Starve EVIL With Unseen Faith. “A Banquet” reviewed! (Second Sight / Blu-ray)

After the long-term care of her terminally ill suffering husband, he suddenly commits suicide right in front of her and right in front of their oldest daughter who just came home.  Holly must now pull it together for her two teenage daughters, Betsey and Isabelle.  Drowning in debt to maintain a wealth front of normalcy, Holly puts on the facade to juggle life’s adversities to order to keep the family above water, but when Betsey is overcome by an apocalyptic vision that intermittently possesses her behavior, Holly’s unsure of how to cope as any threats of committing Betsey for treatment is rebutted by talks of suicide.   Betsey goes into deep trances, deep sleeps, and won’t eat despite not losing any weight and as imaginations run wild of what’s driving her unusual behavior, Holly must contend to survive and triumph not only in her daughter’s wellbeing but in all of the seemingly insurmountable problems threatening to tumble down and crush her spirit.

If you’re a fan of elevated horror then Ruth Paxton’s debut dysfunctional family drama horror, “A Banquet,” will tickle your thinking pickle.  While some would argue there is no need for elevated horror in the genre, sometimes exercising the old thinker can be immensely stimulating as well as scary in the same breath.  The 2021 psychological thriller-horror hailing from the United Kingdom was one of the first productions shot in the thick of government issued pandemic lockdowns that tossed the moviemaking job market into a frenzy, scary void of uncertainly and, what seemed like, an eternal limbo, similar to what “A Banquet” offers in its multifarious themes and interpretations that involve faith and religion, family hierarchy, and postural image.  With many departmental crews and cast out of a job and unable to find work during forced lockdowns, “A Banquet” became a beacon of hope and a chance to indulge a passion no matter how little it paid.  “A Banquet” is penned by Justin Bull (“Merge”) and was secured by first time producer Leonora Darby with Nik Bower (“Replicas”), James Harris (47 Meters Down”), Mark Lane “Cockneys vs Zombies”), and Laure Vaysse (“A Dark Place”) co-producing the conglomerated production from HanWay Films, Riverstone Pictures, Tea Shop Productions, and Reliance Entertainment Productions 8 LTD.

“A Banquet” surrounds around a nuclear family minus the patriarch who immediately removed from the picture within the first five-minute opener in a powerful scene of weary difficulty, distressing pain, and a harsh untethering of a burden that begins the inklings of the uncanny to come. Enter mother Holly (Sienne Guillory, Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Resident Evil” franchise) and her two daughters, Betsey (Jessica Alexander) and Isabelle (Ruby Stokes), into the frame weeks, maybe months later, and resided to the loss. Playing the center of concern is the raven-haired Jessica Alexander in what is one of her first feature film performances and it’s a doozy.  As Betsey, a mild-manner older teenage girl at the forefront of adulthood, Alexander earns the chance to showcase herself in a variety of ways with a role that transcends from a docile daughter to a variable vessel of unknown origin that’s haunting and unpredictable as you can never tell what’s taken control over Betsey is naturally good or evil.  Alexander even gets to dip her toes into, or rather dig her fingers into, gross and horrifying practical effects with brilliant results.  Opposite Alexander in the role of the mother, Holly, is Sienna Guillory, a beguiling veteran actress now in the throes of maintaining the routine and keeping appearances aggregated up to snuff.  Guillory exudes a bottled-up pressure that’s so immense it can be translate right off the screen and into the viewer.  There’s plenty of tension in the story but most of it is concentrated right on Guillory’s embodiment of a mother treading desperately in deep waters.  A maelstrom of frustration, fear, loathing, and neglect eviscerate Holly open to shoulder her family’s bleeding and she claws frantically, with poise, to cauterize the fissure.  Isabelle is a fascinating and almost unintentionally forgotten character that is meant to evoke that effect as the neglected younger sister.  While we’re constantly orbiting Holly and Betsey’s, we lose track of Ruby Stokes’s Isabelle yet the upcoming star for Netflix’s “Lockwood and Co.” Stokes paints a potent psychological picture of Isabelle being on the backburner.  Raw and tragic, Stokes subtly pushes Isabelle, who initially is the more cavalier and disobedient of the two sisters, to strive for attention in her own way whether be that longing glance into the stands when her mother isn’t paying her mind during figuring skating instruction or wanting to reluctantly engage in alcohol and sex just to outlet that notice me energy elsewhere.  Concluding this bloodline of women is the more draconian matriarch, Grandmother June, with an uncompromising and plain-spoken fascia erected by Lindsay Duncan (“Body Parts”).  Duncan’s fine snide performance compounds the pressure on Holly and is a cold bucket of ice water to her granddaughters when speaking her mind, telling them simply stop pretending, and remind them of their mother’s own historical mental problems in a matter-of-fact tone.  Between the four, there’s individualistic dominance over each of their domain without an ounce of withdraw or relief until the bitter end and that dreadful dynamic sets the tone for the “A Banquet” austere veneer and tone.

“A Banquet” is a lot to unbox and chew on in this women-driven created film.  Open for a many number of interpretations, based on one own’s spiritual outlook or personal opinions, Ruth Paxton tees up a broader theme of centrical growth of stepping outside another’s shadow.  The message can be applied to Holly and her two daughters as each one of them attempts to move forward or past a routine of some form of contempt.  Isabelle is trying to get out of her sister’s shadow, Holly bristles against her overbearing mother, and Betsey is being supernaturally guided through a symbolically painful transition of growing up into an adult as if the process came naturally. Blunt defiant moments shine Betsey’s overall separation from mother’s control, such as threatening to kill herself if her mother institutionalizes her or in during the number of elaborately prepped dinners that Holly slave over are just pushed aside and untouched by Betsey. Those dinners, in themselves, are a sign of privileged with fine dining right at their fingertips with no sign of hot dogs or sloppy joes in sight. Holly strives to maintain that sense of luxury, which is another form of control but, in this case, is Holly’s mother June whose elitist fundamentals enslave Holly to live up to the hype. Systematically, each member of the family, working up the ladder from youngest to oldest, breaks the inherent status quo. What Betsey undergoes is mystically charged after she emerges from the woods a changed woman and what might seem like a possession of sorts, we don’t exactly know if the extent of what inhabits her is wicked or actually good as the pendulum sways constantly between being enlightened and being cursed. There’s plenty of allusions toward a religious experience with encouragement of faith and rapture talk that not only spooks Holly but also makes her the primary subject of Betsey’s claim to save. When the time does come, and Betsey passes through a substitutionary atonement, the end scene shows Holly being embraced by a candescent light that illuminates from within her. Is it being saved or is it something else? Ruth Paxton smashes her first feature with an elevated deconstruction of a family obliviously rotting at the core and attacks the film with dispirited ambiance sewn to dread.

Feast your eyes on the new limited-edition Blu-ray set of Ruth Paxton’s “A Banquet” from Second Sight films. The region B, PAL encoded UK boxset presents the film in 1080p widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio with a frame rate of 23-24 fps. David Liddel’s deep and encroaching cinematography of somber is highly effective in dulling out any kind of hope that might try to sneak in and with Liddel’s close-to-mid shots of macro-sized foods of all fresh and decaying varieties and in the middle of the more volatile struggles between mother and daughter opens up “A Banquet” to a plethora scene being uncomfortable moments. Details are sharp and colors are about as rich as Liddel can make them inside a grey-covered world. The English language set comes with two audio options: a DTS-HD 5.1 and a LPCM 2.0 stereo. DTS is clearly more robust through the various channels with a well-balanced mix. Other than a few outlier moments in the forest that disperse the dialogue in a naggingly boxy echo that doesn’t fit the environment, dialogue is discerningly clean and clear of obstructions and damage, as if there would be any on a digital record. Optional English subtitles are also available. Bonus material includes an interview with director Ruth Paxton Deformity of the Flesh on creating her first film during the height of the pandemic, an interview with star Jessica Alexander Improvised Exorcism in which she discusses her experience soup-to-nuts from hiring to completion, an interview with producer Leonora Darby Producing a Feast who notes about the difficulties of being a first-time producer in pandemic time, an interview with cinematographer David Liddel Dark Edges on how he creates “A Banquet’s” gloomy aura and creative shooting angles, the Q&A from Glasgow Film Festival with Paxton, Alexander, and Sienna Guillory, and a making of featurette. The limited-edition physical boxset is a sturdy vessel of beauty with a rigid slipcase with new artwork by Jen Davies, a 56-page soft cover picture and essay book with thoughtful examinations by novelist Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (“1000 Women in Horror”), film critic and writer Jennie Kermode, and Heather Wixsn, the managing editor of the Daily Dead. The contents round out with 6 collectable art cards. The film has a runtime of 97 minutes and is certified 15 for strong threat, language, suicide, self-harm, and drug misuse. “A Banquet” is lavishly cataclysmic as a divinely damning dish of a broken, dysfunctional family made to order by first time director Ruth Paxton with more to say.

When the Heart Loses is When EVIL Invades the Head! “The Twin” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)

After the tragic car accident that claims the life of their son Nathan, grieving Rachel and Anthony move from New York City to a sublime region of Finland, a place where Anthony’s lineage lies and where he spent time as a child. Nathan’s twin brother, Elliot, is frequently overprotected by his mother after the loss. When Elliot begins to exhibit troubling signs in his behavior that links to his deceased twin brother, Rachel grasps out for explanations, looking for a rational and irrational answer that could contribute to such erraticism in her son. One possibility, paved by a local outsider with her own personal demons, is the Finnish community is beholden to a supreme darkness that seeks to possess the child from the beyond. With nowhere to turn for help, Rachel relies of her motherly instinct to protect her child at all costs and from all malice from all forms. but what the evil that plagues Rachel and Elliot might be closer to her than she realizes.

Identical twins are already at about a 10 on the creep factor scale. Margot Kidder in the dual psychotic role of Brian De Palma’s “Sisters”, the unnerving Jeremy Iron performance of manipulation and cruelty in David Cronenberg’s “Dead Ringer,” and even those Grady twin sisters from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” are an eerie extract overlooking the fact that two people can look so exactly alike. The biological phenomena goes against what proclaims us to be human in the first place – our individuality – and to be regularly utilized as a factor of the strange and unusual in a horror film just fills the cup up with a whole bunch of, and I quote Jordan Peele, nope! Finnish writer-director Taneli Mustonen is the next filmmaker to implement the oddity of identical siblings in his latest horror-thriller entitled simply “The Twin.” Co-written with Aleksi Hyvärinen, “The Twin” is the sophomore horror feature behind 2016’s “Lake Bodom” to emerge from the writers who have found cadence writing, producing, and directing comedies. Spun from Mustonen and Hyvärinen’s production company, Don Films, Don as in the title of respect, along with collegial line producer Mika Pajunen. Responsible for funding “The Twin” are returning “Lake Bodom” executive producers Fabian Westerhoff, Joris van Wijk, and Toni Valla with Shudder’s Emily Gotto acquiring distribution rights with financial backing.

Like most films about twins, the 2022 released twists and turns of a back-and-forth intrapersonal thriller uses one person to Eddie Murphy the roles. That person in “The Twin” is the pintsized Tristan Ruggeri who made his television debut as young Geralt in the hit Netflix book-adapted dark fantasy series “The Witcher.” Unlike most films about twins, Ruggeri really only has to play one but teeter the personality of the other in a symbolic showing of painful sorrow manifested to sorely miss what’s essentially your exact self. Imagine you’re a twin of a deceased sibling and you look at yourself and see your brother or sister. Rugger’s able to capture that emotional payload at such a young age despite being rigid as many child actors typically unfold early in career. Much of the story is seen through the eyes of Rachel, a distraught mother coping with the tragic loss, and the audience experience darkening, supernatural plot that’s unravelling a Satanist cult’s clandestine desires to bedevil her now only son Elliot.  “Warm Bodies” and “Lights Out” star Teresa Palmer plays the now the mature and safeguarding motherly role in the grand horror scheme alongside fellow “Discovery of Witches” costar Steven Cree (“Terminator:  Dark Fate’) playing her novelist husband, Anthony. For “The Twin” to actually work for the viewer to understand on a sympathetic level, you need to feel the love between them and finding love between Palmer and Cree is about as loveless as a platonic relationship. Aside from sharing a bed and a child, the romance and amorous has been removed from play, but that of frigid factor could have very well been intentional for the story. The principal casting concludes with Barbara Marten (“The Turning”) and the town eccentric, a foreigner who Rachel relates to and latches on to when the crisis with Elliot worsens.

“The Twin” is small principal cast with big background actors that menacingly swallow nonconformers alien in nature to their surroundings. Foggy atmospherics, looming, creaky wooden house, and the dissociative difficulties that put Rachet through a tizzy compound the fear and the affliction of anxiety that turns everything close to you against you in a heap of isolation. All the dead silence and surreal nightmares build tension effectively, keeping the audience on the edge for that peak moment. Mustonen and Hyvärinen throw in a capacious curveball that lets characters wander and explore then develop and action against before pulling the rug from under our one-directional firm footing for a twist. That twist, however, is a play fake we’ve seen before in recent years with the armor of horror shielding the true trepidation. When the peeling begins and the revealing shows us more complicated layers beneath the rotten onion, the once randomized vectors formulate a picture and within the systematic process of slowly uncoiling initial perceptions and believed facts, the story takes on a whole new meaning and, sometimes, even begs the question if what we just watched is still a horror picture after all? “The Twin” very much fits into this goose chase genre but fits like a size two times too small. The path Rachel follows is a yellow brick road to Oz. Oz being the satanic cult is scheming kid-snatch in place of the Beast more vigorous. Mounds upon mounds of hearsay, circumstantial evidence, and even a factoid or two lead the film by the nose to an unwittingly demise of its importance to the story as a whole once all the cards are laid out before us. “The Twin” then goes into heavy exposition to try and explain much of what Rachel experiences and it really felt like a bunch of hot air, a passive attempt to briefly summarize the last 109 minutes without really telling us much about anything. There’s still lots of questions concerning Anthony’s wealth, background, and mental fortitude. Questions also arise about the story’s hook that suddenly drives the characters to make radical changes in a blink of an opening montage eye. “The Twin” has shuddering moments of stillness suspense and a disorienting subcurrent that severs safety at every turn but flirts with unoriginality too much for exhilaration in an all-been-done-before dogleg…with twins.

Acorn Media continues to be the leading UK home video rights distributor for exclusive Shudder releases as “The Twin” makes it’s Blu-ray debut in the region. The PAL encoded region 2 Blu-ray is presented in 1080p high definition with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Retaining mostly in gray and blue hue to convey melancholia to the fullest extent possible, the picture quality doesn’t retain a terrific amount of detail. Textures are often softer during gel-night scenes with no well-defined lines and when compared to day-lit scenes, the details are starkly steelier. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound caters to a sound design that can differentiate between the bumps in the night as well as the stock-still silence that strikes at the nerves. Dialogue amplitude is on the softer side but very clean and very clear to comprehend. English subtitles have optional availability. Special features include a making-of featurette with cast interviews spliced in. The standard Acorn physical releases for Shudder remain the same for “The Twin” with a common blue case snapper with one-way cover art of uninspired creation. The film is certified 15 for strong horror, threat, bloody images, and violence. As far as doppelgänger bearing horror, “The Twin” is nowhere near identical to others but as for its fraternal individuality, there’s little unique about the Taneli Mustonen picture involving paranoia and primal maternal instinct.

Hear That? That’s EVIL Bamboolzing You! “Ultrasound” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)



Driving home from a wedding reception, Glenn’s car suffers a flat tire in the pouring rain.  He finds refuge in the home of married couple, Art and Cyndi, with an extended offer to him to wait out the rain and spend the night, spending the night in bed with Cyndi at the pleading request of Art.    The next morning, Glenn wakes up and Art and Cyndi are gone.  Months later, Art shows up at Glenn’s apartment and shows him a videotape of a pregnant Cyndi.  Unable to make sense how of his role within Art and Cyndi’s lives, Glenn agrees to meet with Cyndi to discuss future plans and wind up a romantic relationship, but when they suddenly wake up in a hospital and kept separated, they believe they lost the baby as well as the use of Glenn’s legs due to an assumed accident.  What unfolds for the couple from then on is bizarre reality that doesn’t make much sense with only a few familiar chords being struck in their mind and every step of their life is being controlled by manipulators with various agendas. 

A gyrating wool over the eyes suspense thriller is set to release this Friday, March 11th. That film is “Ultrasound,” the first feature film helmed by Rob Schroeder, the producer of “Sun Choke” and “Beyond the Gates,” both films starring Barbara Crampton.  Unfortunately, “Ultrasound” doesn’t star the iconic scream queen but the Conor Stechschulte script, based off the Stechschute’s erotic psychological graphic novel series, “Generous Bosom,” produces the high intense frequencies from off the illustrated pages and into the subjected characters and audiences with disorienting loops of truths and falsities.  The U.S. production is a product of the Los Angeles based Lodger Films, cofounded by Schroeder and Georg Kallert, and with co-producers Brock Bodell and Spencer Jazewski.

“Ultrasound’s” narrative is a latticework of character arcs divided into two stories that only merge when Glenn and Cyndi are involved in an unusual (some could say almost magical) scheme connived by hypnotist The Amazing Art, played with sure hand nervousness by Bob Stephenson (“Lady Bird”) whose very good at the soft touch of persuasion with his innocent demeanor.  Stephenson works tirelessly his Jedi mind tricks on Glenn, “My Friend Dahmer’s” Vincent Kartheiser, and Cyndi, “Phoenix Forgotten’s” Chelsea Lopez. Kartheiser and Lopez relish in their own deceptions as two strangers being joined by unintended, radical means to fulfill not one but two devious plans. Between political scandal coverups and government sanctioned alternative military tactics, Chris Gartin (“Tremors II: Aftershocks”) and Tunde Adebimpe (“She Dies Tomorrow”) couldn’t be any more different in character engrained into their repelling tangential tales sourced from the same spoiled spring but both actors root deep into the same antithesis garden as a pair of well-informed and completely in control power hungry and idealistic men in idol roles, driving Schroeder’s message right into the heart of public figure facade versus public figure character and both Gartin and Adebimpe nurture that perspective all too well. Then, you throw in a monkey wrench named Breeda Wool (“Mr. Mercedes“) into the well-oiled machine of exploitation to be the controlled outlier only to have the veil lifted for truth. Wool, probably not intendedly punned toward “Ultrasound’s” theme of pulling the wool over one’s eyes or a wolf in sheep’s clothing, casts rightful doubt as Shannon, an innocent associate being kept in the dark, much like Cyndi and Glenn. While the cast is great in roles, none of them stand out in a singular performance and are all a cog in Schroeder’s contrivance. “Ultrasound’s” cast fills in with Megan Fox lookalike Rainey Qualley (“Shut In”), Porter Duong, and Mark Burnham who dons the fleshy mask of Leatherface in this year’s Netflix original and legacy sequel “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Tapping from the same virtual reality vein of Christopher Nolan and David Cronenberg, the idiosyncrasies of perception are no longer our own as audio, visual, and thoughts become the duped fool in “Ultrasound’s” underhanded exploitation.  The concept, high in twist and turns working backwards to unfold what befuddles the hapless into a life believed depressingly real, parallelly touches upon the real-life issue of sleight of hand corruption and scandal.  Because this person is an upstanding politician with a beautiful family or this other person has an advanced medical degree and is respected in the science community, we are supposed to take them at their word when in actuality, they’re pulling the metaphorical rug from under our sensorial feet to the extreme point where everything they have said and done that has crumbled down to a lie has a flummoxing and deafening aftershock effect that almost can’t be believed.  The two-tale narrative connects with Art and his mismanaging of one plan that tosses his subjects into the hands of another group for what’s to become of Glenn and Cyndi and that transfer, much like the disintegrating hypnosis effect at times, is not tight enough and becomes lost in translation inside Schroeder’s illusive imagery and harsh editing to keep in story in line until a point.  “Ultrasound” plagues with hot, intense colors under a low-key lighting, like a deep blue or an intense red, to often relay reality outside the confines of normality.  Even though the word “Ultrasound” revolves around the manipulative use of ultrasonic frequencies, I do find the irony in Stechschulte’s story that at the center of much of the tumultuous misperception, there’s a baby often represented as there or not there depending on how we should perceive the characters and it’s like the filmmakers wanted to plug in, perhaps, the nuisances with scanning technology or dip their toes into body horror with body image.

“Ultrasound” is a great low-level, high-tech Sci-fi brainteaser ready to mess with your mind being released this Friday, March 11th, in theaters and on demand from Magnet Releasing, a subsidiary label of Magnolia Pictures that offers innovative tales of horror and science fiction from new, creative filmmaking talent.  Since a digital screener was provided, we will not delve into any audio or video evaluations, but Mathew Rudenberg, whose worked in the past with Schroeder as DP on “Sun Choke,” has come a long way since his image work on the 2008 alien-driven-zombie film “Evilution” with keeping the frame tight during medium and closeup shots to never expose to much at one time, leaving a little to imagination when the time comes to open up the room, so to speak.  Zak Engel’s analogue and digital synth-score with tangible instrumental highlights from Piano and violin and Bob Borito’s dial and knob sound design swishing static and low-frequency humming sends this soundtrack into a futuristic guise on contemporary grounds that insidiously works into the grand scheme low-tech yet terrifying Sci-Fi. The 103-minute film does not include any bonus scenes during or after the credits. I keep throwing around key descriptors like low-tech for “Ultrasound” and by no means do mean that as a criticism as I speak about the simplest of tech, the original mechanism, of our body and our sensory nodes that receives data input, processes it, and transmits signals to our outputting areas and “Ultrasound” looks at disrupting the supply of data and, just like in today’s pandemic and war climate, a break in the chain can cause unforeseen turmoil that upends lives when cranked up.

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.

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Burt Gummer Neutralizes EVIL Graboids in “Tremors: Shrieker Island” reviewed! (Universal 1440 Entertainment / Digital Screener)

A wildlife preservation maintains categorizing and tracking of native elephants, but when one of the company’s philanthropist turns his private island, just across the water from the preservation campsite, into a game reserve for apex predators, nothing will stop him from wagering the thrill of the hunt on expensive, top-of-the-line game.  That is until the graboids he’s illegally bred and genetically modified starts to hunt the wealthy trophy gamers back, especially when the Precambrian lifeforms metamorphize into the fast-spawning shriekers.  With an island full of graboids and shriekers that contributed to already one death, graboid expert and arms enthusiast-survivalist, Burt Gummer, is tracked down and brought out of retirement to once again battle his longtime killing machine adversary.  With no munition weapons, an obstinate playboy’s maniacal urge to hunt the fierce predator, and the most powerful of the graboids bred on the island able to wriggle underneath the sea floor between land masses, Gummer and a team of preservationists must band together to stop the graboids from being an invasive and unstoppable species. 

From an icy Canadian landscape in “Tremors:  A Cold Day in Hell” to the tropical beaches of Thailand, “Tremors:  Shrieker Island” is the seventh feature film in the Tremor’s 30-year franchise.  Heading straight to video on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital, including Streaming and VOD platforms come this October 2020, the subterranean monster action-comedy is steered by serial sequel director Don Michael Paul, who directed the last two “Tremors” installments, off a Paul script co-written with Brian Brightly that set sights on expanding the graboid footprint even farther East and surrounded by the seas of Thailand, further more distancing itself from the dust bowls of Perfection, Nevada and Mexico into new and unexplored terror-itories.  Universal Pictures’ off-shoot subsidiary banner, Universal 1440 Entertainment, and Living Films serves as the presiding production companies. 

 

The smart-mouth, quick-wit, arms-toting Burt Gummer has become, dare I say it, the Ash Williams of the Tremors’ franchise as a perpetually dragged back hero into monstrous circumstances to battle graboids and their offspring on land, air, and in the pits of hell of the innate underground habitat.  Aside from Bruce Campbell, there are not too many heroes in a genre that usually has a villainous backbone and so Michael Gross is the longest lasting reoccurring actor, spanning now 30-years, to return as an original hero who first encountered and killed the bastard creature who “broke into the wrong God damn rec room” in Perfection, Nevada.  Gross, now gray with a few more wrinkles sporting his iconic Gummer mustache, fits into the military-esque attire under his ball cap to square off alongside a ragtag team of unprepared, unqualified, and novice graboid hunters in Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite”), Jackie Cruz (“Orange is the New Black”), Caroline Langrishe, and Richard Brake (“31”).  Heder fills in for the Jamie Kennedy role of Burt Gummer’s son, Travis, from the two previous installments and though Travis is mentioned briefly, the character’s presence is extended through Caroline Langrishe as Travis’s mother and preservation camp leader.  Heder and Langrishe complete that entangled trio that has been a trope present in nearly all the Tremor Films, starting with Val McKee, Earl Basset, and Rhona LeBeck, battling side-by-side to overcome the odds.  Cruz and Brake offer a serious side dish of badass on a polar opposite spectrum.  Jackie Cruz as Freddie, an entrenched team member of elephant tracking, is the Latina MacGuyer and is a weapon in herself that only someone like Burt Gummer would fully appreciate while Richard Brake, with his trademark sinister smile as obsessed game hunter Bill, relishes the role, pulling a watered down, PG-13 version of his typical bad guy motif from the more violent-venomous Rob Zombie films.  However, a minority of characters fall through character development cracks, such as Anna played by the up and coming Cassie Clare (“Death Race 4:  Beyond Anarchy”).  The archery expert Clare is a pertinent show off with a bow and arrow and is Bill’s right hand, but the Anna, under Cassie’s muscular thin frame and ironclad persona direction, has an inclined built up that goes to naught as she’s snubbed-shoved to a lesser role without having a significant impact in the latter half.   The reverse can said for Heder’s Jimmy character with first impressions of a top class scientist with lower class ambitions; yet, in an instant, Jimmy becomes a battle-worn graboid and shrieker killer while more experienced hunters, especially one wielding a mini gun, have less of a handle on the situation. 

While it’s neat and cool and nostalgic to see graboids and Burt Gummer back in action, much like the disconnect with lopsided arch able characters left to be graboid-fodder, “Tremors:  Shrieker Island” falls short of earlier predecessors, replacing personal filmmaking style over story substance.  For one, graboids just haven’t been the same since going from practical applications to computer imagery since “Bloodlines” on that has radically evolved the creatures from a less-is-more model to a complete overhaul of their veneer, resembling the dark and slimy man-eating tentacles of “Deep Rising,” and as well an overhaul of the creature mechanics that lead graboids to leap out of the ground and into the air like a flying fish, spiraling and twisting back into their dirt environment.   The graboid burrowing irks me as well as the ground explodes 10-15 feet up into the air in a blatant uses of detonating charges by the effects team to create the earthworm moving effect instead of just a perpetual hump and collapse of the ground that’s more of a menacing effect. Nuances run amok, causing subtle points of frustration in how Paul’s direction is really more a passive glance than a serious absorption of the franchise. Meandering people on the ground when they fully well know graboids are attracted by movement, half the film scaled back to slow motion to accentuate big money explosions, and the mother of all graboids able to target Burt Gummer for a mano on monstro showdown are just more examples of the charmless details in, what is, a palpable comedy with Earth dwelling monsters. “Tremors: Shrieker Island” is the equivalent of “Jaws: The Revenge;” the story may not make sense, but watching gigantic monsters cause mortal destruction is pure creature feature bliss.

What may be Burt Gummer’s last ride (or so they said in the last film), “Tremors: Shrieker Island” tunnels onto Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD come October 20th, 2020 and soon to be streaming on Netflix shortly after. The BD50 Blu-ray will feature an anamorphic widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, with an English language DTIS-HD Master Audio 5.1 while the DVD9 is presented in a widescreen 16:9 with a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix. Both formats will include optional English Dolby Digital 2.0 as well as a dubbed French, and Spanish DTIS Digital Surround 5.1 with a slew of option subtitles: English SDH, French Canadian, French European, and Latin American Spanish. Since the film was reviewed on a digital screener, the A/V aspects will not be critiqued. The exclusive bonus features listed on all physical and VOD include a Burt Gummer narrated “The Monster of Tremors” that gives you everything you need know about the diabolical monsters, “Tremors Top 30 Moments” that hone in on 30 years worth of scenes that provide laughs, Burtisms, and some of the most gory moments in graboid history, and, lastly, “The Legend of the Burt Gummer” that focuses on the iconic graboid hunter character told by his persona creator himself, Michael Gross. Richard Brake, once again, nails the villain, Jackie Cruz stuns as a resourceful Gummer-ite, and Michael Gross fleshes out one more commando swashbuckling Burt Gummer in the zany seventh installment of the unstoppable “Tremors” franchise.

Pre-order Tremors: Shrieker Island on Blu-ray/DVD/Digital!