EVIL Exploits Your Fears in “Phobic” reviewed! (Samuel Goldwyn Films / Digital Screener)

The most vulnerable are being chained to chairs and tortured by the terrifying weight of their own extreme phobias until their bodies can no longer take the stress, fatally collapsing where they sit due to heart failure.  Homicide detective Riley Sanders notices frightening similarities to her own abduction months earlier where the kidnapper tortures the stunned detective with an intense light on repeater.   Refusing to believe her abduction and the case she’s investigating are linked, her partner, Paul Carr, continues to insist that her traumatic experience might be key to solving the homicides and finding the killer.  As the detectives dig deeper into a radical psychiatrist’s phobia program whose patients are showing up the killer’s victim list, they find themselves at the center of a disturbing experiment that aims unleash an inner, and only ever theorized, phenomenal ability.

Bryce Clark’s psychological cop thriller, “Phobic,” tales an irregular and irrational serial killer objective derivative of David Fincher’s “Seven” twisted quietly with elements from the superhero universe. Darkly toned exploitation of forcing the worst of the worst fears upon the those already cripple down by their distinct aversion, the 2017 shot “Phobic” marks the return of a Clark written and directed full length feature since the filmmaker’s 2012 debut in both categories with a romantic-comedy starring Mischa Barton.  Both polar opposite films were shot on location in Salt Lake City, Utah, Clark’s residential city, surrounded by picturesque ice capped mountains overlooking the illuminated, pedestrian-saturated metropolitan area home to the story’s wicked psychotronic experiment that literally frightens people to death.  “Phobic’ is a production of Storylab and Pale Moon Entertainment.

Two detectives continue to peel back the arcane layers of the unusual case before them with detective Riley Sanders at the heart of the matter being linked to the recent string of methodical abductions tailored specifically with the victim.  “Looking Glass” actress Jacque Gray dichotomizes Riley not only as a persistent investigator eager to bring this case to an end but also as a struggling closeted neurotic with her own fears that bleed through the celluloid.  Clark makes sure to underscore Riley’s nightly routine before going to bed with her constantly turning on and off lights in her path to represent a lingering but indeterminate phobia response.  Riley is supposed to be this tough, but law abiding cop, who survived a harrowing ordeal, but Gray hardly expresses Riley’s scarred rigid soul, representing more so in the lines of coloring her disposition by the numbers that refuse to waiver outside normalcy.  Devin Liljenquist is even more so vanilla as Riley’s partner, Paul.  As his introductory feature film, Liljenquist’s doesn’t carry the range of a cop who cares, topping out with a straight-faced sleepwalk that challenges the stakes and can be considerably creepy, like subtly sexual grooming predator, when Paul is trying to convince Riley to open her fears with him.  The character audiences deserved, or better suited as Riley’s partner to provide contrast, would have been the third scarcely screened detective on the case that occasionally popped in as the first investigator on scene of a crime in Alex Nibley’s Detective Hank Ferry.  The slightly elder detective, complete with Nibley’s stark white, Anderson Cooper hairstyle, had a quick, dark wit and cavalier presence about him that breached the Riley and Paul uncharismatic stiffness with a relieving change of pace dynamics between colleagues.  You couldn’t wait to see Detective Ferry to make a reappearance, but sadly, his character is sorely underutilized for only a couple of moments.  “Phobic’s” in-and-out supporting cast includes James Jamison, Tiffani DiGregorio, Fred Spencer, and Ernie Lively as Riley Sanders secret-keeping father.

“Phobic” follows a basic detective thriller in tracking down a homicidal maniac with a niche kill tactic that bread crumbs one of the investigating officers into being subverted by a conflict of interest stemmed from her past. However, out of Salt Lake City’s blue skies, Clark suddenly pivots in his script, diverting from a dark, gritty Finchian narrative to an acutely forged new shape of revival and hope, a shape that bares no cape, no mask, or no bald, psychic power yielding man bound to a wheelchair playing headmaster of a school that serves as a façade for an elite team of powerful, do good mutants. If my hint wasn’t overly blunt, let me be utterly clear, “Phobic” has no distinct x-factor but goes from fears to fight with the psychotronic theory where energy and strength derive from stress and fear over the witnessing the impending doom of a loved one. Urban legend surrounding the notion of hysterical strength siphons away the psychosomatic element from the grooves of the cop thriller and Clark copiously throws in crucial red herrings to keep viewers muddling and not Professor X cerebral filling in the gaps unraveling an unlikely and unrealistic prospect of superhuman truth, but “Phobic’s” off-the-cuff pivot is a quick to squander all that’s been built in what’s essentially Bryce Clark’s house of cards to discombobulate an audience with polarizing story principles, rebranding an assayed horror-thriller into rabid conceit.

 

Easily one of the most idiosyncratic and unanticipated films of 2020, “Phobic” induced fear into audiences panic-stricken hearts this past December 15th onto multiple digital platforms courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films, the distributor that brought you “Daniel Isn’t Real” and “Pet.” Brandon Christensen’s tenebrous cinematography is shot on a 6k red epic dragon with ultra definition displaying full range of details in every scene and despite the somber tones created by a slew of gaffer up lighting, we get some really rich natural coloring, even in the baby blue eyes of Ernie Lively, when Christensen isn’t blue or red tinting the lens to underscore the killer’s aftermath crime scene. While the cinematography is good, the editing can be pestilent expression of style to represent Riley’s sporadic and continuous reliving of a reoccurring memory. The stock score is just that set on autoplay for nearly the length of the 81 minute runtime with engineered eruptions in the pitch to denote the jump scares. There were no bonus features included with the digital screener nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. The bland acting hurts “Phobic’s” exploration of the psychological symbiotic energies between that of the mind and body, but the film boils down to have a fascinating perspective on the detective thriller by reshaping the surface with bold expectations of an uncharacteristic, dormant fear free all.

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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!

The EVILS of the Jersey Shore! “Exit 0” reviewed! (DVD / Breaking Glass Pictures)


A young New York City couple drive down the Jersey Turnpike down to the Jersey Shore for a quaint getaway in the comforts of Cape May’s Doctor’s Inn Bed and Breakfast. With the hopes of rekindling the spark between them, the omission of the fast churning city living will surely become dampened by the island’s off-season quiet that’s more in sync with focusing on each other. However, after a strange incident at a curbside rest stop, something hasn’t felt right. From the odd tenants to the inexplicable occurrences of the Doctor’s Inn, the strain between their recoupling becomes a daunting wedge and when a videotape is discovered in their room, a videotape that shows a grisly murder on the exact spot they sleep in their room, that wedge not only drives deeper between them but also begins to suspend reality and raise paranoia.

Set on location at the Doctor’s Inn Bed and Breakfast of Cape May, New Jersey is the jarringly fear-fostering “Exit 0” that delivers the grim goods on a dead end, spook story skippered by writer-director E.B. Hughes (“Turnabout”) from a story co-writer with Philadelphian native, Gregory Voigt. Being a local Philadelphian suburbanite myself and a patron visitor of Avalon, New Jersey, having “Exit 0” be a horror-thriller that showcases the tremendous historical and Victorian-laden edifices and tourist retreats like the lighthouse on Cape May point is really invigorating to know that any kind of story, whether horror or otherwise, can be tailored into the seams of just about anywhere on this designer planet. Cape May is charming, inviting, and bustling with touristy customers who’ve answered the call from the beach from up and down the East Coast and surrounding inland areas, but during the off-season, the Jersey Shore, as a whole, is a gloomy and desolate barren land that would emit the appearance of invoking an eerily haunting atmosphere. “Exit 0” is also a charming little independent picture, self-produced by Hughes under his production company EBFIlms.

The cast is comprised of mostly locals in the tristate New Jersey, New York, and Philly area, starting off with Gabe Fazio (“Trauma is a Time Machine”) anchoring down Billy in the lead role of the boyfriend reminiscing about when his parents took him to the Doctor’s Inn when very young and being the plagued victim of severe anxiety when things go strangely muddled during his stay. “The Badger Game’s” Augie Duke plays a constant in Billy’s quickly downgrading opaque craziness as the teetering love interest, Lisa, and though typically the foundering relationship could be the heart of the story, but in “Exit 0,” Lisa might be portion of the reason for Billy’s seemingly unhinged fear. Duke’s wonderfully seductive from a distance, blue balling Billy on his wishful romantic long weekend. Billy and Lisa’s chemistry is in a beaker of unknown substance as we’re not really sure where the stand with each other: Billy doesn’t know whether he loves Lisa or not and Lisa keeps Billy at arm’s length while at the same time attempts to engage in Billy’s sexual advances. Hughes highlights often usual and direct characters to round out Billy’s source of burdens, especially with The Writer played by “The Mask’s” Peter Greene. Greene’s method approach plays into his deep ominous eyes and contoured facial features as a mysterious fixture. Federico Castelluccio plays into the latter direct category as the island’s Detective Mueller. The “Midday Demons” actor perhaps provides a character who becomes the only source of sanity not influencing Billy’s instability and Castelluccio courses a hardnose investigator to reach the truth. “Exit 0” fills out with a couple of veterans in Kenneth McGregor (“Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil”) and Daniel O’Shea (“The Rocketeer”).

“Exit 0” will unavoidably not be a hit with most audiences as a salt of the earth kind of psychological thriller bearing no teeth when considering general moviegoer baits, such as lots of gore, action, and skin, but despite the rudimentary building blocks, E.B. Hughes braises shuttering tension inside a compartmentalized configuration that includes a bit of found footage vehemence mixed with some spun Cape May folklore that’ll find regional nepotism amongst from friends and relatives of the cast and the crew and favoritism from the locals and enigma enthusiastic. Another disadvantage against “Exit 0” is more technical in regards to poor sound editing that picks up way to much noise, ambient and static alike, that’ll certainly dissuade some from enjoying the core plot involving triggering suppressed mental illness and eliciting out of the box interpretation of whether or not what Billy experiences are in fact real or just in his piecing imagination.

Embark on a minatory trip to Cape May with E.B. Hughes’ “Exit 0” on DVD Home Video distributed by Philadelphia company Breaking Glass Pictures. The region 1 DVD is presented in a widescreen, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, with a runtime of 95 minutes. “Exit 0” isn’t a popping color film that limits the ranges to being bleak shades of primary colors that opalescent from scene to scene until we meet The Writer whose basking in a harsh, almost heater like, fluorescent red. These scenes exhibit quite a bit of color banding, noticeably on the walls. Details are moderately soft on times, especially on faces, but there’s plenty of good contour lighting to equalize the effect. The English language dual channel stereo mix initially begins with a rough edit that can’t discern dialogue and backdrop noise audiophiles, making the car ride exchange dampened between Billy and Lisa who are nearly drowned out from the car’s whooshing ambience. Stereophonic sound system feels more mono that can’t grasp the voices and the anxiety riddle milieu that bombard Billy’s crumbling agitation. Dialogue tracks are, for the most part, prominent and can be discerned. Special features include a lengthy and in depth Q and A with director E.B. Hughes, Gabe Fazio, Peter Greene, and Federico Castelluccio, behind the scenes footage, outtakes, a bonus short film “Harsh Light” written and directed by E.B. Hughes about an aging boxer whose career has hit a dead end, and the theatrical trailer. “Exit 0” is abstruse conjecture that mental illness and chilling folklore can be one in the same, depending on one’s subjective perspective, and E.B. Hughes and his anchoring leads masterfully leave open the murky, rheumy wounds for personal contemplation in a hair-raising tale.

Available on DVD at Amazon.com

The Analogies of the EVIL that Plagues Us. “Hole” reviewed! (Wild Eye Releasing / DVD)


Three peoples’ lives become coiled around the unfortunate state of death with each experiencing individual variations of the concept. The recently released convicted felon, Ed Kunkle, faces reality on the brink of insanity as his past demons vilify his temperament in the direction of total carnage. Befriended by Kunkle is Eve Adams, a single mother who struggles to cope with her infant son’s untimely murder that happened right under her watch. Assigned to the Adams Boy’s case is detective Bodie Jameson who struggles with own malevolent urges brought upon by the unsurmountable cases of grisly homicides that come cross his desk while he also tracks down a child killer. Their differences connect them, looking into their future to rediscover the past that molded their disheveled lives into fateful affairs with death.

Over the course of three years between 2007 to 2010, auteur filmmaker Joaquin Montalvan directed and assembled a gritty glimpse into the grubby windows of condemned souls with the 2010 released “Hole,” produced by his own independent production company, Sledgehammer Films, and co-written with his longtime collaborator and wife in life, Eunice Font. “Hole” is Montalvan’s third horror feature following 2002’s beleaguered with loneliness thriller “Adagio” and psychological horror, “Mobius,” which was released the year prior in 2009, plus also behind a string of documentaries. Montalvan’s an optically surreal storyteller basking in a rich and unorthodox story and color palette that revives originality bobbing in an heaving ocean of lemming horror.

“Hole” is comprised of showcasing three stories from three tormented lives. One of those lives, the mentally unfit Ed Kunkel, gorges on being the centric force that thrives the other two into a descendant hell. The late Paul E. Respass tunes into Kunkel’s manic polarity as a person who can be extremely mild mannered and pleasant then explode with caustic abrasiveness and ugly torture. Respass’s shoulder length, wavy hair, graying goatee, and iron contoured face gives him a Charles Manson appearance that goes good with crazy. Behind closed doors Repass’s Kunkle breaks with sanity slaughtering his mother lookalikes as a result of mommy issues, but when conversing with Eve Adams, Kunkle’s maintains an upright keeled temper. Teem Lucas, who like Respass has worked with Montalvan previous, subdues the abnormal imbalance with a normal person’s reactionary response to loss and heartache when Eve Adams copes with the murder of her young child. In the middle these two extremities, detective Bodie Jameson’s work seeps into his psyche, fluctuating between irrational and rational thoughts. Another actor in Montalvan’s corral, Jim Barile, who looks more like a 70’s hippie than a detective, has the hardest performance of them all of slipping into a terrifying unknown mindset while maintaining status quo in work and romantic relationships. Barile’s role isn’t well recieved, flying mainly under the radar with an underperformed and pointless conclusion to detective Jameson right and wrong affliction. Charlotte Bjornbak (“Camera Obscura”), Katherine Norland (“Cannibal Corpse Killers”), Alina Bolshakova (“Dead End Falls”), Dennis Haggard (“Cannibal Corpse Killers), Theresa Holly (“Legend of the Hillbilly Butcher”), Micki Quance, Gavin Graham, and Char Frost (“Someone’s Knocking at the Door”) co-star.

Right away, a strong sense of resemblance washed over me when viewing “Hole.” The lead actor, Paul Respass, and the overall texture felt already acquainted with my visual cortex nerves. My suspicions were justified and my sanity was cleared as I have seen “Hole” before in a later film entitled “Legend of the Hillbilly Butcher,” another Joaquin Montalvan flick featuring Respass as a delusional manic. Yet, “Hole” is one of those films that after the credits role, hasty judgements should be chewed on, reflected upon, and recollected for a second analysis. Hell, you might as well just re-watch it all over. The thing with Montalvan is is that his brand has trademark cognizance on such a level that even if “Hole,” released in 2010, and “Legend of the Hillbilly Butcher,” released in 2014, instinctually ride the same wave, they ultimately compare as individual projects with a distinct personality and artistic flair. For instance, “Legend of the Hillbilly Butcher” denotes more of an homage to early exploitation films and “Hole” puts more stake into societal system failures, even if borrowing from the likes of Ed Gein with the killer wearing a flesh mask and sewing up a fleshy garment. Both films hark about mental illness, but one glorifies the act for the sheer sake of carnage fun and the other considers it a collateral damaging symptom of a broken justice structure. Another difference to note is “Hole’s” three-way non-linear narrative that moves like the Wonkavator from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” in every way imaginable and can be daunting to keep up.

Out of the depths of obscurity comes “Hole” distributed on DVD home video by MVDVisual and Wild Eye Releasing under the Raw and Extreme banner. Presented in a widescreen, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Montalvan and his D.P. R.T. Norland, brightly bedazzling with every shade of matte box and some slow motion, play the field utilizing various techniques to tap into Ed Kunkle’s disorienting madness. Using backdrops like the ghost town of Bodie and the spiritual sanctuary (or bohemian commune) of Salvation Mountain, Montalvan’s able to cast an aberrant vision out inside an independent means. There are some points of posterization, details are softer than desired, and blacks lose composition with blocky noise so there are some drawbacks to the encoding. The English language dual channel audio mix pairs about the same as the video with spliced competing facets that tend to offer come-and-go range and depth. Scream queen moments go into feedback mode during Ed Kunkle’s kill mode, losing the ideal quality via unsound mic placement. Dialoge is okay being on the softer side with some background noise being flowing in and out between the audio edits, emitting a static effect around the dialogue and then cut out when not the actors are not speaking. The bonus features are aplenty and informative with a Montalvan commentary track, an extensive mack of documentary that fine combs every pore of the film that includes interviews with cast and crew, Ed’s Journal segment conversing about the backstory on Ed Kunkle’s perverse family and killed friends portraits and souvenirs, as well as trailers. Bloodhounds will want more from Ed Kunkle’s shed of horrors, but what director Joaquin Montalvan has fashioned threads madness with a neglected mental heath system while polishing a a shiny three prong, moviegoer narrative with blood, body parts, and butchery.

Mom Sees the EVIL in her Son in “M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters” reviewed! (Indie Rights Movies / Screener)


Abbey Bell is extremely worried about her teenage son, Jacob. Worried that Jacob, an intelligent boy with good grades and is a social magnet, is plotting a mass shooting at his school. After countless preemptive attempts to warn authorities and medical professionals of her suspicions of his psychopathic tendencies, Abbey begins recording a diary and setting up spy cameras inside the family home hoping to catch Jacob’s unpredictable and dangerous suggestions and threats on tape. The videos will also serve as blog fodder for other desperate mothers experiencing similar disturbing behavioral issues with their children. As the single mother and her son continue their at home war of bickering words and distraught suspicions, the maternal bond once shared between mother and son begins to deteriorate and evolve into unsurmountable distrust between each other; a distrust that has been simmering ever since Jacob was a toddler stemmed by Abbey’s dark family secret sheathed for many years until Jacob weaponizes it for his utmost survival against his concerned mother.

Before the coronavirus pandemic transformed powerful sovereign nations into panic-induced introverts wetting their pants at the first spray of a sneeze hitting their skin, news medias around the globe delectably ate up headlines of mass shootings as there would seem, at least for a good stretch, to be a sad and unfortunate mass shooting every single day. Tucia Lyman’s “M.O.M. Mother of Monsters” derives from that fearful climate while also purposing another sub-topical issue of a parent’s position in that circumstance. Lyman tackles one fictional woman’s tale of internal turmoil as her directorial debut and the sophomore script of a feature film not in a documentary format, pivoting away from the “Untold Stories of the ER” and “I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant” junk food that consumes about 2/3’s of television comatose Americans. The “found footage” 2020 released psychological thriller is produced by Elain White and Austin Porter whom both have collaborated with Lyman in the past.

While not as sexily depicted and as authoritative as Emilia Clarke is depicted to be the Mother of Dragons in HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” New York City born Melinda Page Hamilton can surely sell a mother of a monster as Abbey Bell, vending sharply laid out doubts and uncertainties with a mountain of convincing circumstantial evidence against her only child. The “Not Forgotten” actress quietly folds into herself as the submissively passive Abbey on a histrionics mission to out her son as a danger to society. Bailey Edwards commands a subversive and rebellious teenage Jacob Bell that can use his millennial powers to steamroll over his mother’s lack-of-assertive powers. This film will be Bailey’s first substantial co-staring venture, along with minor performances in “My Dead Boyfriend” starring Heather Graham and Netflix’s “Bright” with Will Smith, and who will subtly introduce Jacob as some white nationalist, gun enthusiasts who has a gas mask with a swastika insignia, first person shooter gear and video games, and scenes of him walking in front of gun shops. While Hamilton and Edwards dominate the majority of screen time, the short cast list rounds out with Janet Ulrich Brooks, Julian de la Celle, and a special appearance from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s” Ed Asner as a behavioral doctor Skyping perspective therapy with Abbey. Does anyone believe a 91-year-old knows how to use a video chat? It’s a bit of a stretch….

“M.O.M. Mother of Monsters” throws caution to the wind embarking on a viewpoint of how far a mother will go to expose her child’s dissident and, potentially, deadly behavior. Lyman also digs deeper into the psyche of the mother and the child, sticking them with a ticking time bomb that is the heredity factor. Mental illness is a huge underlined theme that Lyman slips into the fold as signs of one person’s erratic behavior can be stemmed from the secrets of little known relatives and their seemingly destined out of control path can no way be influenced externally without reserving counseling, extenuating the age-old debate of nurture versus nature. Lyman’s storytelling smartly preserves an obscured aspect, cloaked by selective denial and tremendous paranoia, that becomes a catalyzing game changer of disturbing consequences. The narrative isn’t at all flawless with weak spots in the character structure that pigeonhole the roles to be stuck inside this cat and mouse cycling mindset between Abbey and Jacob. For instance, Abbey’s an obsessive, 24-hour recording zealot whose documenting never reveals anything else happening in Abbeys life, like work, friends, etc., whereas Jacob’s intermixed recordings with a female friend outside the contentious home reveal a life beyond his skirmish with this mother and his videogame shut-in habitat, but these recordings stick out awkwardly as much of the story’s is from Abbey’s perspective so how did Jacob’s casual conversation videography become a part of Abbey’s cautionary tale for other distraught mothers? Whether intentional or not to exhibit the imbalanced social complexities between Jacob and Abbey’s personal lives or lack thereof, Jacob’s exterior scenes course out of bounds, penalizing portions of the plot.

Become submersed in dark thoughts and monomania with Tucia Lyman’s “M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters” hitting the digital HD VOD platforms soon after premiering at the Los Angeles Arena Cinelounge this past Friday the 13th through Indie Rights distribution. Since this is a theatrical and VOD title, there is no home video release to provide technical specs and assessments; this also includes no special features. “M.O.M. Mothers of Monsters” hammers down the sociopolitical hot topics of mental illness, gun violence, and presumptive fear teeming in America with a spitting image and climate aware psychological thriller bristled with family dysfunction.