Unleashed, Nature Inspires the EVIL in All of Us! “In The Earth” reviewed (Neon / Digital Screener)

A deadly virus has ravaged the world, placing the inhabitants on a high alert edge of incessant sanitation and relentless paranoia. Martin, a scientist from the city, ventures to an ecological nature preserve to convey equipment for tests being conducted deep in the forest. Park Ranger, Alma, guides him on a two day trek toward a camp in total isolation supervised by Dr. Olivia Wendle, but during the second day of the journey, Martin and Alma are attacked in the middle of the night, left with no gear and a vague sense of what happened. The virus has yet to stake a claim on those living within the woods, but another malicious-driven presence, entombed by superstition and mental manipulation, enacts the forest to come alive around them, forcing them into a direction that presents a summoning of nature’s folkloric revenant.

COVID-19 has brought a tremendous amount of sorrow and an unforgiving plight upon the world, but for a few filmmakers, a global pandemic has been a source of inspiration that been a silver lining amongst the Earth’s population upheaval. Director Ben Wheatley tapped into that filament, you could say ,with his man versus nature mystery horror “In The Earth.” The filmmaker of “U is for Unearthed” short from the “ABCs of Death” and soon-to-be helming the follow up big screen sequel to novelist’s Steve Alten’s widely popular monster shark book series with “Meg 2: The Trench,” Wheatley writes and directs a quarantine start-to-finish feature that also incorporates the pandemic into the story, much to the same likes as Rob Savage’s “Host” that uses the virus as a means to drive the characters into doing something they normally wouldn’t be doing. The UK production is from Wheatley’s founded Rook Films and Neon, who last co-produced Brandon Cronenberg’s violent sci-fi thriller, “Possessor.”

With the pandemic resulting quarantine and a story set in the thicket of woods, “In The Earth” is innately slim around the casting waistline that concentrates the performance zest amongst a few, beginning with the introduction of Martin the scientist walking up to the sentry lodge located at the forest edge. Played by Joel Fry (“Game of Thrones”), the London born actor must endure as a hapless city boy taking woodland shots on the chin without much complaint, but definitely a grimace, a whimper, and a pass out. Guiding Martin through the woods is Alma, a seasoned park ranger under the eye of “Midsommar’s” Ellora Torchia who balances out her travel companion’s near ill-equipped, yet hazardously attempting, roughing the outdoors. Martin and Alma are nearly mirrored by the only other two people they come across in the forest – Zach and Dr. Wendle. Yet, Zach and Dr. Wendle’s similarities channel through how they instrument a link to the forest being, known as Parnag Fegg, that calls them to release it from the timber and foliage prison. Zach (Reece Shearsmith of “Shaun of the Dead”) honors Parnag Fegg with ritualistic images and symbols while Dr. Wendle (Hayley Squires) uses a combination of technological lights and experimental music to speak with the powerfully alluring presence. Shearsmith is devilishly certifiable with Squires backing up his character craziness with her own version that never places Martin and Alma into a safe haven’s circle. “In The Earth” rounds out the cast with Mark Monero and John Hollingworth.

“In The Earth’s” binary coding of nature versus urban, plus sublets of traditions versus technology, runs as a seamless motif to a bigger theme that nature has a global network web of personified communication and reason. I imagine Wheatley succeeded in what M. Night Shyamalan tried to accomplish in the Mark Walhberg’s headlining “The Happening” with bringing nature to the forefront stand against man who continuously seeks to destroy themselves and the world, forcing nature’s hand to take drastic measures, but Wheatley’s film more so tells not the story of a worldwide assault on mankind but rather as the resurrection of a single entity, an archaic necromancer of local legend, eager to walk the Earth once again after being driven to disembody their spirit to the forest. “In The Earth” also provokes a literal meaning toward an age old saying of “nature calling” by using the aforesaid network to unconsciously lure specific individuals into the woods and gather near a gateway relic or stone,. This act of intention calls for a sacrifice of purity and so one of the four individuals – Alma, Martin, Zach, and Olivia – will involuntary be the vessel of Parnag Fegg’s return while the others, under the persuasion of forest spirit, due it’s song-and-dance bidding. Ben Wheatley taps into a very John Carpenter archetype of people on the cusp of unleashing certain doom upon the world, invoking not only a spirit but also that very sense of last stand against damnation as epitomized in “The Thing” and “The Prince of Darkness.” “In The Earth,” however, isn’t so easy to see the forest through the trees with an first act setup that zips through the situation that leads Martin and Alma trekking through the woods and Parnag Fegg is only briefly dappled to be a dangled carrot for bigger things to come.

A chiseled, fey story with a dark, ominous cloud of impending doom lingering overhead, “In The Earth” is transcendence horror at it’s finest. Neon is set to release the R-rated, 107 minute film, “In The Earth,” in theaters on April 30th. The scaled down budget didn’t hinder Wheatley’s grand platform and with Nick Gillespie’s sophomore credit as feature film cinematographer, the playbook was unwritten for Gillespie to rework how to shoot a film under the confines of a pandemic with limited cast, a living forest, and still maintain safe social distant practices under strict mandated guidelines. Gillespie formulated wide-angles to capture an expanse of trees diminutively enshrouding the characters, almost like the forest was going to gulp them at any moment. A composition of artful imagery compiled together in a collage of intoxicating colors and feverish styles interprets nothing concrete in the heroines journey of an nearly unknowable presence only knowledgeable by world of mouth, leaving also the audience induced with a psychedelic vision at the whims of Wheatley’s direction. There were no bonus scenes during or after the credits and the perfunctory ending opens the door for interpretation that can be more impacting than a firm resolution. Born and bred from the depths of the coronavirus pandemic, “In The Earth” dispatches a diversion from the immediate, the real world, and the tumult of a virus with a bewilderingly diversion of troubling folk horror sown directly into Mother Nature herself.

In Search for Evil, Evil is Always Close! “Lycan” review!


Set in Talbot County Georgia of 1986, six university students are assigned a write a 25-page report on a moment in history. The subject for the report was ultimately based off of local lore, a haunting story from a century old newspaper clipping that told legend of Emily Burt who was the prime suspect of being the notorious wild animal that tore through the local sheep herds. Ill-prepared and flippant for the report’s hot Georgia weathered journey into the woods, the students ride horseback through a labyrinth of trails on the Burt property and come under attack by a lurking bloodthirsty presence hellbent on separating them and tearing them to pieces. Desperation sets in when tensions flare, sides are taken, and perceptions are misled in a time of grave crisis, leaving the schooled students being taught a lesson in isolation and confusion in a classroom of ill-fated situations.

“Lycan” is the 2017 released survival horror thriller from co-writer and director Bev Land, making his inaugural feature film debut. Michael Mordler co-wrote the script that’s been described as “Hitchockian” and resembles a backdoor twist much to the similitude of M. Night Shayamalan films. Like Shaymalan’s earlier work, “Lycan’s” horror is extremely effective without having to bare witness an antagonistic beast and by leaving the girth of the killer’s destructive path to the imagination, our minds begin to formulate diegesis theories and build hypotheticals to the killer’s characteristics. The use of wolf-o-vision is a past time tool that flashes all it’s teeth to bring life to an unseen threat, but Land and Mordler pen a breadcrumb trail of hints that compound to a head in the midst of the chaos, unveiling the true threat in a full frontal way that’s a silver screen rarity, but nearly takes the fun out of the mystery.

Starring in “Lycan” is Bev Land’s wife, Dania Ramirez (“Quarantine”), in the lead role of the mysterious Isabella Cruz. Ramirez’s has to accomplish multiple feats with Isabella Cruz whose a bit of an awkward loner who then has to reintegrate herself into the social realm of a group of variously distinguished characters. Parker Croft portrays as pot smoking, wise-cracking, pervert named Kenny McKenzie who documents the trip with an 8mm camera, Rebekah Graf is the stuck up and prissy Blair Gordon who only accompanies the group on this trip because of Jake Lockett’s baseball jock Blake Simpson. Craig Tate, unfortunately, falls into the stereotypical ‘token black guy’ Irving Robinson while Blair’s sorority pledge, Kalia Prescott’s Chrissy Miller, opts to the gal to get laid. Aside from Ramirez, the rest of the cast of characters fall into formulaic limbo, stuck in their own devices, and never really elevate into more than just surface level characters. Two of the more eyebrow raising actors that never saw the character development light of day were that of Gail O’Grady (“Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2”) and Vanessa Angel (television’s “Weird Science”). O’Grady’s Ms. Fields warranted more background into how the ranch owner came to have Isabella Cruz enter her life and much more unopened mysteries about their dynamic.

While “Lycan” offers an up-to-snuff survival horror, the story’s bookends fall short of fully completing the story. The opening puts big man Presley Melson’s lonely farm boy stuffing lady of the night Anna, played by Alina Puscau (“Dracuala: The Dark Prince”), full of his pork roll. As the wolf-o-vision circles the lovemaking barn setting, Melson and Puscau trot out with only their skivvies to check out the outside racket and become, uh, victims of the antagonist? Not really sure because the scene starts from afar and the wolf-o-vision glides right up to Melson’s face without much of a peep from either Puscau or Melson. The ending is just as enigmatic with a brief present day scene (the story is set in Georgia 1986) of an unknown little girl picking up a razor sharp object from the leaf strewn ground and then there’s a cut to black to roll credits. Before this useless segment, the pinnacle moment of the third act springs too many leaks to plug. Combined with the stagnant and underdeveloped characters, “Lycan” is an unkempt story left wide open becoming a victim by it’s own scripted structure.

MVD Visual presents onto a region one, unrated DVD, the 1 Bullet in the Gun production, “Lycan.” Presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1, MVD’s DVD image is beyond spectacular with immense details in every scene, even in the production illuminated night scenes. Digital noise is completely absent and the coloring is naturally vibrant. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound has an effective ambient track with clarity and range in the wolf howls and the cracks and snaps of outdoor living. The original soundtrack by Devine Adams and score by Jason Pelsey revel in distortion free perceptible measures. An audio downside would be the dialogue track that suffers from unfortunate mic placement, leaving major story affected parts of the dialogue left muddled and indiscernible. Bonus material includes interviews with director and co-writer Bev Land, along with co-writer Michael Mordler, the cast including with Dania Ramirez, Rebekah Graf and Vanessa Angel, and Crystal Hunt (Executive Producer) and Steven C. Pitts (2nd Unit Director). A panel discussion with the Lycan producers and the original theatrical trailer round out of the extras. Land and Mordler’s “Lycan” disperses moments of original horror with snap-witty dialogue, but as a whole, the story trends toward a paint-by-the-numbers route without breaking the mold as a low tier “Hitchockian” thriller.

Buy “Lycan” on DVD at Amazon!

Evil Goes Silent! “The Unspoken” review!

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In September of 1997, the Anderson family vanished from their remote home on Briar road, leaving behind scores of scattered blood, a lynched dead body, and a house keeper in mental shambles. Seventeen years later, Jeanie and her son Adrian move into the Briar home with the legendary and infamous reputation for being ghastly haunted. Living on hard times with her father being laid off from the region business, Angela reluctantly accepts a good paying caretaker position for Adrian at the notorious Briar home. When a local drug runner gets wind that his stash’s repository is no longer vacant, a dangerous game of retrieval pits the desperate small time dabblers against a supernatural force living inside the home that puts Angela, consequently, in the middle of a terrifying standoff.
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Sheldon Wilson. A name that’s under the horror radar for most horror fans, but for this particular reviewer, this particular fan, Sheldon Wilson has had a major influential role in bringing a wealth of horror to my life. The director’s 2004 film “Shallow Ground” was the first domino piece to fall that a started landslide of independent horror cinema to come flooding into my presence and opening up my world, my eyes, to the many facets of the genre. I fell hard for “Shallow Ground” that led to the foundation of a grand and glorious horror collection that would be acknowledged Rob Zombie, who’ve I’ve heard, has an extensive film collection. Wilson’s latest venture “The Unspoken” has reminded me that horror can live in the restraints of the past and can be bold with an unforeseen twist.
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Now, “The Unspoken” epitomizes the very definition of generic titles, but the premise goes far beyond being geriatric with similarities, but not on the same elaborate scale, to the 2012’s “The Cabin in the Woods” by exploiting the genre’s familiar tropes but shifting, at the very last moment, to an ending that’s well received and a breath of fresh air. From the Wilson films that I’ve experienced, his story structure is orchestrated in a detailed manner making the subtleties pop with saturated intensity. With “The Unspoken,” Wilson’s indirect jump-scare style is very much engrained and effect goes without diluting the entire film as some, examples such as some of the recent Halloween films, have done in the past to the point of tiresome and ungratifying.
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A satisfying cast genetically makes up the captivating story with young and upcoming scream queen Jodelle Ferland in as the lead role of Adrian’s desperate caretaker Angela. Ferland has quite the stint in horror starring in such memorable films as the recently referenced “The Cabin in the Woods,” “The Messengers,” and as the young child in 2006’s strong video game adaptation of “Silent Hill.” Ferland possesses that scared and innocent persona and she leaves nothing on the table when forcing to battle against a supernatural danger that can animate a decaying, jaw-severing dog corpse. Pascale Hutton, Anthony Konechny, Chanelle Peloso, Lochlyn Munro (Freddy Vs. Jason) and a passing-through role for “The Hitcher” remake’s Neal McDonough as a local sheriff rounds out the rest of the “The Unspoken” cast. Sunny Suljic, who portrays the unspoken Adrian, solidly performs as the creepy and mute, Damian resembling child even with his bad young Elijah Wood haircut. Together, the ensemble plays their respective roles with as much as earnest as the next film with more of the focus on Angela and Adrian throughout with supporting characters driving much of the storyline, funneling toward a surprising catalytic event.
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For the majority of the film, “The Unspoken” meets the harsh criteria fans need and desire from their horror films with some solid practical effects, no CGI effects, a story-driven plot, and a haunted house full of good scares with tidbits of blood and gore in between them all. There’s even a little nod of respect for the “Amityville” series. Only insignificant character underdevelopments raise a few unanswered questions about situations perhaps more pertinent to the motivation of the story such as the forbidden relationship between Angela and best friend Pandy which floundered a bit out of place within the confines of the plot and went stagnant when more about the Briar home became revealed or when Pandy’s more-or-less boyfriend Lutheran and his drug scheme goes through the sharp blades of a blender.
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The Lighthouse Pictures produced and Arrow Films UK distributed paranormal disturbance feature “The Unspoken” hit retail shelves and online markets September 5th. I’m unable to review video and audio quality with a region 2 DVD-R and there were no bonus material available from the static menu. However, Wilson’s film fairs with a sharp and clean appearance without the bedazzling of a Hollywood budget; the director’s use of the slow panning method and focusing on unsettling camera angles to transform an ordinary mountain home into a menacing dark presence doesn’t require much touchup in order to terrify audiences. If you’re a fan of quiver inducing, nail biting horror with a good M. Night Shyamalan twist at the end, “The Unspoken” will leave you completely terrified and utterly speechless.

Anybody and Everybody Can Be Evil! “The Summer House” review!

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Markus lives the perfect life: a lucrative job in construction management, an adoring and faithful wife, and a beautiful and smart daughter about to tend a prominent English school. Yet, Marcus finds solace in a double life by living his true self as a bi-sexual man with a secret, younger male lover from one of his construction projects, leaving his wife frustrated and destructive in their foundering marriage. When Markus’s construction colleague Christopher finds himself being squeezed by the taxing agency, Marcus offers to help out a little. Christopher asks his 12-year-old son Johannes to be nice to and to spend time with Markus’s 11-year-old daughter Elisabeth in a show of good faith towards Markus’s good will. With Johannes around most of the time, Markus tries to keep grounded his uncontrollable desires for Johannes, but invites Johannes to Markus’s family’s summer house. Through the summer, Markus and Johannes form a relationship, but not everything is as it’s seems when hidden agendas and surprising outcomes could potentially destroy everyone involved.
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An intense psychosexual, “The Summer House” zips straight out of Berlin from writer-director Curtis Burz who touches upon more taboo subject material than one might be able to withstand without feeling guilty, dirty, or rotten. Burz’s pen weaves through one man’s constant struggle between maintaining a barely afloat marriage to a wife he loves because of their daughter and his secretive bi-sexual life in an affair involving a much younger man. Burz also remarks on Markus’s wife Christine and her battle with near tragic depression; she’s complicit in Markus’s affair by allowing him, with only little resistance, to continue, yet Christine wants Markus to rediscover his love for her on his own. The pen continues to weave through the stories of the children, Johannes and Elisabeth. The very nature of a child feels exploited here in more ways than one, but the film’s end game takes an usual twist, one I can’t spill here without spoiling the finale fun. Burz continues to drop dark material presented and staged in a glowing-like and vividly colorful mise-en-scene throughout that would suggest happiness or perfection for all involved; however, the nagging, gloomy undertone remains behind the scenes and unseen and that’s the kind of sadistically gratifying contribution added by director Curtis Burz.
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“The Summer House” is a socially controversial film without being overly in your face with it. Nothing is explicit with the subtleties being just enough to make your stomach feel uneasy and to make your jaw clench with anticipation. The scenes with Markus (the then 40-year-old Sten Jacobs) and Johannes (a certainly under 18-year-old Jasper Fuld) kept building the tension between them and Jacobs portrayed a creepy, over-anxious and over-persistent pedophile uncomfortably well whereas Fuld plays his part just as convincingly as a seemingly tolerable young boy who may or may not be curious about Markus’s intentions toward him. The vexation Christine discharges is all due in part, greatly toward, of the leading lady Anna Altmann’s performance. Altmann captures a wife in marriage limbo, looking to rekindle a broken family stuck in stalemate due to her husband’s mid-life sexual crisis while maintaining her daughter’s precociousness. Nina Splettstößer feeds off Atlmann’s motherly performance by portraying Elisabeth as quiet and intelligent, yet passive and conniving who sees her mother as someone who hates her because of how stringent her mother is toward her.
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The story’s complex web becomes stickier and the spider draws even closer when Markus’s secret sleepovers become exposed, creating a twist ending not even M. Night Shyamalan could conjure up. However, the story behind Markus’s colleague Christopher and his wife Anne feels ignored and neglected. Aside from Christopher incidentally being the catalyst between Markus and Johannes, Christopher and Anne’s scenes seem unnecessary. One scene has the both adult couples seemingly in the early wine and dine stages of a swinger party, but once most of the kissing between Anne, Christopher and Christine is out of the way, the scene falls short with a quick cut to just Markus finishing off with his wife Christine with all their clothes still on. Christopher and Anne come and go in barely a handful of other scenes that don’t tie into much of the story and would have either been better if either explored further into their adventurous lifestyle to get a better understanding of Johannes or leave them out all together.
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Overall, “The Summer House” is deserving of it’s numerous film festival awards and a solid release for not only Artsploitation Films, but also as a film that has been Berlin born even if the film released nearly 3 years ago. Certainly very relevant to today’s modern multi-societal problems including the dissolving of families, behavioral issues with not only pedophilia, but with depression, and to round out the pleasantries with scrofulous affairs. The Artsploitation Films, in a metaphorical broken and cracked pane glass over a solemn Markus family DVD cover, has a widescreen 1.85:1 ratio release with a German and English 2.0 audio track is accompanied with bonus features that include deleted scenes, cast and crew interviews, and a trailer; all content clocks in at around 195 minutes total – not bad all around for an independent feature.