Censorship is the Very Definition of EVIL! “Censor” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)



British film censor, Enid, views video nasty after video nasty day in and day out, certifying ratings based on the realism of the violence, and receiving public hellfire when a gruesome murder is vilifies her approval of a film.  After viewing one in particular that strikes a familiar nerve, one involving around the circumstances of her little sister’s disappearance from years ago, she digs deeper into the filmmaker’s background, piecing together a puzzle that her sister may still be alive.  With her parents given up hope declaring their youngest deceased and under mounds of criticism pressure from inside and outside of work, Enid’s lone rove through distasteful filmic horror and probing the crew involved sends the censor into a frantic frenzy between what’s real and what’s not. 

For the record, just so we’re clear between you and I, film censoring is a complete crock that limits artist expression and can negatively alter the tone of work far from the original message or effect.  I can see where censorship is necessary for the greater good when considering public television that aims to evade young eyes from extreme violence, gore, nudity, and harsh language while still appeasing adults with a semi-intelligible cut of the film, but to have the MPAA, or any censor board for that matter, do what they do in order to classify and certify a rating to meet a criteria is a slap in the face of personal responsibility.  Yes, some individuals need a rigorous structure to tell them what to do, but you know comical and asinine when there are three different cuts of a film in the U.S. market, not to forget to mention all the various versions around the globe to sate countries distinct regulations and requirements.  Luckily, Prano Bailey-Bond’s immersive reality checking horror, “Censor,” makes no assumptions on the matter and we can just enjoy the dark side of story based off the UK filmmaker’s 2015 short entitled “Nasty.”  The story, set in the 1980’s at the height of violent and gory VHS movies known as video nasties, is co-written by fellow “Nasty” writer Anthony Fletcher and is produced by the London based, female operated and story-driven Silver Salt Films as the company’s first feature credit and is financially supported by the Film4, Ffilm Cymru Wales, and BFI.

If not for Irish actress Niamh Algar in an virtuous cyclone encompassing lead of Enid, a stern censor agent, the dismal atmospherics whirling around Enid’s processing of possible new evidence in her sister’s vanishing wouldn’t be as timorously potent.  The “From the Dark” and “Raised by Wolves” actress embodies a strong stoic stance of not only a censor with a target on her back every time the public blames her for ill-fated news involving the extreme films she approves, but also as a woman in the workplace who is subjected to subtle objectifying by male coworkers, in which some are more privately outspoken than others, and male film producers with a diminutive eyesight of her professional demeanor by making unwanted advances in lieu offering their support to make their films depicting rape and murder of usually female victims more approachable and marketable to the censor board.  Algar perfectly poises Enid in her ticks, the abrasive fidgeting of her nails against each other or the slight rolling back of her shoulders that makes an awful, unnatural cracking sound, sharpen Enid’s complexion.  Even Enid’s hard gulping is felt in unison of the tension of a woman on a verge of sudden collapse.  Clearly the film’s one and only frontrunner as we dine off Enid’s sole perspective, Algar runs off with “Censor’s” gloomy tone by her performance of unwavering convictions blended with throbbing agitation in her character’s repressed explosion trajectory.  Supporting players do their part living in Enid’s unique vision with Sophia La Porta, Adrian Schiller, Clare Homan (“Afraid of the Dark”), Andrew Havill, Guillaume Delaunay (“Victor Frankenstein”), Richard Glover, Clare Perkins, Danny Lee Wyner, Vince Franklin, Nicholas Burns, and Michael Smiley (“The Nun”) as a topnotch sleazy extreme film producer rounding out the cast.

Performances all around are stellar and the idea is sound as I can see a video nasty censor of the 1980’s fall victim to the job because of an unclear and checkered past, but problems with pacing jet Enid from composed posture to immediate wreck in a blink of an eye without much of a fundamental development for unravelling being greatly depicted other than the jarring movie that sends her spiraling for answers.  This doesn’t hurt “Censor’s” main theme of the inconclusions of what really drives the murderous animalistic qualities in all of us regarding nature versus nurture.  The longstanding idea that video nasties promote influential violence and sordid behaviors has been the talk of controversy for decades and science, at least none of that I’ve read, hasn’t 100% proven that extreme films dictates the mind’s will other than those impressionable in the sponge-like children.  Bailey-Bond decides not take a stance in declaring a clear cut opinion, merging both assumptions together in a mesh of madness still leaving the theorists spinning their notions and evangelical nuts spewing their anti-liberal arts sermons.  What really sells “Censor” for me personally is the tell all climatic finale of Enid’s disturbing outcome in a warped contraview, flipping back and forth through the static of the back button during the times of higher numeral, unsubscribed pay-per-view channels where glimpses of picture pop into the frame for a split second.

“Censor” is nowhere near what’s consider a video nasty, but the Prano Bailey-Bond psychological thriller still has the grip of an inexorable depth for what’s to come, for violence, far from hitting the cutting room floor as the film heads to theaters June 11th and on demand one week later June 18th from Magnet Releasing. Shot in two aspect ratios, more so in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio than in the pillarbox 1:33:1 to reflect the video nasty format in the time period, Bailey-Bond and director of photography, Annika Summerson, continue to stay as true as possible to the Golden Age of 80’s horror by shooting in 35mm in a handful of various style to blend Enid’s reality with the fiction of lurid dreams and the daily grind of workplace hazards (which, to me, watching horror movies all day long sounds like a dream job! The censoring part, no so much). Runtime clocks in at 84 minutes with no wiggle room for bonus scenes during or after the credits. The Brits have always had a hell of a go with film censorship, weaponizing and vilifying for political gain, as films become the lamb for the slaughter for public outcry against social-economical woes, even arts bedeviled by the harsh censors of it’s own country, and “Censor” aims to be the carrier wave of that historical downspout of misguided judgement while also shredded the thin moral fabric of one woman’s reality into tiny bits of off the rocker guilt.

When EVIL Runs The Show, That’s When the Reality Sets In. “Funhouse” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)

Eight C-grade social media celebrities sign a contract for a new reality show, Furcas’s House of Fun.  The reality show streams worldwide on all electronic devices in an exhibition of different and standoffish personalities locked together in apartment-size living quarters.  Contestants will have to face challenges and weekly viewer voting to be the last one standing for a chance to win a 5 million dollars cash prize  Instead of sexy making out sessions, drunken brawls, and contestant melodrama to boost viewer ratings, Furcas’s House of Fun is in actuality a syndicated snuff reality show where a contestant is voted out is a contestant receiving a brutal death in front of the entire world.  Survivors watch behind paned glass as one-by-one their castmates are dispatched in the most gruesome way possible, directed by a screen animated panda bear helmed by a sadist eager for the show to go on.

Ready to have a little fun?  The “Funhouse” is open for what is a variety show of horrors in this 2019 shot, 2021 released reality show of encroaching aggravation and gore from writer-director Jason William Lee.  “The Evil In Us” filmmaker plays his hand at personifying internalized resentful rage for hack, do-nothing, inconsequential to society celebrities by feeding them gladly and enthusiastically to the bloodthirsty wolves.  “Funhouse” isn’t your typical social media or tech horror film as Lee dishes out a thought-provoking disgust covered in a powdery sugar and popcorn veneer that’s surely to please the broad range of horror fans.  The co-ventured Canadian-Swedish story of shallow fame nihilism is shot in the Providence of British Columbia and in Stockholm, home base of Ti Bonny Productions under executive producer Henrik Santesson, in collaboration with Lee and producer Michael Gyorl’s Sandcastle Pictures.

With the surname Skarsgård, acting is in certainly in the blood.  Valter Skarsgård, the youngest son of “Nymphomaniac” and “Deep Blue Sea’s” Stellan Skarsgård’s first marriage and the brother of terrifyingly frighteningly Pennywise actor, Bill Skarsgård (“It”), branches out following his ancestral destiny by headlining as the lovable and misjudged Swede, Kasper Nordin, who leeched fame by being the ex-husband to a renowned singer.  Nearly the spittin’ image of his older brother Bill, Valter brings his name and family looks to the table while showcasing his own talent amongst a motley crew of nationalities.  That’s one of “Funhouse’s” main messages about social media stardom as a plague that has spread to every corner of the world symbolically infecting each contestant from a different country:  Dayleigh Nelson (“Island of the Dolls”) of Britain, Khamisa Wilsher of America, Gigi Saul Guerrero (“Puppet Killer”) of Mexico, Amanda Howells of the Philippines, Mathias Retamal (“The Source of Shadows”) of Chile/Canada,  Karolina Benefield of Poland, and Christopher Gerard of Ireland.  The roles of wannabe celebrities is an ostentatious representation of click bait influencers who will sell essentially their soul and show their skin to be noticed and this turns the clear antagonist villain, a merciless gamester and contract abider with business dealings more vile than from the Devil himself, to be a subtle antihero of sorts as the cast rounds out with Jerome Velinsky’s wickedly sophisticated performance as Nero Alexander that is urbane nihilism at its best. 

Outrageous, fun, and gory – “Funhouse” has all the hallmarks of a 90’s horror on cruise control.  With a bedazzling rudimentary shell of a panda bear avatar animation and blend of practical and digital blood over the simplicity of a small location and indie production, Lee is able to fly through the narrative at whiplash speed and still drop animosity-awarding and empathetic traits to believe in the cast of characters.  In the middle of the chaos of axe splitting heads and being dunked into a barrel of highly corrosive acid, a topical theme of the detrimental social media and influencer stardom to society really positions “Funhouse” on the frontline for inflammatory and anti-social media messages, harping on the noncontributing and unbeneficial role of these money-generating, like-focusing, click baiters in culture and society other than selling to their audiences sex, gossip, and violence.  Speaking of violence, I was pleasantly surprised by the right amount of gore that didn’t shoot for extravagant levels despite some smoothing around the digitally added sinew and guts, keeping a modest amount of realism to the dystopian gameshow construct.  Initially, there are dubious first act moments that quickly shuttle hapless soon-to-be-casualties into the same location, much like in “Saw II” when characters all wake up in the room together and we have no idea who they are, where they come from, and what their backstory is, but as the film progresses we learn more about them and the roles they play in the maniacal puppeteer’s design.  The twist, almost meta-like, ending leaves “Funhouse” on a low note that doesn’t fulfill any void for its existence, but a good chunk of the story is really meaty with a revolving door of plights and a small, yet efficient, compassion outpouring spicket.

Not your traditional participatory surprise-laden and mirror maze attraction, “Funhouse” will still bring old-style thrills with some new blood spills in it’s grand opening release in theaters and on demand on May 28th courtesy of Magnet Releasing. Shawn Seifert (“Dead of Night”) lays out a smorgasbord of cinematography techniques that includes rich, un-matted color filters, isolating characters in darker, dim rooms in making them seem centerstage for their own grand demise, and cultivates stationary, handheld, tracking, and some drone shots for an extremely vibrant and glossy approach and feel for reality television version 2.0. Lee edits the digital reel himself and, honestly, the pacing wanders quickly to the overly rushed section like a quick-spit-it-out story wanting to be finished before it even begins and is compounded with another intrusive quality in the hyperactive back-and-forth of shots that aims to resemble the irksome flight in and out of reality shows that speed up and slow down like a nervous teenager behind the wheel of their parents and continuously presses down on the brake pedal. Stay tuned after credits for a gag bit scene that ties into the main story but promises nothing more. No more being voted off the island or nixed by expert judges, “Funhouse” cleans house with deadly eliminations and a message of the unyielding power granted to many so easily through a rapidly reshaping medium that has become too influential on a braindead scale.

The EVILS of Trauma Band Together to Take Down the Bad Guys. “Riders of Justice” reviewed (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)



Estranged form his family due to war torn military deployment, Markus must now come home to take care of his teenage daughter after his wife dies in a violent train accident.  A statistic mathematician, Otto, aboard the same train believes the train accident was no accident at all but a hit on a high profile informant testifying in the coming days against the head of a ruthless gang known as the Riders of Justice.  Joined by his eccentric friends, a therapy-inundated hacker named Lennart and an OCD computer whiz named Emmenthaler, they present Markus a convincing theory that his wife was a casualty of a gang’s complex assassination.  Unable to resist, Markus and his newfound friends set a course to unearth and destroy those who they think are responsible for his wife’s demise. 

With my unhealthy man-crush on “Valhalla Rising” and “Hannibal” star Mads Mikkelsen aside, “Riders of Justice” initial plot teased very little interest in what seemed to be another wife or child dies kill-them-all revenge action-thriller.  “Riders of Justice” also marks the 5th time Mikkelsen and director-screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen collaborate on a project over the course of the Jensen’s entire 20 year directing filmography.  Jensen, who co-write the film adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower,” ping ponged the story idea of the Denmark production with fellow “The Dark Tower” writer and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” adapted writer, Nikolaj Arcel, in a story that brings tormented trauma victims together, latching on to idea they find themselves useful for, and inadvertently find the counsel they need through a dangerous operation in hunting down coldblooded killers.  Sisse Graum Jorgensen serves as producer under the Zentropa Productions entertainment banner and Sidsel Hybchmann debuts in her first producer role after a seasoned run as an associate producer alongside Graum Jorgensen on previous projects and between Graum Jorgensen and Hybchmann, “Riders of Justice” has a strong female producer contingent supporting a nearly all-male cast in bed with their lovable misfit characters that aims to be more about acceptance than revenge. 

Did I mention I have an unquenchable need to see every movie Mad Mikkelsen has starred in?  With “Riders of Justice,” Mikkelsen sports a long, skunk-colored beard with a shaved head in a not-so-typical look for one of, if not the, biggest movie stars to come out of Denmark.  Mikkelsen takes on this look for Markus, a military deployed father who rather be running covert drills and operations with his brothers in arms rather than being a father and husband in what becomes evident an underlining issue with his character.  As Markus tries to comfort his daughter Mathilde (“Andrea Heick Gadesberg) the only way he knows how as a regimentally stoic head of the house, but for being away so long, he knows very little of his now teenage daughter.  Mikkelsen’s natural gift for austere should be award-winning as becomes a lethal enforcer, a role he does extremely well, for a group of traumatically damaged outcasts looking for a righteous cause, beginning with Denmark’s Seth Rogan doppelganger, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, as a fellow train passenger Otto, a brainy mathematician who momentarily befriends Markus’ wife by offering up his seat that ultimately leads to her death.  Otto’s guilt, surging through him a pair of different ways, leads the brilliant mathematician to reach out to Markus with the help of his equally smart, yet equally maladjusted friends Lennart (Lars Brygmann “Flies on the Wall”) and Emmenthaler (Nicholas Bro “Nymphomaniac Vol. 1”). What ensues next are inadvertent events that spin Markus into a plot to assassinate an entire gang based off the statistics of one mathematician’s conspiracy theory evidence and along for the ride are the mathematician and his misfit buddies who might just be too smart for their own good. Every single performance is dead on spectacular with every character lush with tragic communal backstories and are clubbable in their own unconventional rite within the circle of Markus’s fearless vengeance at the center as they are drawn together by their own neurosis behaviors. Gustav Lindh, Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt, and Roland Møller round out the “Riders of Justice” cast.

The one sheet doesn’t do Jensen’s film any justice with a bearded Mikkelsen standing face front taking up much of the negative space, strapped with an automatic rifle around his back and a handgun in hand with the faded images of helmeted dirt bikers riding in the background. Let me tell you this: There were no dirt bikes in the movie. Not one. Mikkelsen looks great, as always, but the poster makes “Riders of Justice” reminiscent Mark Wahlberg’s “Shooter.” “Riders of Justice” stands outside that circle of militia or gorilla tactic action by being about 50% comedy and good comedy at that from Brygmann, Bro, and Kaas who elevate “Riders of Justice” from another run of the mill actioner about revenge, a subgenre plastic bag Liam Neeson can’t seem to escape from, to a heartfelt piece about belonging and mentally recuperating through helpful outreach with a standard whoop ass fare plotline.  Though some of the investigating work pinpointing the gang comes about far-fetched, I still believe “Riders of Justice” is one of the best films released this year, touching upon several multiplex themes of mental health, the urge to reach out for help to battle your issues, father and daughter relationships, and a sense of fitting in and having a purpose as an ostracized member of society. 

“Riders of Justice” has a lot of heart as well as a lot of brutal violence balled up in one remarkably empathetic film.  Magnet Releasing will be releasing the film everywhere May 21st with a limited run May 14th in New York and Los Angeles theaters.  Serendipity plays a huge role in Jensen’s vision of life against the odds and how people can ultimately rally together, sometime unexpectedly, to overcome obstacles often daunting for individuality with a sense of humor that can trump the dark behaviors of a depressive story core.  Kasper Tuxen’s cinematography in the hard lit scenes often confines the actors in a small car or around a table that not only screams cloak and dagger positioning but also exacts a sense of fellowship as they do everything together from planning, to surveillance, to assassinations, to even impromptu counseling sessions. The bookending story fable of happenstance leading from sadness to happiness christens “Riders of Justice” that debatable label, often argued with films like “Die Hard” or “Lethal Weapon,” of whether it’s a Christmas film or an action film. Fans will not have to stay for the credits expecting to see a bonus scene as there isn’t one; instead, enjoy the 115 minutes of fractured individuals coming together to be unlikely heroes in this hilarious shoot’em up ballbuster from Denmark.

One Man Tries to Reclaim his Life When EVIL Suddenly Invades! “The Unthinkable” reviewed (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)

Out in the country of Vånga, Sweden, Alex endures his ex-military Father’s demanding and verbally abusive posture.  His only relief is spending time with Anna who is in a similar circumstances with her mother.  The two spend many of their days together amusing themselves on the church piano until Anna is forced to move away to Stockholm, leaving Alex to face his father’s wrath alone.  Alex runs away for his childhood home and, years later, becomes a popular piano recording artist influenced by his time with Anna.  When he returns to Vånga during a time of countrywide unrest to purchase that same church piano of his fond memories, Sweden comes under attack by an unknown force as major roadways out of the country have been blown to smithereens, every power station is the target for destruction, and the rain is contaminated with an airborne chemical that makes people lose their memories and become disoriented.  Alex has to reconnect with his father in order to save Anna, the love of his youth, to survive the unthinkable. 

An invasion on the scale that you’ve never seen blitzes with explosive stunt work and stunning visual effects.  Victor Danell’s action-drama “The Unthinkable” comes out of nowhere with a hard stop pivot of a love story turned survive at any cost as the film’s country of origin becomes warzone raided without mercy.  Under the original title “Den blomstertid nu kommer” in the native tongue, Danell directs and writes “The Unthinkable” along with co-writer and star Christoffer Nordenrot, though credited as their collective production group, as the two team up again after nearly a decade after working on the comedy “Soundcheck,” directed by Danell.  What started as a crowdfunded Kickstarter campaigned ended up being a multi-million dollar production and with such growing fascination amongst eager fans, the 2018 found more financial backing from the former Swedish cinema chain company, SF Bio AB, now known as Filmstaden and is presented as the first feature film of a filmic collective known as Crazy Pictures in co-production with CO_Made and Film I Väst.

As mentioned, writer Christoffer Nordenrot finds himself at the center of the story as Alex, a passionate pianist fighting back against well-armed, well-supplied unknown militant forces all the while processing a dam breaking flood from the rebuilding of shattered emotions when returning to his quaint hometown after abruptly escaping his overbearing father (Jesper Barkselius).  Socially awkward with an obsessive proclivity, but wielding an intellectual thought pattern, Alex appears to be a person likely on the spectrum, but bottles much of his emotions internally, biting his lip at every moment his father disparages him or his absconding mother. When his only friend in the world, a girl named Anna (Lisa Henni, “Haunted Evil Dead”) whose roughly the same age, is being pulled away from Vånga to live in Stockholm with her mother, Alex undergoes a rapid descension of one heart ache to another that leads to him able to flourish and exceed on his own as a new wave pianist, engineering a combination of electronic beats of sound machines with the simplicity of soul from the piano to arouse his repressed emotions for an grandstand audience. Alex finds his way back Vånga for personal gain, a childhood piano him and Anna shared making music over, and to attend the sudden death of his mother from a previous, individual attack in Sweden, but what he stumbles into is avoiding his father at all costs, being swept into a returned Anna’s radial allure, and, oh yea, a massive proclamation of war by an aggressive, chemical warfare and shoot-on-sight enemy of the Swedish people. This is where I find Alex to have a chip-on-his-shoulder complex unhealthy for everyone around him as he doesn’t look past the past and punitively causes discord with his father, who is trying to save not only the last standing power station in all of Sweden himself, but essentially trying to save his entire country, and Anna when Alex finds out she has a husband and child after an afternoon of rollicking in the hay and sharing various moments around town. Performance wise, Nordenrot might not be the action star of tomorrow in his character’s one note of early on narcissism and bad judgement, but challenges himself in the role by losing and gaining weight to accomplish years of age appearances from teenage boy to mid-30’s man and is good enough to swashbuckle against relentless military helicopters and a slew of men capping of M60 machine guns in his direction. Pia Holverson, Krister Kern, Alexej Manvelov, Magnus Sundberg, and Ulrika Bäckström round out “The Unthinkable’s” cast.

With a runtime of 129 minutes, “The Unthinkable” has a lot of story to tell with an ample amount, practically divided in evenly, imparted into two stories – one forgotten romance and family squabbles rekindled and the other a bombardment of annexing Sweden from the country’s own residents by deadly force. The pivot also never feels gradual as act one is all about teenage Alex and Anna growing more than just accustomed together despite lingering family troubles. Once completing the transition from boyhood to successful music man, an irksome sensation still nags in the back of Alex’s mind as he can’t find happiness in all of the boo-koo-bucks his albums and concerts afford him. This leads “The Unthinkable” into a territory of complete selfishness by waterlogging a Red Dawn offshoot concoction, teetering on speculation of Russian invaders eroding the memories in some aspect of chemical weathering, with Alex being one hell of a selfish guy and he’s the supposed hero of the story, but for the sake of me can’t explain his inabilities look past his father’s conspiratorial obsessions and anger issues, his muse’s moving on her with her life with a family after he fled his hometown, and he definitive choice of unable to live with the fact that she’ll never be with him despite all the adversity raining down upon him at the same moment he internally crumbles at his pent up emotions. Cynicism drives the story to a tainted sham ending that’s supposed to be touching and full of heartfelt sacrifice on the part of the hero, yet how can a hero commit himself to an irreversible without an inkling of danger against those he’s doing this for? I, personally, feel cheated by “The Unthinkable’s” character arc, but one thing is for sure is the seamless practical and visual effects action of top shelf quality. Between the great stunt work of remote control tractor-trailers to the computer generated helicopter crashes, reality and fantasy blur to the point where your brain can’t tell the difference. “The Unthinkable” excels in heart-racing action and thrills with narrow escapes from disasters.

An assault on not only the soul of the country of Sweden, but also on it’s people’s memory banks as Crazy Pictures’ spins Russian meddling into an extreme aggression with an epic imperious campaign in “The Unthinkable” that attacks the visual cortex with jaw-dropping affray. Magnet Releasing, a subsidiary of Magnolia pictures, presents “The Unthinkable” in a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, and has made boots on the ground showings in theaters and on-demand this month on May 7th. Hannas Krantz, another member of the Crazy Pictures collective group, delivers the war at home on Swedish soil with hard lighting, greyly somber moments of confusion and fleeing, and yellow gunfire illuminated nights after an airy love story, basking in warm, inviting yellows and pleasing in comfortable locales, crumbles to harden our narrative hero. Krantz leaves just enough negative space for the VFX team to implement their movie magic in the makings of a clandestine assault. There were no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Becoming lost in “The Unthinkable’s” high powered effects can become enthralling when climbing the latter of every scene being just as intense and bigger than the last; however, Alex’s arc of a lovesick boy never fully exits from the grown up version of himself, thwarting any kind redemption and respect because of very unlikable and intense egomania.

Rent “The Unthinkable on Prime Video!

Obey EVIL’s Every Last Command! “Held” reviewed! (Magnolia Pictures / Digital Screener)

Emma and Henry Barrett celebrate their 9-year marriage anniversary by renting an isolated house complete with modern day automation bells and whistles. On the morning following their first night’s stay, they come to a horrifying realization someone was in the house and has displaced their clothing. As panic begins to set in and the couple try to flee, the house suddenly locks down, barring the windows and doors under the smart home controls, and a Voice commands them to obey every word in order to reveal devastating secrets and fix what’s broken in their splintered marriage by returning to antiquated ideas of a patriarchal system. Implanted with an electroshock device, Emma and Henry have no choice but to comply to every authoritative command, turning their romantic getaway into a house of wringing pawns.

Out of all of fight against misogynism and #MeToo inspired films that have been released in the last few years, Jill Awbrey’s scripted story is the most fascinating with an implausible overkill plot derived from, and this would be the scariest part, actual male frames of mind that were not systemically changed too long ago and are still ineradicably infesting a good chunk of male psyches today. The Fresno, California-shot film is entitled “Held,” a literally captivating suspense-thriller with whispers of James Wan’s “Saw” crisscrossed with, and I may get flak for this, Wes Craven’s “Scream.” “Held” is steered by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, directors of “The Gallows” and the subsequent “Act II”, with a follow up with edgy confines of a pintsize location embellished with hidden rooms and secret passageways bringing normalcy to the forefront of topsy-turvy inequity. Under Cluff and Lofing’s Tremendum Pictures banner, “Held” is also produced by the directors alongside Kyle Gentz and Cody Fletcher.

Jill Awbrey is not only the screenwriter of “Held” but also stars as the Emma Barrett, an internally traumatized woman weary of strange men asking none-of-their-business questions. Her feature film actress debut plays opposite of vet actor Bart Johnson. The television and “Simon Says” actor Johnson puts on his husband hat as Henry Barret frustrated and disheartened by Emma’s recent lack of intimate interest. All of the Henry’s resentment and Emma’s self-reproach fades away when the house comes down on top of them, literally, in a barrage of hidden spy cameras, an uncontrollable to them security system, and by an obscured voice coursing through various wall intercoms with ground rules and instructions. Before trouble finds them in the guise of a vacay rental, Awbrey and Johnson make a fairly convincing seasoned husband and wife with all the rapport familiarity trimmings; Awbrey instills a meekish quality that makes Emma reserved in not being assertive enough to help herself, a condition stemmed from a traumatic event in her past as the opening moment of “Held,” while Johnson follows Awbrey’s lead in an equally good job showing a nurturing and doting husband who wants nothing more than to take care of everything for his wife. When the panic sets in and the possibility of escape seems futile, Awbrey and Johnson have to use separate approaching methods and mindsets that become essential to “Held’s” time warp speeding male chauvinism undertones. The supporting cast is folded into “Held’s” firm two-lead narrative with precision story placement from Rez Kempton (“Stag Night of the Dead”) and Zack Gold (“Fear Lives Here”).

“Held” is a fight in hell for women who feel that there is life bares no choice in the matter, when their voice is silenced by fear, when the prospect of death is as strong as a masculine build, and when an atrocious past experience hinders personal growth. The commanding-to-demanding obedience tale freefalls from worse case scenario to the absolute worst case scenario of a clear cut redeeming need for change and to once and for all extinguish the old-fashioned binary thought of men being stronger, faster, smarter, better, and more dominate then women. Speaking of old-fashioned, Cluff and Lofing incorporate 1950s era technology, such as a tube television set, rotary phone, and computers with nobs and dials, into the vacation rentals’ futuristic hardware as a symbolizing blend of the seemingly evolved present day man being motivated and driven by antiquated thoughts. The filmmakers also work in nicely Awbrey’s misinterpretation of a Biblical paradise by parochial views by warping the fabled beginnings of man and woman for their own selfish desires. The plot point twist was uncomplicatedly easy to predict but wasn’t necessarily unwelcomed either as the turning point layered a crazy subplot involving a radical marketed and hairbrained scheme with such audacity it’s felt unbelievable. And there were a handful of select scenes that did feel unbelievable by computing more a comical reaction than a petrifying one as perhaps intended. What’s probably more even more of a quirk in “Held” is the script’s subdued dialogue that garnished with not one single obscenity, but the action, which includes multiple graphic stabbings, a self-surgery extraction, and one particular scene where Emma is choked slammed through a wall, conveys extreme intensity in a superficial imbalance with the dialogue. Underneath the tender discourse, “Held” has a crupper of brutal violence that never slips.

Those following Ephesians 5:22-24, reading wives should “submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the LORD,” will find “Held” as a blasphemous counterattack of disobedience against the strong arming of a behind-the-times complementarian marriage. “Held” will be released by Magnolia Pictures as a Magnet released film, presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with a runtime of 94 minutes. The Frightfest 2020 film is a perfect union of imperfect times and feminism fight back and director of photography, Kyle Gentz (“The Gallows Act II,” “Zombies 2”) captures it all with a bright, nearly sterile, perspective full from closed circuit voyeurism, to aerial shots of isolation, and to shaky cam with flashing lights to produce ear splitting pain effect. There were no bonus scenes during or after the credits. The Garden of Eden has been man and woman’s place of paradise and destruction but for Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing’s “Held,” the battle of the sexes is more barbaric than it is biblical when Adam’s machoism stakes claim to Eve’s forbidden fruit.