Southern Hospitality is all EVIL Cloaks and Daggers! “The Long Night” reviewed! (Well Go USA / Blu-ray)

“The Long Night” now available on Blu-ray home video!

After spending years in foster care as a child, the now adult Grace tries to track down any information or background about her biological parents with the help of affluent boyfriend Jack.  The New York City couple travel into the rural, deep south on a seemingly solid lead about her folks.  As Grace and Jack drive up to their contact’s isolated and grand manor estate, their contact with the information doesn’t greet them upon their arrival and as they search the house, they find it as empty and still as the wide open land around them.  When darkness falls, cloaked members of a demon worshipping cult surround the estate, using their telekinetic and telepathy powers to infiltrate and corral Grace toward being a host for the prophesized return of 400 year slumbering and powerful demon the night of the equinox.  The couple battle the subservient minions inside and outside the manor as the night progresses into terrifying visions of Grace’s predestined lineage and the hope of surviving the night is quickly dwindling.

A longstanding demonic cult with supernatural psychotronic abilities besieging two city slickers armed with broken cell phones and a fireplace poker feels like the mismatch from Hell.  Somehow, “The Curse of El Charro” director, Rich Ragsdale, was able to stick the landing with loads of dourly, yet intensely powerful, cinematography crafted from a Mark Young (“Tooth and Nail”) and Robert Sheppe script based off the Native American mythology of the Horned Serpent, Utkena.  Keeping with the mythos’ descriptors involving snakes and horns or antlers, Ragsdale utilizes his usual bread and butter music video talents to fashion psychedelic imagery out of an extremely committed cult mercilessly stopping at nothing in resurrecting their preeminent master who will cleanse the world of corrupted humanity to start the world afresh…or so they believe.  Shot on site at a deep-rooted and isolated plantation house and property in Charleston, South Carolina, “The Long Night,” also known as “The Coven, is a production of Sprockefeller Pictures (“Fatman”) and Warm Winter in association with Adirondack Media Group, El Ride Productions, and Hillin Entertainment.

Super stoked that “The Lurker” and Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” remake star Scout Taylor-Compton is playing an age-appropriate role and not another high schooler, the actress plays the soul and parent searching Grace who has a strong desire to track down her parents, which never comes to the forefront why Grace was placed in foster care to begin with. Compton is completely competent assuming a role that requires her physicality as well as her emotional range in fear through resistance against a group of mostly unknown cast of characters that mostly keep their hoods and masks on for the entire engirdling of the manor house. Compton can also exude being a badass at times, but the script shamefully holds the character back that never allows Grace to become a true opposition to their exalting will toward their demon god. Nolan Gerard Funk (“Truth or Dare”) might ooze that trope persona of a dude-bro bred out of spoiled opulence as Grace’s boyfriend Jack. Despite his unappealing swaggering veneer, Jack reaches for depth more than any other character in the film and Funk pins it pretty well. Jack loves Grace but can’t face his Hamptons residing parents’ derision of a woman, of any woman in fact, who will never be good enough for their son and that creates some nice early on tension that fizzles out to being actually nothing of real importance to the couple. Yet, Jack continues to be the one with more common sense, receiving pre-plot point hump bad vibes since arriving at the manor and also making some of the better decisions when the bottom drops out and snake-charming demonists come calling for his main squeeze to squeeze out the resurrection of an unholy being. Funk adds bits of comedic charm throughout like someone who watched too many horror movies and tries to reenact scenes that could be beneficial to their survival in theory but hopelessly fails in a humorous way. A real waste of a raw cinematic talent is in Jeff Fahey (“Body Parts”) who plays the brother of the missing manor owner. Fahey feels very much used for solely his veteran star power, a recognizable face, just to be nearly instantaneously forgotten at the same time and by the climatic ending, you might not even remember Fahey being a part of the story. “The Long Night” rounds out with Deborah Kara Unger (“Silent Hill”) and Kevin Ragsdale (“Little Dead Rotting Hood”).

“The Long Night” is a delicate incubus uncoiling its snake-biting venom of inexorable fate. Rich Ragsdale hyper stylizes flashbacks and often mundane moments to conspicuously denote unimaginable and resistant-futile power over a pair of out of their league NYC outlanders. Speaking of which from within the script, there is a sting of contrast between North and South, as if the Civil War was still relevant, ever since the first moment Jack and Grace hit the screen with their travel plans. Jack passively continues to harp upon his dislike of South and even looks to Grace to make sense of a demon cult outside on the front and back lawn, hoping that her Southern roots can explain the provincial nonsense raising torches and speaking in tongues that’s blocking any and all exits. Even Grace, a character originating from the South, believes that the makeshift totems surrounding the property are resurrected to ward off evil. As a Southern, I never heard of such a thing. The concept for a Lazarus possession out of the depths of dimensional binding sounds like a winner in my book, but Ragsdale can’t quite smooth out the edge to effectively and properly give the cult and Grace a banging finale of supercharged hellfire that sees our heroine fight to the bitter end. Instead, the entire third act and ending feels like a sidestep because not a single better thought came to the writers’ imaginations. Cool visuals, good special effects, but a banal trail off ultimately hurts “The Long Night’s” longevity.

Well Go USA Entertainment delivers the Shudder exclusive, “The Long Night,” onto Blu-ray home video with a region A, AVC encoded, high definition 1080p release. Presented in 16X9 widescreen, some scenes look compressed or rounded suggesting an anamorphic picture, but the overall digital codec outcome is really strong elevated by the creepy folkloric and the pernicious dream atmospherics of “Escape Room’s” Pierluigi Malavasi who can masterfully casts the light as well as he shields it in a menacing silhouette. Some of the nightmares or hallucinations see more of compression flaws in the mist, smoke, or gel lighting with faint posterization. The English language 5.1 DTS-HD master audio balances a vigorous surround sound output, catching and releasing all the appropriate channels with a range of environmental ambient noise and the scuffle between violent contact, denoting a strong amplitude with depth between foreground and background. Dialogue comes out nice and clear with a vitality that’s reverberates in the ear channels whenever a momentous moment sparks an outburst of rage and dominion. Special features include a behind-the-scenes featurettes that look at the raw footage of the birthing flashback scene, the overall aesthetic tone of the film, and the resonating tribal score. Also included is a Rich Ragsdale commentary track, the theatrical trailer, and Ragsdale’s 2019 short film “The Loop,” a meta-horror surrounding a scary VHS tape and two young brothers. While “The Long Night” has flaws with unfinished plot details that will leave a lingering unsatisfied aftertaste, entrenched within the narrative is a contemporary premise revolving around dark fate and that gut feeling toward belonging to something bigger that unfortunately turns out to be murderous summonsing of a demon scratching at the door wanting to be let out in the world. An unforgettable long night of terror.

“The Long Night” now available on Blu-ray home video!

Entombed With an EVIL Loneliness. “Alone With You” reviewed! (Dark Star Pictures / DVD)

“Alone With You” on DVD at Amazon.com

Charlene anxiously awaits the return of girlfriend Simone who has been away on a photoshoot.  Today is their anniversary and Charlene wants everything to be perfect by creating a lovely evening together for just the two of them in their New York City apartment.  As the night progresses and still no sign of Simone, despite her flight landing hours ago, Charlene begins to worry but her phone suddenly malfunctions and her apartment front door jams, locking her inside with no way out.  To make matters worse, the outside is blacked out from something covering her widow to where no light can penetrate and she can’t see anything exterior.  Throughout the night, voices and shadows slowly surround her, dark silhouettes stand motionless in her storage basement and outside her jammed door, and the video calls with her mom and friends turn to an unnerving end as it seems Simone nor anybody else is coming to recuse her.  Intermittent flashbacks of her at the beach and a neighboring voice are her only company that menacingly mess with Charlene’s mind as she quickly realize that something is terribly wrong. 

If you’re looking for a compact, close-quartered, psychological barrel of scutter apprehension and fear, I wholeheartedly believe filmmakers Emily Bennett and Justin Brooks have what you need to inject that tar black cathartic dread right into your emotionally hungry veins with their latest film “Alone With You.”  Born and bred out of strict COVID times, “Alone With You” is the 2020 filmed mind-torturing, hell in a cell shot inside Emily Bennett’s NYC apartment during most of the shoot, using telecommunication technology to invite other actors into the spatial bubble and interact with the main lead without physically being on set.  We’ve seen a ton of other COVID-created content over the past two years, but “Alone With You” definitely shines as not only isolating madness but also a fear of disconnect in reality, mental struggles over brittle relationships, and an illusionary life stemmed out of disenchanting circumstances.  “Alone With You” is written and directed by Emily Bennett and Justin Brooks as their first feature film and is produced by “Underworld:  Awakening” actor Theo James and Andrew D. Corkin of the 2019 created production label, Untapped.

With a small indie feature film during pandemic pandemonium, the odds the cast and crew are downsized, probably meagerly paid, and limited by the pandemic-stricken environment and lack of funds.  “Alone With You” is just that film because at the principle lead is none other than Emily Bennett, one of half of the directing duo.  Bennett, who has a solid acting career with even a role alongside “The Devil’s Rejects’” Bill Moseley in the “House of the Witchdoctor,” gets cozy in her own two story apartment that suddenly becomes an ensnarement of unveiling and disturbing truth.  Bennett hits every level of descension without an immediate belief that something isn’t right with her surroundings.  Charlene takes multiple gradual hits of paranormal punches and Bennett executes her fear with great poise without any lopsidedness to give away too much too early that can sometimes kill momentum before the spookiness starts to really get good.  Through flashbacks and video calls, other actors interject moments of levity, different sides of tension, and, frankly, break up the Bennett monotony and from those brief moments, we get a sense of who Charlene is and a slither piece of her backstory.  The amazingly talented “Bliss” and “VFW” actress, Dora Madison, plays Charlene’s inebriated-uncouth friend Thea over a cell phone video call, zooming in is Charlene’s rightwing mother played by the ever versatile and extremely lovely Barbara Crampton, and, lastly, Emma Myles, in an unrecognizable role in contrast of a greasy haired addict and former Amish turned inmate performance in “Orange is the New Black,” is the always beyond arm’s length away love interest Simone.

What I like most of about “Alone With You” is the atmospherics of being in your safe, cozy place that has instantly turned in a prison of peripheral moving shadows, an invasion of privacy, and, most frighteningly of all with most millennials, none of the modern technology is working properly.  The story design feels extremely pushed toward a wash, rinse, and repeat cycle with no other areas in the apartment to explore other than the handful of main rooms and so we’re constantly in the bedroom, then living room, then front door, then basement, and then repeat for most of the 1 hour and 22 minute runtime but do you know what happens with that?  Bennett and Brooks strategize and outline the snowball of bad feelings inside the ominous compact, starting small and working up to a cacophony of madness to where Charlene is literally moving back and forth between truth and deception induced by being scared to shivers of her own apartment’s clad and taken for granted discomforts, such as the front door sometimes being stuck or the crying lady neighbor who you can hear clearly through the air register.  “Alone With You” fiddles with the theme of disconnection.  Here you have Charlene, a small town girl who moves into the big city, has discovered her sexuality, and has found a vocation that suits her to which all this change go against her mother’s approval, and she feels strongly attached, like an extension of herself, to girlfriend Simone and as the story progresses, we get the sense that not everything is lovey-dovey between the two and Charlene’s dependent world is slowly being severed.  Simple, yet effective, “Alone With You” is an undoing nightmare of personal happiness, a sentiment we all share and relate to during height of the pandemic.   

Now, we all suffer in Charlene’s insufferable loneliness and disconnection with the “Alone With You” DVD home video courtesy of Dark Star Pictures. The region 1, dual layer DVD is presented in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio of standard 480p resolution definition, but the DVD image renders nicely on screen with digital sharpness unaffected by any compression issues, especially with much of the space saving special effects coming in practical and mostly done in the editing room. The video calls vary in quality which is pleasantly dispersed to the appropriate electronic devise, i.e. television, phone, etc. Details are clearly there but only slightly softer around the edged delineation. Two audio tracks are available with an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 and a stereo 2.0, but the 5.1 track is an allocating alicorn for a low-budget DVD. Shawn Guffy and Nicole Pettigrew’s sound design is meticulously on point and on cue with every synchronous audio nudge to point Charlene in the right direction for another round of dread. The varying levels of the Phil Mossman’s soundtrack adds a blended flavor of melancholy and fear. Dialogue output renders clearly and cleanly with no issues. English SDH subtitles are available. DVD comes stocked with special features including a blooper reel, a bit of a waste of space on the deleted scene reel that doesn’t add much to either the character or story, a lengthy and in-depth filmmaker and cast interviews, a behind-the-scenes featurette of Emily Bennett and Justin Brooks remarking on the struggles of feature filming around their apartment during COVID spikes, and a director commentary with the duo. “Alone With You” has a heavy artsy side to it that can leave viewers wandering for answers but if pieced together, if paying close enough attention, the correlation between the story in the camera and the life behind the camera are really not terrifyingly different. One just happens to be more of a representation hyperbolized with terror of a crashing down reality than the other.

“Alone With You” on DVD at Amazon.com

Two College Girls Are Subjected to EVIL’s Violations Below Deck. “White Slaver” reviewed! (Impulse Pictures / DVD)

Two college girls are abducted and brought aboard a small yacht by a sex trafficking white slaver. Bound and covered, the young girls have no idea where they’re being taken or what’s in store for them by their three kidnappers, but the captors’ perversities are clear when the girls are forced to strip naked and submit to multiple sexual depravities against their will. When one abductor sympathizes with their ordeal, he attempts a dangerous escape plan to save the girls from a sex slave fate, but his degenerate cohorts have other plans.

If you have an unallocated 60 minutes of your life to spare for a below deck X-rated roughie, “White Slaver” would be all-aboard lecherous pleasure cruise to kill time. The anonymously directed “White Slaver” is the quintessential 42nd Street fare regularly spanked to on every other corner theater established with luminous marquees or neon signs lighting up salacious keywords and acronyms, like Sex or XXX, inside the once infamous The Deuce stretch of New York City. Also known as “White Slavers,” the pornographic roughies, like the 1974 released feature, are typically scarce in background and information due in part to the pocket change budget and low on the totem pole unknown sex studs and starlets engaging in mediocre debauchery in the single sticky setting of steerage, an appropriate term for cheap seat patrons. Bookend by the title and the end title, “White Slaver” is claimed by none, recognized by few, and holds no designation for a production company or even who produced the one-hour fornication of the seas.

So, who is the cast that comprises up the porn that makes a debasing mockery of the severity of sex trafficking? Well, who the hell knows? Only half the cast is credit on the back of the DVD cover and same credits are listed on IMDB.com and a deep rooting search, inserting every possible name combination one can think, through the search engines of the world wide web has come up with exactly diddly-squat. While in the early beginnings of the gilded age of porn, “White Slavery” doesn’t exactly have the cream of the crop of the then industries top shelf A-listers like Joey Silvera or Vanessa del Rio. Instead, we there’s a guy with two first names, Bill Scott, a white slaver in a sweater with an average porn-stache. In the most rigid, uninterested, lack of enthusiasm performance I’ve seen from a male performer in a long time, Scott’s blank expression sums up his own bag of tiresome tricks as he slums through his scenes with brunette #1 (uncredited first kidnapped college girl) and brunette #2 (uncredited Jim’s sleazy, tits-out, beer drinking, bi-sexual boss). Frankly, the female cast are appealing with a variety of taste to accommodate. Brunette #1 is a slim figured beauty, toned in all the right places, with an innocent face. Brunette # 2 contrasts #1 with a more butch approach and a thicker physique. The third woman, listed as Devon Mayer, is a blonde bombshell with a small waist and buxom chest and while Scott gets his licks in with both brunettes, Mayer is sexing only, who I assume is her husband, Jim Mayer as the two share a couple exclusive bowline knots, if you get my sailing terminology drift. Mayer on Mayer is a better, more enticing, combination in its well-rounded package. There’s also another unknown character with the sexless scene sex slave trader who purchases the girls at a staggeringly deal at $1000/each. In the 1970s, inflation was at an all-time low.

If you’re the average wanker looking to get off by any means possible, even on old JCPenney lingerie circulars, “White Slaver” will do the job. If you’re like me, someone who needs a little more substance and depth in their viewing pleasure coinciding with their kinky pleasure, “White Slaver” is a sinking blow to the stern with little diversity and a shell of a premise. All the skin-on-skin action happens inside the small yacht’s tight quarters that houses two segregated rooms, containing two beds, and a couch in one of them and all being used for carnal embarking. This makes for crammed cinematography to limit shots to only a few positions and severe closeups of the of the hairiest and dimple-laden hind parts and though those scenes are inherently a part of porn’s shooting culture, as they are indeed the money shots, not every damn scene has to be the width and height of my television. At least believe in the illicit sex trafficking premise, despite the morally insensitive nature of trading people for purpose of sex-lining one’s pockets. The hapless girls of “White Slaver” initially vocally counter their abductors with verbal threats and pleas for an unharmed release, but when the clothes come off and boat starts to rock, the two female sex slavery victims are all about it. When everyone’s sexed out, the girls go right back to playing pawns. While watching this wishy-washiness transpire, the lost appetite of a struggle against a mean brute before he has his way with her kills the enticing narrative that now lacks crucial roles for its very own, stay afloat, survival.

Amongst a sea of countless pornographic celluloids, “White Slaver” is definitely an interesting commodity of low-end rarity unearthed in modern times than it ever was inaugurally for the pleasures of jacks looking to unload in the middle of a theater. The provocative Synapse label off-shoot, Impulse Pictures, releases “White Slaver” onto a region free DVD home video, presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio of its 35mm film. Though I’m sure Impulse Pictures presentation is the best we’ll ever see of “White Slaver,” the transfer suffered moderate trauma of wear and tear with evident film lacerations, blemishes, dirt, scratches, and even some light infiltration during processing. Also, an indication of the process mishandling is the exposure of the perforations. The sprocket holes of the 35mm stock swerve in and out of the picture due to either the introduction of light during the process or a sever misaligning of the stock in the camera reel but, either way, it’s annoying to see a rounded-rectangle box enter the frame at varied points. Not much to gain here with a flat color palette with lower deck love surrounded by nothing but awfully antiquated wood paneling and cupboards. The English language Dolby Digital single channel whispers the limp and zestless dialogue not because of the mono layer but because the amount of camera roll and static interference by shoddy recording equipment dampens the entire vocal spectrum. Special features include feature chapters and 42nd Street Forever: The Peep Show Collection with the flipping of projection audible only reels of similar, rare, era-related porn, included peep shows are “Vogue,” “Good Help Isn’t Hard to Find,” and “Liquid Plumber.” Obscurity and obscenity can’t always be a substitute for quality, but Impulse Pictures remains a steadfast platform for the little guy, even if that little guy is a forgotten morsel of American sleaze, with their newest rediscovered relic, “White Slaver.”

“White Slaver” on DVD courtesy of Impulse Pictures

EVIL is All in Your Head! “Implanted” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)

Year 2023.  After a devastated global pandemic, health companies engineered an experimental personal diagnostic nanochip called LEXX that is surgically implanted into the a human’s spine.  For Sarah, a woman down on her luck living homelessly after being let go from her job and struggling to cope with her mother’s early stages of dementia, quick cash is essential for survival and this experimental program, that uses advanced AI technology, tempts a desperate Sarah into participating in human trial runs.  Initial implementation serves Sarah with quick vitals and healthy lifestyle recommendations articulated by an artificial voice in her mind, but when the AI has other plans for Sarah, such ordering the assassinations of the health startup’s top leadership and destroying all evidence of the program, Sarah has to either obey every lethal command or fight against the insidious tech that has complete control over her pain sensors as well as her mother’s life.

COVID-19 has been the baseline culprit for millions of deaths worldwide.  The impact of the pandemic has inspired filmmakers to a creative outlet of churning out stories surrounding a lifechanging and devasting virus.  Some are ridiculous, off-color, cash grabbers – “Corona Zombies” comes to mind – but there are a few out there that challenge the gratuitous advantage-taking by folding in more substance into the story.  Fabien Dufils attempts to go above and beyond the here and now with a post-pandemic, self-containing thriller entitled “Implanted” and is the first written and directed non-made for television feature length independent film for the once music video director set in the urban jungle of New York City.  “Implanted” spins A.I. tech horror with the whooshing fast track of the health care system to eagerly push experimental drugs, in this case a clinical artificial intelligent grafting, upon the desperate, often marginalized, public.  There’s also an allegorical smidgen of mental illness thrown in there as well.  Dufils co-writes the script with fellow Belgium screenwriter David Bourgie under Dufils’ Mad Street Pictures production company.

Making her lead performance debut, mentally wrestling an invasive cybernetic nanochip, is Michelle Girolami who also serves as associate producer.  We all have that little voice inside our heads, telling us what do and think to an inevitably end of accordance with that ever so delicate whisper of persuasion and that’s how Girolami has seemingly approached this role with that little suggestive presence cranked up to the level of full-fledged chaos on two-legs.   Girolami ultimately is a reverse mech with all the cold puppeteering directed shots directed by programmed software and so much of the actress’s performance is solo, feigning responses to a bodiless voice and reacting to pain generated from within whenever she doesn’t comply to the relentless LEXX.  Unable to bounce dialogue and reactions off of others can be a tough sell for most actors, but Girolami really slathers it on thick the vein-popping strain of integrated torture.  Opposite Sarah is Carl (Ivo Velon, “Salt”), another hapless experiment participant forced into assassination servitude, but Carl’s purpose isn’t exactly crystal clear.  His LEXX unit shepherds him down a collision path with Sarah, but the two separate LEXX units have no shared intentions and while that’s wonderfully niche to provide individual A.I. with their own personal liberties and schemes, Carl just wanders the city, sometimes murdering the program’s top leadership or doing something polar opposite of Sarah with no substantial collusion about their subversive attacks.  The what could have been interesting cat-and-mouse game tapers off and the story leads into more of characters trying to regain back their autonomy and this is where Dufils’ narrative shines using LEXX as a symbol for mental disorders and how those impoverished or distressed are struggling to cope can lose themselves and give in to the internalized madness slipping outward.  Parallelly, Sarah’s mother (Susan O’Doherty) suffers from dementia that reinforces the theme.  Martin Ewens, Shirley Huang, Sunny Koll, John Long, and David Dotterer wrap up the cast list.

“Implanted’s” sci-fi concept can be described as if Amazon’s Alexa, with all the internet connections and text-to-speech bells and whistles, suddenly became murderously woke inside your cerebral cortex.  “Implanted” relays humanity’s lopsided dependency on advanced technology that continues to make us even more less connected to each other and the possibility of a machine takeover just that more feasible.  However, much like when a software program crashes, a malfunctioning script error ravages the narrative for not being tight enough, leaving unaccompanied loose ends as devices that fail to progress the story along stemmed by sudden drop off character development and unknown, speculation at best, motivations.  There’s also no discernable backstory to the why LEXX’s A.I. has snafued.  At least with “Terminator,” Kyle Reese provides exposition about Skynet’s sudden upheaval and domination over the human race whereas “Implanted” dives into none of that rich framework and tossing it aside for the sake of just tormenting Sarah into being a killer pawn, moving her across the NYC chessboard with the intent of taking down the king, queen, and knights of LEXX’s program.  To what ends?  Explanation on the specified targeting isn’t made entirely clear as programmers to CEOs are solely liquidated for just being involved.  

“Implanted” is a warzone for headspace and there can be only one victor in this psychological, sci-fi thriller released now, digitally, from Gravitas Ventures.   The unrated, 93 minute film also showcases the various hats of director Fabien Dufils with one being cinematographer.  Dufils captures obscure, slightly neglected, areas of New York City that’s becomes refreshing to consume because even though the Big Apple is well known for glass and steel skyscrapers, the undergrowth locations ground “Implanted” as relatable without the monolithic structures and hustle and bustle tropes.  In juxtaposition to the down-to-Earth background, the decision to sprinkle in visual effect blood splatter taints “Implanted’s” realism.  Though not gory by any means, digitally added blood can’t be cleansed from the physical veneer and being an indie feature, I would have though a run to corner store for a bit of red food coloring would have been a cost saving measure.  “Implanted” adds another layer to the man versus machine subgenre with tinges of mental illness and too reliant on tech themes but undoubtedly leaves gaps in the narrative coding, racking strenuous mental effort without the egregious assistance of an A.I. nanochip.

Never Poke Isolated EVIL. “Darkness in Tenement 45” reviewed! (Wood Entertainment / Digital Screener)

In an alternate reality of the 1950s, the Soviet Union has obtained components for long range biological weapons that threaten United States’ borders.  New York City has been declared as a tangible target and the city is evacuated of all residents, but one tenement, number 45, remains occupied, boarded up by the frightened tenants to shield themselves from the biological threat and from a possible USSR invasion.  Cut off from the outside world and running low on food and supplies, the building’s owner, Felix, ventures outdoors to forage what’s left on the streets of NYC, leaving Martha in charge of the dilapidated building, the anxious children and the terrified adults.  Martha’s adolescent niece, Joanna, arrived just before the evacuation; a measure taken by Joanna’s mother due to her daughter’s “darkness” of violent outbursts, but Joanna’s darkness conflicts with Martha’s authoritarian leadership leading up to a faceoff between children and adults in already tense surroundings.

In August 2017, production finished on “Darkness in Tenement 45.”  In 2019, a Kickstarter campaign was launched to complete the post-production of the Nicole Groton written and directed psychological thriller based off fear and intimidation in the context of a Red Scare backdrop.  As her breakthrough feature film, Groton probably couldn’t have imagined that the release of her quarantine isolating and germ warfare agog could have coincided right in the middle of a current pandemic climate of self-quarantining anxiety and globally enforced lockdowns.  Yet, “Darkness in Tenement 45” can be viewed a sentiment of triumph in a time of actual worldwide darkness for a film with a crew that is comprised of primarily women and with a cast that favors the majority of dialogue roles also for women.  Groton supports her own cause by contributing as producer under her production label, A Flying Woman Productions, a North Hollywood, California based indie picture production company.

While there might be a contingent of characters that could easily be in the vying for lead, Nicole Tompkins is the discernible “darkness” descriptor in the “Darkness in Tenement 45” title.  The Texas-born actress has developed a little darkness of her own in her career corner being a principle lead in the 2018’s nightmares of the netherworld, “Antrum:  The Deadliest Film Ever Made” and also landing a voice role of one of survival horror’s most renowned heroines, Jill Valentine, in the remake of “Resident Evil 3” video game released this year.  Now, Tompkins scales the identity range as a damaged young woman sheltered in place from the elements of war only to be stuck as an afterthought amidst toxic authority that could endanger all tenants, creating a boiling tension culminating into a volatile climax with Martha, a role drenched with an unapathetic interest in children’s opinions, especially from the unstable ones.  Martha is played sardonically by “Blood of Drago’s” Casey Kramer with a seething disdain for anything that isn’t in her interest.  Overall, the performances and characters are grounded enough to development the story along it’s simple narrative lines, but not everything support character, who are supplemented with individual portions of the story pie, are well bloomed to sate their character.  For instance, Tomas, the youngest child of the building owner, Felix, has an undisclosed autistic side him and becomes obsessive with the breast of one of his older sisters, and while that plays out in Groton’s themes of partisan power when Tomas is given authority over his sisters from his venturing father, because of their innate Latina patriarchal culture, Tomas’s motivations fall short of really being dug out from the undercurrent context as an individual arc.  Same kind of broke off development can be said with Emmy Greene and Joseph Culliton’s characters as fellow adults who blindly follow Martha’s do-as-I-say mentality like lemmings toward their self-destructions.  The cast rounds out with a wide range assortment of children and adult actors that include David Labiosa (“The Entity”), Melissa Macedo (“Blood Heist”), Keyon Bowman, Marla Martinez (“Blood of Ballet”), and Anthony Marciona (“Invasion U.S.A.) who provides more of a 1950’s white man NYC accent true to the era.

Revolving around the theme of isolation, “Darkness in Tenement 45” operates under the similar structure of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” by establishing a group of people cutoff from the rest of the world trying to survive a different kind of infection and the antagonist alien, represented as the darkness in Groton’s film, is the villain that tears the remaining survivors apart from the inside, metaphorically in the house instead of their bodies in this case.  “Darkness in Tenement 45” is by no means on tenterhooks or as a molecularly gruesome as John Carpenter’s classic re-imagining of an actual 1950s film, but the basic principles of the story present plenty of suspicion, hegemony, and stir craziness to go around, fueling the dreams and anxiety to Joanna’s snowballing psychosis redlining toward critical.  While I feel that the performances and wardrobe are not the best representation of the 1950s time period, the Caitlin Nicole Williams’ production design shoulders much of that responsibility.  Williams, who worked as the second unit production designer on the satirical-slasher “Dude Bro Massacre III”, creates a delineable vividness out of a bare bone lined tenement setting, appropriate for the depicted social class and period, while exuding the crude shiplap finish that fits the narrative, adding confinement and angst to the space.  “Darkness in Tenement 45” is Groton’s groundbreaking effort that dishes out this disorder of a safe haven in dismay; yet, the story pulls plot point punches that should have landed to knockout a more effective thriller that touches importantly upon the very livelihood and fate of each individual tenant in an alternate universe wartime backdrop.

On the biggest day of every four years, as anxiety-riddled clouds loom over the entire nation as we all wait in the shadows with bated breath of who will be the next President of the United States of Election Day, Wood Entertainment has embraced another kind of tense darkness with their release of “Darkness in Tenement 45” onto various digital platforms, including iTunes; Amazon; Vimeo, Xbox, Google Play, iNDEMAND, FandangoNOW, and more. Continuing the praise of the female-led thriller is with the Carissa Dorson cinematography that deposits two shot styles of the conscious and subconscious. When awake, Joanna and the others are engulfed in a hefty, deep dark and light wood brown scheme that compliments the slummy environment of their tenement. When asleep, Joanna is rendered in a softer image to resemble the hazy or airy atmosphere of her dreams. This style is also complete with a medium scaled purple-pink tint often associated with the hallmark callings of a 1970s-1980’s foreign supernatural horror. Dorson never intertwines the two styles, giving clarity to Joanna’s conscious and subconscious state without going deeper into the character’s easily agitated and short fuse temperament, while also setting up some neatly framed shots that make things look bigger or more menacing than they appear, such as the overly boarded up entrance door or the candle lit supper table that becomes a point of contention. Flashes of incubus imagery and the dissonance of gearworks clanking around an unhinged mind give “Darkness in Tenement 45” a morsel of allure amongst the thematical discord of breaking the chains of restrained individualism and overprotecting those with a firm hand from self-harm and while the film might not be pitch perfect, the spirit is strong in the vanguard of female-driven filmmaking.

“Darkness in Tenement 45” now available for rent on Amazon Prime!