A Massachusetts foursome of girls, Wren, Chloe, Hallie, and Katie, invoke the summoning of an internet lore named Slender Man after watching an instructional online video on how to evoke his presence to reality. After the video completes and the girls dismissively chalk this activity up as hoax-filled rubbish, an embattled and disconnected Katie vanishes a few weeks later during a school sanctioned field trip to a historical graveyard, thrusting the remaining three friends into investigating her abrupt disappearance all the while they each experience an ominous figure haunting them in and out of consciousness. As the continue to look for Katie, Slender Man keeps popping up into the findings. Wren’s convinced, after suffering from terrifying visions, that Slender Man wants the four who’ve contacted him and when her friends dismiss Wren’s frantic ravings, she employs Hallie’s sister, Lizzie, to assist in stopping Slender Man. All of reality is being skewed while Slender Man hunts them down one-by-one and if they’re not taken, those left in Slender Man’s wake will forever be deranged with madness.
Straight from it’s internet meme playbook origins comes the constructed next chapter in “Slender Man’s” mythology from the “I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer” director Sylvain White and written by David Birke (“Elle”) that feels very familiar to “The Ring” premise. Based of the mythos created by Victor Surge, aka Eric Knudsen, “Slender Man” fruition onto the Hollywood scene finds a home under Sony’s Screen Gems division, the same division that delivered the Paul W.S. Anderson “Resident Evil” franchise. While not a mega-glossy action horror piece for Sony and Screen Gems, White’s take on one of the internet’s most popular and mysterious spawns revels in it’s own crowd funded supernatural element and White is the grand puppeteer behind the scenes piecing the material together that builds upon, and extends, “Slender Man” canon into film and video visuals. “Slender Man” provides the character flesh, extenuating doubt where special effects can make monolith his presence of inception and flourish from imagination to terrifying reality. If looking outside the box, “Slender Man” could also be translated into symbolism for the online predatory habits men take towards young, sometimes teenage and impressionable girls. There in lies references to this notion with such in Katie, who is a runaway teenage girl with a fixation toward an obscured man from the internet, aka Slender Man, and also Hallie’s vivid nightmares of being pregnant with the very Lovecraftian-esque spawn of Slender Man as tentacles shoot out from her large, protruding stomach. Yes, she’s a high school girl…
“Slender Man” centers around a four female, high school age characters: Chloe, Katie, Wren, and Hallie. The latter being the leader, Hallie, played by Julie Goldani Telles, is an unwavering non-believer of Slender Man, contributing her visions and feelings as some sort of coming of age Freudian bizarro show. The now 23-year old Telles convinces to pull off a well adjusted teenage girl spiraling into Slender Man’s otherworldly oblivion and absolutely turns the corner when younger sister Lizzie, Taylor Richardson, becomes an unwitting participate. Hallie almost comes toe-to-toe with her confident and frantic friend Wren, a character bestowed to Joey King of “Quarantine” and “White House Down.” King’s townboy-ish approach has served well to keep her character apart in order to not clash with other warring personalities. Yet, there’s not a whole lot interesting aspects associated with the other two characters, Chloe and Katie. If audiences were expected to be concerned for Katie, then Annalise Basso needed her character to have more screen time. The “Ouija: Origin of Evil” actress barely had a handful scenes to try to convey a poignant life with an alcoholic father before she’s whisked away to never been seen again. Chloe had a slight more substance as means to exhibit the result of not being taken by Slender Man; “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s” Jaz Sinclair didn’t really add any pizzaz to her poorly written flat character.
Though Slender Man’s origins surpasses being a byproduct of an internet meme and becomes woven into a lore of all it’s own through a global, technological network, the very fabric “Slender Man’s” tech horror theme had laid a negligent foundation. Viewers without a hint of Slender Man knowledge will find the connection between the shadowy figure that stalks and kidnaps children and the domain from which it was born, witnessing the technology used in the film being wielded as a tool of evil rather than a conduit of to connect two worlds. What works for Sylvain White is his knack for shaping Slender Man into physicality in an applauding effort that combines chilling atmospherics, well timed visual and audio cues, above decent special effects, and the crunchy, contorted body of Javier Botet as the Slender Man. We’ve covered Botet before in “Insidious: The Last Key” as the antagonistic KeyFace creature. KeyFace and Slender Man, two similar but still vastly different villains, wouldn’t be as influential or be brought to such a horrifying fruition if Botet was not behind the mask and it’s because of Botet’s blessing, but also a curse, Marfan Syndrome physique that he’s able to accomplish a wide range of distorted and malformed characters.
Sony Pictures presents “Slender Man” onto HD 1080p Blu-ray under the Screen Gems label. The Blu-ray is presented in widescreen of the film’s original aspect ratio, 2.39:1. “Slender Man” doesn’t sell itself as high performance, resulting in more details in the range of textures rather than relying on a clean, finished look. Colors are remain behind a cloak of darker shades to pull of gloomy atmospherics, but do brighten when the scene calls for it. The digital film looks great, if not fairly standard, for movies of today. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is quite high performance, like revving an engine on an imported roadster. Slender Man comes with his own cache of audio tinglers to send chills up your spin and invoke cold sweats. Every branch breaking ambiance and desperate and exasperated breath being took by the teen girls aligns cleanly and nicely with the visual representations. Dialogue is lossless and prevalent as well as being integrated seamlessly during more active sequences in a well balanced fit all with range and depth. Thin extras do put a damper on the release with a bland featurette entitled “Summoning ‘Slender Man:’ Meet the Cast.” The featurette doesn’t do much more than give the actors’ and White’s opinion of their characters and Slender Man. The shame of it is that the internet is a vast place of information and knowledge and, yet, the featurette doesn’t knick the surface of who and what is Slender Man. Plus, if remembering correctly, there are scenes omitted from this release; more intense and bloodshed scenes that would have granted a more adult friendly rating. This release doesn’t offer up two versions of the film. Despite embodying a rehashed, bi-annual story of supernatural and psychological tech horror of the PG-13 variety, “Slender Man” endures through with a sliver of appreciation for the easily missed facets that work as a positive in Sylvain White’s 2018 film, such as bleak atmospheric qualities and Javier Botet’s performance, but the diluted final product, released on Blu-ray, benches what could have an at home video entertainment home run for Sony Pictures.
In the year 2024, the world’s superpowers are on the edge of nuclear warfare as Earth’s resources are dwindling at a rapid pace. A halt in knife edge conflict and the construction of temporary peace, known as the RAND Treaty, allowed nations to build underground, sustainable bunkers for a restarter population. Plethura 04, one of these bunkers, is being monitored, maintained, and prepped by Roy, an labeled “undertaker” scientist, whose setting the stage for a group of survivors known as Priority One, but when the sudden fallout alarm blares, Plethura is locked down early, trapping Roy alone in a cavernous and cold bunker alone with the exception of an A.I. program that Roy named Arthur. As time passes, Roy sanity comes into question; so much so, that Roy believes that Plethura might just be a drill simulation. Also, is there really something in the bunker with him? Is Arthur trying to confuse him? Questions, isolation, and terror seep into Roy’s mind, perhaps, or perhaps not, manifesting a lurking presence.
“Its Alive,” also known as “Twenty Twenty-Four” is the intense psychological thriller from the United Kingdom. Written and directed by first timer Richard Mundy, “It Lives” is helmed in the same vein as “Buried” with a solo performer in an isolation crisis. Produced by Ripsaw Pictures and Entity Film Company, the feature has some production power behind it that makes the indie film seem to have a fluffier value than its actual worth and garnishes a cherished and chilling atmospheric cinematography by Nick Barker. A real sense of a cold cleanroom can be just as frightening as a filthy slaughterhouse and the Mundy-Barker team hone in on that very concept, performing a bariatric surgery on the heaviness and the plentiful of the up top, outside world and reducing it to a few corridors, a couple of living chambers, and beast-like belly of a generator room. The filmmakers fabricate isolation and the perception of isolation well with a tremendous set up of the scenario: the preparation and the sudden, unexpected calamity of a nuclear fallout.
Actor Andrew Kinsler has the toughest job in the world, acting without feeding off the energy and the lines of other fellow actors. Kinsler goes at the role alone as Roy, a scientist prepping Plethura 04 for the arrival of Priority One survivors and knowing that he will die when he trades spaces with the group as he has to go topside. That’s notion, of having to sacrifice yourself for strangers, is a deep concept. Its easier to sacrifice oneself for the sake of those you love and care for, but complete strangers is pure mental mayhem, especially when all the work of getting the bunker ready was done by Roy. Kinsler keeps up the part of coping with his mortality, accepting it, and then being crushed by it when the world ends at the blink of an eye. Questioning everything as he immerses deeper into isolation, Kinsler relies more on the artificial intelligence to be a companion, despite seemingly being annoyed by the very lack its thirst for human complexities.
Many popcorn viewers don’t care for an open book ending films where the personal interpretation opens up a vast range of theories. “It Lives” is one of those films. Most certainly a disturbing psychological thriller, the story perpetually has Roy second guessing every anomaly that spooks him, even to the extend of thinking a computer program has infiltrated his subconscious with trickery and confusion tactics. Then, the ending smacks you right in the face and then smacks you again with a three finale questions: Was it a dream? Was it madness? Or was it all real? Christopher Nolan similarly put the fate of “Inception’s” Cobb into the hands of audiences when he spins a toy top to see if he was still in inception or if he was in reality. If continuously in motion, that would signify Cobb’s in a fantasy world, but Cobb’s spin is cut short with a cut to black, begging the answer of whether his happy ending was true or a inceptive pipe dream. Roy’s scenario is a lot darker and, if not, deeper that’s challenged by an internal struggle of self-preservation. Has Roy become a fixture of the cleanroom aspect? Has he become a cold figment of accepting his fate and has suppressed his emotion about it to the boiling point that his subconscious is fighting for his own survival? “It Lives” is an exceptionally juicy psychological film worth exploring.
Second Sight presents “It Lives” onto DVD home video this July 30th! Since the screener was a DVD-R, a full assessment of the audio and video aspects will not be covered. There were also no bonus material on the disc. What I can say is that Harry Kirby’s score is the utmost jarring; reminds me of Mark Korven’s unsettling and unique unmelodious score in “The Witch.” As part sci-fi and part horror, the surface level narrative is sheer terror and fear. Below surface, the wicked and frightful stir an embattling vortex of arguments in the grossest of grotesque forms, aka a complete mind destabilization. “It Lives” has indie roots that spread wide and fierce, shredding through temporal lobes like soft butter and delivering one hell of a terrifying psychological horror.
“A Taste of Phobia” brings together 14 international directors to the fold, executing their creative version of terror of various fears. From the fear of the dark to the fear of feces, each short compiled into this feature length film delves into what it means to be afraid of something that an average person regularly encounters on a daily basis. No ghouls, no monsters, and no ghosts stories here; “A Taste of Phobia,” or otherwise known as “Phobia,” explores the inherit human element, the everlasting internal struggle, and the mental conjuring of demons and the anxiety of the unknown that fabricates by and into fear itself. The psychological terror of phobias plagues each and every one of us and is never exclusive to a particular group or race of people, and that’s a haunting reality, especially in an time and age where suppressed personal emotions and issues lead to unfortunate suicidal circumstances. Some of the directors include Lorenzo Zanoni, Alessandro Sisti, Alessandro Redaelli, Alessandro Giordani, Rob Ulitski, Sam Mason Bell, and Davide Pesca.
A number of these filmmakers I’m not familiar with, but I do recognize a few names from the bunch by examining their previous work. Somniphobia is a sleep anxiety disorder which is the basis for the short written by Sophia Cacciola and directed by Michael J. Epstein, who also steps into the lead. “Blood of the Tribabes,” a vampiric melodrama, was my last experience with the Cacciola and Epstein duo, who have a passionate dynamic and chemistry when it comes to horror. Somniphobia is a whole different animal that’s more on a compact scale in comparison to their vampire feature and doesn’t necessarily tackle the perpetual fear of sleep; instead, Epstein portrays a contractor pushed to the limits, practically threatened by an employer, to finish coding a project to the point where he hasn’t slept in days. The lack of sleep and the various methods to try and stay awake by the power of suggestion have fried his brain to the point of self-inflicted harm. The writings good and the dark humor direction is a nice touch. Another recognizable filmmaker that stands out to me is Domiziano Christopharo. The “House of Flesh Mannequins” and “Red Krokodil” director has always exhibited a thirst for body horror and the Italian director places his talents in the kitchen with Mageirocophobia, aka the fear of cooking. Christopharo continues his brand of body-manipulation motif by telling a story of a woman, whose seemingly very good at putting together a tasty and savory fish dish, into a deeply disturbed woman who contemplates and nightmarishly fantasizes herself being the sliced, diced, and cooked to a crisp main dish.
Then, there are many filmmakers I’m not familiar with at all, but did enjoy their short entries. Sunny King’s Nyctophobia, aka fear of the dark, is hands down one of the best entries despite the slight ghost-like manifestation, but the Nigerian director fosters a tangible evil constructed by fear and his version of Nyctophobia is classic, very timeless, sans blood and shock to the point where the story plays out like a simple spook film. Very enjoyable, subtly powerful, and basically classic in tone, King reigns “A Taste of Phobia.” Now, that doesn’t mean Nyctophobia stands alone; UK’s Jackson Batchelor and his fear of politics, Politicophobia, has to be one of the more honest entries and, certainly, one of the more timely. The political undercurrent of two-faced politician is a phobia we can all get behind with their scummy, repetitive, and subliminal messaging campaign ads. Batchelor polar extreme sheds light on what a fear invoked person might experience when viewing just one of the hard-hitting, lying through the teeth campaigning juggernauts. The previous examples pinpoint heighten the emotional aspect of fear, but what if fear perpetuated madness, such as in Poison Rough’s Mysophobia, or fear of germs. The idea of bugs, dirt, or even microbes, crawling in the hair or on the skin gives one very particular man the creepy-crawlies to the breaking point where he’s forced to self-remove his own skin in order cease the sensation.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some shorts didn’t make muster. Fear of feces, or Coprophobia, was just bizarre, daft, and, well, not even that gross for the titular phobia. The approach by churning schlock director Jason Impey was more juvenile than expected with a feces covered stuff animal rising out of the depths of a shit covered toilet and have actor Martin Payne portray a fight of physicality in a small bathroom that ends with Payne naked stabbing the metaphorical stuff animal. Dustin Ferguson’s Mazeophobia, fear of mazes, was another that flared out with a hispanic man driving around lost in America’s unforgiving conservative countryside. He eventually winds up in the hands of a pair of Trumpian wing nuts and the climax becomes a little fuzzy from there into editing shambles that hesitates to make sense of how the series of events play out.
Artsploitation Films, a Philadelphian based distributor seeking the dark and desolate corners of the world to bring to light international entertainment, releases horror-anthology “A Taste of Phobia” onto DVD home video. The anthology is presented in various ratio formats due to the different styles of filmmaking and, thus, a range of image qualities stand out to some that’s suffer from aliasing and blotching atrocities to others that surprising peak in picture value. The 2.0 stereo audio track, mostly English with some Italian and Spanish, have varied ranges, depths and balances as well. Bonus features include a bonus fear mini-movie entitled Achluophobia from director Jason Impey, a behind the scenes look at Michael J. Epstein’s Somniphobia and Chris Milewski’s Pharmacophobia, an interview with producer and one of the 14 fear directors Domiziano Christopharo, a little inside on the special effects for Pharmacophobia and Mageirocophobia, and a theatrical trailer. “A Taste of Phobia” pushes the limits to extremely visualize the niche fears in us all by packing 14 deadly phobias up into an anxiety-riddled anthology released by the good, but probably psychologically insane, people at Artsploitation Films!
Set in an infectious diseased post-apocalypse world, Paul, his wife Sarah, and their son Travis have fortified themselves in a dense forested and isolated house to ride out the easily spreadable disease. Always prepared and ever suspicious, Paul expects everyone to follow a rigorous routine, following procedures in order to avoid becoming infected, but when a young family, seeking supplies and refuge, enters their lives and their home despite Paul’s hesitations. Paul’s family’s routine and order face disruption that opens themselves up to the ever present danger outside and inside their home.
“It Comes at Night” is an intense, heart-pounding mystery thriller set inside the close quartered confines of a desolate house where trust doesn’t come without auspicious interrogation and teeth clinching suspicion. Writer-director Trey Edward Shults’ sophomore feature has layers upon layers of underlying human nature undertones when people are put up against an unsurvivable situation inevitably with their backs against the wall, literally, when confronted to whether to implement the good will nature of their humanity or not, to take that risk to help others or to save their own skin, and to attempt to reconnect with other people or stay separate from the masses. Even the “it” in “It Comes at Night” isn’t as simple as one would first think. Most unfamiliar audiences would assume “it” is a snarling, brooding, oozing, and grotesque creature, or perhaps even a devilishly grinning clown, that comes around when the sun falls; instead, the “it” is an occurrence, an event sparking nightmares inside the human mind that formulates fear and a tall order of exemplary caution.
The Australian born Joel Edgerton (“The Thing” remake) stars as Paul, the father of the family he’s trying to protect at all costs. Edgerton perfectly pitches as a, supposed, American voice, since the story doesn’t exclaim a locality, but the assumption is the setting is nowhere, U.S.A, and plants a firm foot down as a rugged resident of wilderness survival accompanied by his wife Sarah played by Alien: Covenant’s Carmen Ejogo. Ejogo’s offering to her character gives Sarah a powerful will to do what’s necessary and to support Paul in his determination to protect their only son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). Edgerton, Ejogo, and Harrison opposite up well against the foreign element, another family with their performer genetic makeup of Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough, and Griffin Robert Faulkner as Will, Kim, and their just above toddling son, Andrew. Each actor embraces the role in their respective family and at first, the interactions are genuinely jovial, but then the uncomfortable thick tension evolves from the point of an extreme pivot into the folds of deception and fear.
Shults maintains an ominous atmosphere of overwhelming strain amongst the characters and “It Comes at Night” has a unique perspective set inside an already apocalyptic ravaged population despite the lack visual expositions. Yet, the finished project feels incomplete. Pacing is the biggest concern with the timing of events between the introduction of Will’s family and their destined downfall that results in a climax that’s so bellied-up in an sorely anti-climatic fashion that the notion of being cheated out of a more gut-punched ending pulls at the core of the cinematic soul. That’s not to say that the film has one, if not more, interpretations; in fact, Shults’ entire feature is or could be considered open for interpretation, with examples from the duly noted “red door” to the Travis’ child-like personality, and usually those types of heavily subtext films stick around more way after the credits roll, but also, in a slightly bittersweet cause and effect, leaves more of a foggy formulation of events during the unfolding of the story. Also, an aspect that didn’t help the cause was shying away from a powerful scenes that should have left an impact, but R-rated feature delivered no acute moments of remembrance and leaving much to the imagination with only the majority of the rating pie being flavored with tasteless language.
Lionsgate Entertainment presents the Animal Kingdom and A24 produced “It Comes at Night” on a 1080p resolution in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The imagery lavishes in a gritty, woodsy detail that organically defines the sea of trees and natural flesh tones, but as the title suggests, most scenes are shot at night that are moderately blanketed, yet ineffectively intrusive, in digital noise. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix definitely has more girth during the livid nightmares and vigorously tense scenes, but, surprisingly, the dialogue track lacks gusto in the wake of a more lively surround quality. During exchanges of hushed tones, dialogue is rendered nearly inaudible and the option English subtitles had to be deployed. Spanish subtitles are also available. Special features include an audio commentary by writer-director Trey Edward Shults and actor Kelvin Williams Jr and a cast and crew discourse in a segment entitled “Human Nature: Creating ‘It Comes at Night.'” Overall, the psychological and humanity breakdown of the characters of “It Comes at Night” is worth the price of admission along with the teachings that family is key and to never rely on the goodwill of strangers, but finishes with a weak sense of direction that ruptures an unsavory cyst that doesn’t conclude coherently.
Joanna and her fiance, Geoff, enter a sublet agreement sight unseen. With her fiance being a struggling actor with gigs teetering on the line and domineering most of his time, Joanna struggles to find ways to pass the day alone in her apartment on unpaid maternity leave. The creepy, unwelcoming apartment doesn’t feel like home when Joanna has yet see another living soul in the building, but hears footsteps on the next floor above, violent wall banging thumps next door, and extremely unpleasant dreams that seem to cause her to lose time in reality. When Geoff neglects her pleads to leave the sublet, Joanna becomes enthralled with a newfound journal from an off limits room and as soon as she starts to read from the pages, her life in the apartment strangely follows a parallel path of the journal’s previous owner, a house wife named Margaret, that leads to jeopardizing everything Joanna knows: her sanity, her husband, and her baby.
“The Resident,” aka “The Sublet” as known in other parts of the world, is the debut psychological horror directed by the writer of “Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer,” John Ainslie, who also co-wrote the script with Alyson Richards. The 2015 film is also produced by Chad Archibald, whose name might sound familiar if you’re a regular reader of this review website where you can read about interesting horror feature films like “The Resident.” Archibald helmed the body horror delicacy “Bite” the same year. Together, the qualified credential crew steps up to a challenge with “The Resident” that, on the surface, appears to be another run-of-the-mill tired premise of a young couple coping with a malevolent presence and with a common subplot involving a stay-at-home mom being the unfortunate victim. Ainslie and Richards, obviously, go through the stages of that realm, knocking down the expected pillars of conventionalism, but the duo do touch upon a couple of things. For one, they make “The Resident” very interesting and entertaining by seriously messing with Joanna’s state of mind, forcing her to question every little aspect of her mundane existence in that small sublet. The second thing is is that the whole story can be seen a metaphor for postpartum depression that’s driving psychosis right into the thick of Joanna’s unhappiness. More than once, Joanna mentions how ugly she feels and she becomes overly jealous of Geoff’s ex-girlfriend, even if rightfully so.
“Bite’s” Tianna Nori gluttonously takes on Joanna’s dwelling punishment. Nori’s par performance sells sufficiently, but doesn’t completely enthrall Joanna into the depths of madness, leaving a rather tame aftertaste. The same can be said for Mark Matechuk, who plays opposite to Nori with Geoff. His struggling actor shoes fit his two-bit stiff and starchy outfit, but Matechuk and Nori do work well together even if some scenes feel forced and scripted. By far, Rachel Sellan was my least favorite of the three main actors with her portrayal of a snobby, yet beautiful, ex-girlfriend of Geoff’s. A world built solely on the inner walls of the apartment, literally 95% of the film is inside this constructed sublet, has more personality and life than the organic material composing an orchestrated dialogue and I personally don’t blame the cast. I believe the sublet, the construed presence, subversively overshadows the intended characters. Krista Madison, James Murray, Mark Ettlinger, and Jeff Sinasac make up the supporting cast.
“The Resident” has modest effects that spur mostly off screen, but on the rate instance when mise-en-scene effects happened, they didn’t go unnoticed. “The Resident” brought and delivered the appropriate psychological nightmares associated with brain-warping spirits, shelling out an introverted dreaminess in Joanna that only she could experience with those unfortunate family and foes surrounding her witnessing only the outer chaos. Sometimes the story gets lost in itself when attempting to further Joanna’s skewed circumstances. Is Joanna dead already? The answer is possibly. Every external scene of the apartment building or even the brief scenes of Joanna with the stroller sets the moments in dreary rain and when going further into the film, Joanna is no longer able to leave the apartment. She even becomes a part of her own missing person’s investigation conducted by two belligerent cops, played venomously by Mark Ettlinger and Jeff Sinasac, who inform Joanna that her family hasn’t heard from her in days. It’s the final scene that sets the whole rest of the film in stone, that solidifies Joanna’s mental state, and yet the simple moment still leaves questions and reflection. That’s a considerable tall tell sign of good story telling from Ainslie and Richards.
Canadian production company, Black Fawn Films, headed by Chad Archibald have another successful odious anecdote in their arsenal of horror and the company has quickly gained momentum in becoming a juggernaut in sustainable low-budget horror. Second Sight will be heading the home distribution portion of the title with a May 22nd release onto DVD and On Demand. Unfortunately, a press DVD-R was provided and the audio and video qualities can’t be commented on nor can any critique on the bonus material. John Anislie has the tools and the means to labor a chilling trap of supernatural spookiness. With a cast of similar caliber, “The Resident” would have made it higher on the list, but manages to keep a solid bleep on the radar when the next scene always begged the question – what’s going to happen next?