creating a nail biting short of that magnitude is fairly impressive and inviting.
Hal has mental problems. He can’t sleep. He can’t stop sleepwalking. He can’t seem to stop dreaming about death. Psychiatrist Dr. Aleksey is determined to root out Hal’s issues, but when Hal informs him about the news of a school friend named Alice being murdered, the good doctor decides to put Hal under hypnosis and determine just what’s going on in Hal’s mind. Under the semiconscious state, Hal recounts his last dream and sleepwalking incident where he describes in detail a man coming into his room from outside his window. The man has Hal follow him into Alice’s room, the same Alice Hal said was brutally murdered prior to going under hypnosis. When Dr. Aleksey discovers the truth about what happened to Alice, Hal’s hidden inner demon named Edward reveals himself, leaving Dr. Aleksey at wits end in trying to cure the incurably evil.
“Edward” is a gothic tale that isn’t too overly gothic in setting onscreen. The ominous presence, whether through the acting of Hal played eerily and perfectly by Nick Frangione or the chilling atmosphere, remains always present in the confined space of Dr. Aleksey’s office. The “Edward” short is a stray genre short from director Joseph Graham, a San Francisco based director who has been credited in directing feature films about homosexuality and the cultural-based stigmas – reminds me a little of the work helmed by Gus Van Sant. Graham’s “Edward” has an pitch black aura that seeks to let loose the horror-elements, yearning to be freed, because everything about the story of “Edward” is well told and well shot, as if you yourself were standing in the room with Hal and Dr. Aleksey, experiencing the fate of both men. However, Dr. Aleksey’s fate could have, and probably should have, contained more exposition, especially when the doctor arrives back home to his wife and sleeping child.
Alice, a partially deaf young school girl who particularly loves the quiet instead of using her hearing aid which eventually to taking the brunt of the cruel jokes from her classmates, rides the bus home from school. When she’s being dropped off at her remote stop, she forgets her cellphone on the bus. With her mother no where in sight, Alice decides to walk home alone, but when a suspicious blue van seems to be stalking her, she makes a break for the woods where she unfortunately loses her hearing aid. Lost in woods and unable to hear good, a cat and mouse game ensues between her and the man with the blue van whose on her closing in on her.
Unlike “Edward” where dialogue catapults the film into a tension-filled frenzy, “The Quiet” lives up to the title with the duration containing no dialogue until the twist ending. The built-in weakness of our protagonist Alice and the constant bullying of her helps the audience sympathize with her character more, making Alice a relatable person rather than a whimsical character everyone wishes instant death upon. The story has a strong beginning, continuing to build once the blue van man is introduced, but there are moments of unclarity that create more confusion than add value to the story; for example, the scenes of a padded room, a tortured little girl’s doll, and someone whispering, “I’ll love you forever,” don’t seem to connect up or match with the rest of the story, making the scenes seem out of place and unnecessary. The twist ending also becomes mysterious and diluted when were giving more information about the man in the blue van, but his intentions still aren’t made crystal clear, leaving way too much to the imagination and not in a good artistic way. Imwiththemproductions is behind the production of “The Quiet,” that’s supposedly based on a true story about a young girl being kidnapped when walking home with friends, and has a runtime of 21 minutes.
“Merry Little Christmas”
Christina and her mother Lola have lived many years with the scars bestowed upon them by Christina’s father, Lola’s husband. On the Eve of Christmas many years back, Christina’s strikes Lola unprovoked, continuously beating her, slashing her face with a straight edge razor, stabbing her, and raping her. Christina’s inner struggle constantly fights to restrain her internal, monstrous-illustrated hatred and self-destructiveness while Lola’s alcoholism and self-inflicted cutting addiction amplifies every Christmas Eve and this year, the mother and daughter grapple on keeping it together for one more year, but that battle will be lost in a fierce tragedy when they receive a phone call from the man who hurt scarred them for life.
“Merry Little Christmas” is the 20 minute Ignacio Martin Lerma and Manuel Marin visually graphic directed film from Spain. Surprising and suspenseful, “Merry Little Christmas” isn’t your old fashion gay and jolly-filled holiday film where Saint Nick brings all little boy and girls toys. No. In fact, Christmas is defined as a terrible point in time for Christina and Lola, a time when pain and fear are symbolic for tis the season. Lerma and Marin deconstruct the mother and daughter down to reveal their complexity and they’re characters are filled with various demons that become flesh in Christina’s mind when their abuser makes an unexpected phone call. A bravo should be awarded to Blanca Rivera for her bathtub scene, exploring her cutting addiction as well as attempting to learn to lover her body fully in the nude. The demon special effects are downright nasty, frightening and fantastic from “[REC] 2” and “[REC] 3” special effects guru Juan Olmo and the Doug Jones of Spain actor Javier Botet portraying the Demonio, or Demon. “Merry Little Christmas” is callous and cold without any remorse and no apology is needed for the cynicism or the brutally that it portrays.
“The Deviant One”
A young man becomes the victim of a suburban sexual sadist who lives a facade life of scripture and holiness. The atrocities committed might be the misinterpretations of the good Lord’s holy book and no one is safe from the deviant’s hungry claws and thirst for sexual and murderous gratification.
Perhaps my least favorite short from “The Horror Network” anthology, “The Deviant One” is helmed by the anthology’s co-creator Brian Dorton who also starred as the deviant neighborhood sadist. In the 8 minute black and white story of a young man’s death, body desecration, and body disposal, a lack of story glorifies the private life, but just doesn’t tell the tale fully of the deviant’s public church-going life. While the deviant walks up to a church, I wanted scenes of him standing at the pulpit, in front of shoulder-to-shoulder filled pews, opening the bible, and reading from the book, preaching his version of the scripture upon those ears listening. An opportunity was missed to strike at the heart of church hidden hypocrisy. On a positive note, Dorton, as the deviant, plays and looks the part so uncomfortably well that it’ll be hard to distinguish his off-camera self from his on-screen character.
“The Horror Network” material is nitty gritty with loads of passion behind the camera and from the crew of all the shorts. One of my favorite anthology releases of 2015 from Wild Eye Releasing. The DVD contains shorts that were shot in various formats and aspects ratios so I won’t be too harsh on the quality of the picture, but I will say that the noticeable posterization in “The Deviant One” and “Edward” stood out from the rest. The audio tracks do need fine tuning as there was some faint, but obvious feedback and the dialogue tracks were slightly overpowered by the soundtracks. The extras include an extended cut of Dorton’s “The Deviant One” which contains dialogue and additional scenes of Dorton, but the short works better without the clunky, kindergarden dialogue and Dorton’s testicles as he makes love to a severed head – yup, testicles. An image gallery and trailers for the shorts round out the rest of the bonus material. The DVD art, from “Merry Little Christmas’s” demons, amazingly exhibits and sells this release and stays true to form from the disturbing short. I expect volume two to exceed the fear bar!