Never Had An EVIL Friend Like Me! “Come Play” reviewed! (Focus Features / Digital Screener)

Elementary student Oliver has autism that impedes his speech, requiring near obsessive use of the phone and tablet to communicate with touchtone words as well as using the device for recreational binge watching of SpongeBob SquarePants to calm him when agitated.  Unable to make friends, Oliver’s loneliness causes him to sink deeper into his devices while his parents bicker amongst themselves on the endless topic of caring, treating, and assisting with Oliver’s needs, such as speech therapy and daily routine.  On another dimensional plane, looking inside-out of Oliver’s devices, is Larry, an equally lonely, misunderstood monster trying to break into Oliver’s world and take him away to be forever friends.  It’s up to his overprotective mother and insouciant father to stop Larry’s aggressively desperate out reach into Oliver’s world and pluck him forever from a life of being misunderstood. 

Forget the monsters lying in wait underneath the bed!  Forget the monsters lurking inside the dark closet!  The monster in your phone, capturing your attention span on a glossy-eyed level, should be the monster we all fear from Jacob Chase’s written and directed tech creature feature, “Come Play.”  “Come Play” introduces Jacob Chase into feature filmmaking after being involved wearing multiple hats in a series of short films, spanning over in the last decade and half, with his 5-minute long short film, “Larry,” plotted out as one third shift bored parking lot attendant who discovers an abandoned iPad inside the lost and found box located in his booth and releases a disfigured titular creature that lumbers toward him after reading through  “The Misunderstood Monster” children’s tale on the device, becoming the foundational work inspiring a 96 minute, fully fleshed out narrative with dangerous undercurrents of voyeurism and loneliness coinciding with an equally-hazardous theme in the detriments of being a helicopter parent, hindering the independent growth and maturity of youth. “Come Play” is a co-production of Amblin and Reliance Entertainment.

When they’re in a career hot zone, child actors flourish and grow inside a broad base of horror, being nurtured either from or by the creepy child sub-category or from or by being the unlikely hero that has the save the oblivious adults (just look at the kiddie cast of “Stranger Thingsfor example). Azhy Robertson falls into the latter as the epitome of innocence in playing Oliver, a young boy with autism unable to communicate clearly the monster stalking him from a stratum between two existences. “Marriage Story’s” Robertson continues to gleam versatilely as an actor who can use his imagination to not only react to a rendered behemoth creature but also submerse into the characteristics of autism and not oversell beyond what’s needed. Robertson also continues his girth toward a well-rounded career that now has a notch for horror under his broadening belt. Like many monster-plagued kid horror, the parents are always oblivious and dismissive to the situation and “Come Play” continues the trope with a pair of quarrelling parents in the midst of separation that undoubtedly adds to the extramundane energy fueling Larry’s need for Oliver. Gillian Jacobs (“Bad Milo”) and John Gallaghar Jr. (“Underwater”) butt heads sorely on one topic: Oliver. As their marriage dissolves through unspoken subtleties under the Oliver epicenter, that missed mightier connection could have been more powerful on how the split up affects the reactionary consequences of Oliver’s developmental disorder, an affect so tremendous that it componentizes Larry and his aggressive and brazen abduction tactics that are not so discreet. However there characters are perceived, Jacobs and Gallaghar modestly pack a punch in what has been laid to be the Azhy Robertson show of a vulnerable, yet smart, child versus a relentless and grotesque monster. Winslow Fegley, Jayden Marine, Gavin MacIver-Wright, and Eboni Booth round out the cast.

Jacob Chase has proven to be able to handle building breath-holding suspense and tension with the otherworldly plane Larry, a Slenderman-like in appearance and character inspired villain lumbering around not only in Oliver’s house, coursing through the electrical currents in his sub-plane world, but also by peering from out of closets, shying away in the darkest corners of the house, and looming around in a parking lot’s graveyard shift hours only to be perceptible through the phone and tablet camera lenses and, at times, manifesting a translucent presence that has force behind, the latter being an added side dish, transcending from Chase’s short film, to Larry’s predacious tech-manipulating arsenal when obstacles stand in the way of his BFF.  Even if “Come Play’s” superlative thrills ride on the heels of potent jump scares and unnerving silence with bated breathed, hiccups do arise in a more alleviated roller-coaster that shreds holes into the well-established terror instead of nurturing the tone.  Now while I understand the rating is PG-13 to secure a wider audience and, maybe, be a little lighthearted at times, an awkward diluted dread douses the credibility of the characters in strife with actions, such a scene include Oliver’s parents striking down upon his tablet with alternating hammer blows.  In what almost seems like a joke with an archaic technique that old-timey railroad workers use when nailing in track spikes or when carnies – one being a clown – hammer in spokes in unison to erect the big top, the scene is just out of focus in regards to the rest of the scope and there are other scenes like these sprinkled in throughout that raises character quandary concerns.  Why not just one parent whack away on the destruction of the dag’on device?  A handful of the reactionary actions to protect Oliver are glazed with an unreasonable, panic-stricken defense that begs the question whether they’re fit to actually be parents, which, if looking on the flipside of the argument, might also play into more of the unbeneficial family structure that originated the Larry intrusion.  Speaking of originating and the monster, Larry’s exact origins is obscured from the audiences as no plot points touch in depth upon Larry’s background and, you know what, that’s okay here; the more mysterious path is sometimes the best and, in “Come Play,” Larry’s inexplicable being as a child seducing abductor relates much more frighteningly and unfortunately in real world occurrences. 

Predators come in all shapes and sizes.  In this case, Larry’s atrocious presence, trying to obscure his real identity innately, symbolizes the very personalities of the real monstrous predators living among us, trolling online to prey on the vulnerable.  “Come Play” is an oxymoronic subtle hyperbole that serves as a cautionary warning for parents and children molded with pure monster in the closet entertainment in mind releasing theatrically on October 30, pushed from its original July release due to COVID-19, courtesy of Focus Features.  Serving as director to photographer is French cinematographer and serial shadow worker, Maxime Alexandre, who was worked with acclaimed horror director Alexandre Aja on “High Tension,” “P2,” and “Crawl.”  Alexandra manipulates the space, melding wide, full and closeups, to work the perceptions toward a post-production visual design in adding Larry into the frames and honing in on the lighting to just show enough of the space to make the allusion of Larry’s presence even more ominous. The back and forth of the underused practical Larry and the mostly CGI Larry sparsely have any difference between the final product outcome. The visual effects team of Mr. X saunter with what could have been a clear disaster of composite creature imagery with all the trademarks of synthetic splicing; instead, Larry matches well to the point of an indistinguishable challenge between what’s real and what’s not. The score by the “Don’t Breathe” and “Evil Dead” remake’s Roque Banos does the job to subversively infiltrate the security earmuffs to wring your cochlea to an inch of its life, but doesn’t resonate with you much more than the length of the film; however, Larry’s clicking and snapping of his appendageal joints and his guttural clatters emanate vicinity apprehension, as if the audiences can hear the dun dun hook as a tall tale sign of a circling shark in the water.  Sound design is half the fun in the film as the monster is more than half there when it’s on screen. No bonus material accompanied the release and there were no bonus scenes during or after the credits, but I’ve included Chase’s short, “Larry,” below for your own comparison and enjoyment!  “Come Play” boosts many unsavory themes between the parameters of technology and children underneath a mask of a faceless friend willing to frighten and fight anyone into submission to obtain complete, domineering companionship to end his chilling fairytale story.

Larry: Short Film

Burt Gummer is Back to Destroy a Long Time Evil Foe! “Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell” Review!


A remote Canadian science team is under the threat of a Graboid situation, hunting drill parties through the ice and ripping them to shreds with their snake-like mouth tentacles. The team phones the only known Graboid hunter, the legendary outdoor sportsman Burt Gummer, who flies from Perfection, New Mexico to the North of the border with his son Travis Welker to terminator their subterranean predator problem. Graboids aren’t the only problem as nasty Ass-Blasters also roam the sky. Stranded on a remote research station and stuck with non-combative administrative researchers, Gummer’s shoulders bare much of the battlefield burden, but the long time Graboid ass-kicker comes face-to-face with an internal Graboid stemmed disease that sidelines his ability to finish the campaign. Travis must pick up the reigns and band together a ragtag team of scientists to not only save Canada from a being swallowed from below, but also to save his father’s life by obtaining antibodies from a live Graboid.

Michael Gross is back! Reprising his role of Burt Gummer, the gung-ho military nut with a penchant for hunting down and killing Graboids, Gross straps on the HK-91 assault rifle once more for Universal’s “Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell,” the sixth installment to the “Tremors” franchise that began 27-years-old in 1990! The PG-13 creature feature is helmed by direct-to-video sequel director Don Michael Paul (“Tremors: Bloodlines”), written by two-time “Tremors” sequel writer John Whelpley, and release appropriately enough on Universal’s 1440 Entertainment label. Whelpley relocates the franchise away from the blistering heat, the scorching sand, and the denim-camo-plaid sporting bedrock to cooler climate of the Canada’s 49th parallel north. Under the ice and the chilled soil are pre-pre-cana Graboids awakened by the ever looming effects of global warming. Al Gore was right; Global warming will kill us all…by rousing the underground beasts who’ve been dormant for thousands of years! The very one aspect the filmmakers wanted shiplap together for this next chapter is to perilously put the invincible Burt through a taste of own mortality, plaguing him with a symbiotic Graboid worm that puts him on the edge of death, and introducing a worthy replacement, or perhaps a legacy, in his son, Travis Welker.

Welker is a returning character from “Tremors: Bloodlines” portrayed by comedian Jamie Kennedy. His role as Brad “B-rad” Gluckman from “Malibu’s Most Wanted” has been forcibly seared in many of our minds and his horror enthusiasm captured our black hearts as the lovable Randy Meeks in Scream, but being Travis Welker nearly upends those personas and transform him into a smooth talking, fast thinking, son of a gun whose perfect to match wits with his on-screen old man, Burt. “Tremors 6” is essentially the Burt and Travis show, leaving many other characters up as red shirts, but waver a handful as potential love interests and bone headed comedic reliefs. Starting with South African Tanya van Graan (“Starship Troopers 3: Marauder”) as the kinda kooky Jamie Kennedy love interest in Dr. Rita Sims. Sims is nearly all over the board being the lead scientist on the research expedition to a complete bad ass with a rifle to being a sultry fox who goes commando with no underpants in the arctic. Then there’s Jamie-Lee Money, just on the cusp of her career, plays Valerie McKee, the offspring of “Tremors'” Valentine McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter). Money looks the part, but the character is severely downplayed and lifeless that mistreats the legacy of Val who was spontaneous, inventive, and naively charming. Other characters come off goofy, oddball, and arbitrary or insignificantly used played by Greg Kriek (“Lake Placid: Legacy”), Stephanie Schildknecht (“Accident”), and Kiroshan Naidoo.

The entire Tremors franchise has been through a wringer of changes over the last 27-years that has really stretched the incredible substratum monster thinner and thinner. Reducing the physical formidability down to a visual effects monstrosity that still preserves a somewhat tongue-and-cheek campiness, “Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell” doesn’t quite have the “Tremors” flavor. Perhaps it’s the arctic setting. Perhaps it’s the inane special effects. Perhaps it both, but one thing is certain and that is Michael Gross being solidified as the unwavering face of the franchise, but even with that constant variable, this sixth installment attempts to lure back in the original fan base by referencing the original film in numerous instances, such as with Valentine’s daughter, Valerie, or even with Burt’s famous one-liner when he shot-to-death the basement crashing Graboid from the first film, but instead of saying “rec room,” he yells “airplane hangar” as the Graboid explodes in a gush of orange blood as it rams into an underground electrical barrier. It’s a bit of a farce. Yet, there’s still an immense amount of enjoy-ability, energy, and Graboid fun to be had.

Universal releases the PG-13 “Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell” on the home video, 1440 Entertainment label, with a combo Blu-ray + DVD + Digital disc. The 1080p High Definition Blu-ray was viewed for this review which is presented in a widescreen 178:1 aspect ratio and the image quality is deep with details. The terrains absolutely come alive to the screen and, at the same time, expose the visual effects work. No matter how much the visual effects team tries to create an Canadian arctic atmosphere, the sands of the South African landscape couldn’t be optically opaqued. Nonetheless, facial features, character attire, and even the explosions, cascading, and orange Graboid blood gooing is sharp with precision definition. As far as audio, the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound caters to every audible fissure with an attractive ambiance track (ass)blasting with baritone and ripping semi-automatic fire cues. Dialogue comes over clean and the soundtrack has healthy bones, aside from it’s generic, low-budget assortment. Extras include a making of “Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell” that’s broken down into multiple, short chapters, the anatomy of a scene, and inside Walter Chang’s kitschy market. Since the breaking news that SyFy will not longer move forward with the anticipating Tremors television series with Kevin Bacon, “”Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell” signifies that the withering franchise will not stray from Burt Gummer’s one-man show anytime soon; still, the sixth installment provides a healthy amounts of witty banter and a swimming pool full of Graboid gore, two foundational motifs still vibrant in the Tremors universe.

Evil Wants You to Say it’s Name! “The Bye Bye Man” review!


Elliot, Sasha, and John move into an old manor home just off the university’s campus. The tight knit three friends stumble upon a tattered nightstand with scribbled nonsense inside the drawer and underneath the incoherent writing and scratched into the wood is The Bye Bye Man. Once you hear the name, a searing imprint has been made into the mind, opening up a layer within the universe that invites a grim reaper-like figure to come horrifically collect individuals who have been infected with the name. The mysterious malevolence will impose hallucinations, or tricks, upon the mind to induce others to commit evil acts on another and will stop at nothing until those who know his name are either end up dead or spread his vileness. For Elliot, Sasha, and John, their close relationships will be tested, they’re bodies will be challenged, and their minds will be altered in a race against the clock in order to beat death, to defeat The Bye Bye Man.

“The Bye Bye Man” is an Universal Pictures and STX Entertainment distributed boogeyman concept from 1995’s “The Last Supper” director Stacy Title. Title, who hasn’t been active for about ten years since her last directorial, helms the project written by her husband, an appropriately named Jonathan Penner, who also had a co-starring role in “The Last Supper.” The inspiration stems from a collection of horrific tales from Robert Damon Schneck’s “The President’s Vampire: Strange-but-True Tales of the United States of America,” but “The Bye Bye Man” borrows heavily from well-crafted horror brethren too, birthing a mythological personification of death that doesn’t wield a scythe, but rather being a master, underneath a dark hooded cloak, to a hellish beast that munches on the faces of The Bye Bye Man’s victims. “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Final Destination,” and a little bit of “Scream” become the selected examples that are the genetic makeup of TItle and Penner’s film, but doesn’t grossly rip from the said works, two of which are the late Wes Cravens masterpieces. Instead, Jonathan Penner reconfigures the nightmare man, a modern day Freddy Krueger type stalking every soul during the day and night hours, whom establishes his own brand of Rube Goldberg deaths through deadly vision inflictions that pray upon a human’s moral subconscious. “Don’t say it. Don’t think it” sets as the 2017 film’s tagline with the notion that perhaps little white lies are, literally, lifesavers or that the truth can be hurtful, and or knowledge can be powerful, but can also lead to your own demise.

“Ouija’s” Douglas Smith succumbs to his lead role of Elliot, an educated and patient young man who seems to have everything despite tragic misfortune that’s whisked through the character development. From friends, to a supportive brother, to a loving girlfriend, Smith transition seamlessly to languishing burden during a spotlight scene with co-star Carrie-Anne Moss (“Matrix”) that’s raw and cuttingly empathetic. The story centers around Elliot, but Sasha and John have pivotable relationships to Elliot, two essential roles given to two British actors, former girl of Prince Harry, Cressida Bonas, and television actor Lucien Laviscount. Both Bonas and Laviscount expensed drab performances, mechanically and, often, monotonically coming and going from scene-to-scene without mingling well into the rest of the film’s grim and dire trimmed overalls that basically left Smith out to pick up the slack. Along with Carrie-Anne Moss, who always seems to be typecast in a women of power role and, in this case, a detective, “The Bye Bye Man” sports other veterans of both horror and general film, but; instead, take a backseat to a younger generation of actors. “HellBoy’s” Doug Jones silently strolls through one of the easiest prosthetically garbed performances of his illustrious career as the titular character, genre stable Leigh Whannell (“Saw”) commits to a haunting performance as a murder-suicide martyr, and the legendary Faye Dunaway portrays a longtime widow of the aforementioned madman. Michael Trucco (“Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled”), Jenna Kanell, Cleo King (“Hood of Horror”), and Erica Tremblay round out the supporting cast.

Universal picking up a horror title resembling an infantile kids feature and releasing it theatrically might with relatively unknown, mostly non-American cast, will scratch some questioning heads, but with a well oiled supporting cast consisting of many years of guild service, a director, despite being inactive for many years, maintaining a sensible and visionary eye, and a story, aside from a few underdevelopments, that captivates with edge of your seat scares and with next moment eagerness, “The Bye Bye Man” has great potential. With smoothing out details of Elliot’s and The Bye Bye Man’s backstories and construing more of a slow burn method when getting the characters involved with the ‘don’t think it, don’t say it’ villain name, Universal would have increased their gross profits by double and the world would be happy once again. Unfortunately, that scenario was not the case as credits bombarded “The Bye Bye Man” as about as borrowed and as hokey as any low-budget horror film can be, but “The Bye Bye Man” surpassed the production budget by triple and to me, someone who generally has the same stance as most credits, that’s a win for Stacy Title and company.

The Intrepid Pictures and Los Angeles Media Fund production “The Bye Bye Man” makes a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment debut on a two-version unrated Blu-ray and DVD combo. The MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p Blu-ray disc contains a razor sharp image in the 1.85:1 presentation. Depth and shadows phenomenally define the space, especially in closer quarters and the ariel shots. A motif of bleak black and grim grey is consistent throughout, creating a tone through the darker shades, with vivid hues to gloriously fend for themselves amongst the achromatic reel landscape. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound doesn’t feign in the balance category with dialogue prevalence not short of excellence and, much like other atmospheric horror, the spooky elements are outlined in various levels from a coin dropping to a train horn. Bonus features are surprisingly zilch with no extras on either format; I guess there wasn’t much to say during or post-film. In all, “The Bye Bye Man” is a total hack with plot holes. A completely borrowed and revamped product with a terribly childish title promising nothing to the genre, but that doesn’t necessarily mean “The Bye Bye Man” can’t be entertaining, providing a wicked sense of humor and a morbid final destination outlook with unexpected casting choices and a barely bordering PG-13 horror rendering.

Say Buy to “The Bye Bye Man” at Amazon.com!

Evil Joins the Mile High Club! “Flight 7500” review!

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The transpacific Vista Pacific Flight 7500 from Los Angeles to Tokyo should have been a long, but relaxing overnight ten hour flight for many of the traveling passengers. After experiencing heart-stopping turbulence, the flight’s most mysterious passenger dies suddenly and violently over the pacific ocean. His death releases a string of strange apparition encounters with rest of the passengers and the crew that literally grapple at their internal fears. As the supernatural force slowly engulfs every inch of the plane, passengers disappear one-by-one and the key to possibly stopping the remorseless evil that has betaken them is to investigate into the unexpected death of the mysterious passenger and into his on-flight baggage.

Ju-on: The Grudge director Takashi Shimizu terrorizes the skies with his trademark macabre of supernatural entities. Shimizu’s “Fightly 7500” mixes Japanese culture with Hollywood cinematic values while also, literally, connecting L.A. with Tokyo with a flight over the pacific. Nothing is scarier than being trapped with no where to run from a menacing force on a pressurized plane that could fail on any given moment. The plane becomes a synonym for death. Shimizu exemplifies the given unforeseen horrors of a plane by adding in the exterior motive of a trembling, and extremely creepy, Shinigami death doll, which allows suddenly dispatched spirits to spook and terrorize. Sinister spirits are unable let go of their robbed mortality. Shimizu couldn’t help but include numerously his trademarks of limbs jutting out suddenly, reaching to grab a surprised victim to face their fate or slowly overcoming an obstacle such as in this film a hand reaching over the edge of a suitcase or springing out of a small airplane trash receptacle.
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The cast is made up of relatively recognizable and more modern day horror vets with Amy Smart (“Mirrors”), Scout-Taylor Compton (“Halloween I & II” remakes), “True Blood’s” Ryan Kwanten, Leslie Bibb (The Midnight Meat Train), Rosita Espinosa herself from “The Walking Dead” Christian Serratos, and Jamie Chung (“Sorority Row” remake). Nicky Whelan, Jerry Ferrera, Alex Frost, Rick Kelly, and Johnathon Schaech round out the rest of the cast. The under the radar, non-mainstream cast play their roles respectively and accordingly to the script written by the serial B-horror writer Craig Rosenberg, building up their conflicting outer lives before they’re all crammed into a single jumbo jet liner. However, the instance of too many characters cause each of character’s development to fall flatlined due in part to the measly 80 minute runtime.
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Like previous Shimizu ghost features, nothing is what it seems and “Flight 7500” is no exception to that fact, but in trying to build a monumental case to deliver a shock in the finale, various mishaps raise questions that don’t add up the surprising reveal. A couple brain scratching questions rise to the surface, stemming from the following: There were two different midair turbulent events in which both were significant, but the one the film specifies isn’t the one referenced back to the catalyst turn of events in dooming the passengers to a remaining ride of rampaging terror. Also, when the phantasmal mystery becomes resolved and the characters’ realize the understanding behind their strife, the plane’s onboard television transmit a newscast explaining the events that happened to “Flight 7500,” but the divulging is ridiculously forced and a road less traveled trick. The newscast exposition comes as if there isn’t any other means of communicating the characters’ situation, putting in the ground, six-feet under, the mood of the ah-ha moment.
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The Lionsgate and CBS Films collaboration presents the 2014 PG-13 feature on DVD in a 16×9 widescreen format with a crisp, LFE heavy English 5.1 Dolby Digital audio. The experienced director of photography David Tattersall uses a vibrant, almost neon-like, dark blue tone that sets appropriately the coldness of thrilling spirits and the lifelessness of mechanical plane setting. The Tyler Bates soundtrack feels as inexpensive as the film’s modest budget which is disappointing from Bates whose had solids scores for Zack Snyder’s epic-extravaganza “300” and superhero-melodrama “Watchmen” while also doing John Carpenter justice in re-imagining the “Halloween” theme. “Flight 7500’s” “The Grudge” like effects stay the plotted course given by this director and embodies the airplane as a haunted house in the sky, soaring through living fog, jutting grey hands, and a presence that can’t be shaken. The overall experience doesn’t have a perfect touchdown landing on the runway, but at least the Takashi Shimizu airplane horror doesn’t crash and burn either, leaving viewers walking away safe and satisfied at their journey’s final destination.