Expectations Lead to EVIL in “The Cool Lakes of Death” reviewed! (Cult Epics / Blu-ray)

Set in the early 1900s, Hedwig’s childhood is filled with love, wealth, and innocence, but when her mother dies suddenly at the hands of typhoid, life turns complicated as death, draconian religious teachings, and an uncompassionate home clouds Hedwig’s mind on what exactly her relationship with men and with God should look like.  Punished for self-pleasure and scolded for her belief in fantasies, Hedwig enters adulthood as a conformist seeking to marry a well off man and have children in what was supposed to be the perfect union that reveals in sexuality the secret to marriage.  Prim and proper on the outside but a child on the inside, Hedwig misjudges her affairs with men and indulges in a pretense relationship with them.   When she finally finds happiness with a renowned pianist and the two have a child together, Hedwig’s hold on reality snaps as the child dies a few days later, sending the once elegant Hedwig into a tailspin of unhinged mental stability, drug addiction, and prostitution. 

“The Cool Lakes of Death” is the adapted film based off the Netherlands novel from the dual profession novelist and psychiatrist, Frederik van Eeden, entitled Van de koele meren des doods, which closely translates to “The Deeps of Deliverance,” a psychological period piece and melodrama with themes on the antiquated God-fearing expectations of a 19th century young woman, the solidity of marital unions, and a woman’s sexual liberation.  “The Cool Lakes of Death” is the follow up directorial from “A Woman Like Eve” director, Nouchka van Brakel,” off a screenplay written also by Brakel and co-written with Ton Vorstenbosch.  The exquisite tragedy of a woman submerged in societal misconceptions of love that can’t be forced and the mutuality of pleasures is yet another Dutch production from producer Matthijs van Heijningen and his company Sigma Film Productions, who have overseen a handful of Brakel films including “The Debut” and “A Woman Like Eve.”

Understanding the mixed emotions of a young girl in the throes of self-discovery, with a pinch for the dramatic flair, Renée Soutendijk gives a prismatic performance, glistened in a stringent social dogma, of hope and pity.  The Netherlands actress, who had the role of Miss Huller in the 2018 “Suspiria” remake, the inundated Hedwig, friends call her Hetty, who has inexhaustible amount of hope in her search for passion, but insurmountable roadblocks and obstacles corrupt Hetty’s mental processor.  Soutendijk’s elegance has a soft innocence to it, a naïve virtue that contrasts bleakly against the subtle and not so subtle influencers of Hetty’s life and Soutendijk really opens our eyes when Hetty’s full blown crazy in a clear and precise moment of snapping her rationality like a dried and brittle twig.  The performance digs at you and Brakel exploits the worst (good cinematically) parts of Hetty’s break that has her be a wild, naked woman thrashing, spitting, and puking in a locked room of a psyche ward, injecting needles into her arm night after night after selling her body to unscrupulous men, or even stuffing her newborn baby into a duffel bag and heads off to sea to search for her husband Gerard, a subdued, appearance concerned gay man that never cared physically for Hetty, played by Adriaan Olree in his debut performance.  Hetty comes across two other lovers; one a flyby and compassionate artist Johan (Erik van ‘t Wout), who would have matched her passion, but not her social status, and, eventually, she finds much of what she seeks in a renowned concert pianist Ritsaart (Derek de Lint, “When A Stranger Calls” remake), who refuses to admit their relationship in fear of scandal and ruin of his career.  Along the way, Hetty listens more to her blinded heart than she does her logical mind when intaking sound advice from advocates of her wellbeing as Ritsaart’s best friend Joop (Peter Faber, “A Woman Like Eve”), her best friend Leonora (Kristine de Both), and a hospital nun (Claire Wauthion) attempt to steer her toward a happier existence. 

I really can’t get enough of Hetty unable to secure her ideal happiness.  That might sound a little inconsiderate but what is a perfect relationship?  Brakel explores how an sought ideal can turn into a damaging expedition for the white whale.  Instead of being the ill-fated, hellbent Captain Ahab, Hetty’s land based monomaniacal drive of fairytale love becomes her ultimate downfall, sinking her deeper into the depths of despair, loneliness, and a cataclysmic separation from reality.  Gerard wasn’t perfect because he secretly longed for men, Johan didn’t have the right social stature for a lady of her status, and Ritsaart kept their love hidden below the public eye.  There’s a quite a bit of feminism loitering around in that last statement with a touch of selfishness to no fault of Hetty’s and all circulate back to some sort of suppression whether it’s sexually or emotionally umbrellaed by patriarchal doctrine, discourse, and discipline.  The culture toxicity is so severe that the older generation of women are beguiled by it’s power to be controlling others themselves under the thumb of a male-dictated society as we see in Hetty’s Governess in tattling on her pupil’s every move to her wimp of a widowed father.  “The Cool Lakes of Death” is a beautiful disaster in almost a sing-songy narrative delivered by director Nouchka van Brakel’s mighty delicate touch. 

For the first time in North America and single in a trilogy of Nouchka van Brakel releases from Cult Epics, as well as in a trilogy boxset, the 1982 downcast drama “The Cook Lakes of Death,” arrives on DVD and Blu-ray home video.  The New 4k High-Def transfer is scanned from the original 35mm negative with an impeccable and nearly blemish-free restoration.  The film is presented in the European matted widescreen, 1.66:1 aspect ratio, with plenty of good looking natural grain and a softer image in the trashy romance first act then to a harsher, grittier quality during the time of her ruin under the eye of Theo van de Sande who ventured from the Netherlands to the U.S. later in his career and worked on Joe Dante’s “The Hole,” “Little Nicky,” and “Blade.”  A couple of whip pans into deep focus shots enrich the production, a technique that has served Sande in his later work.  The Dutch language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 lossy audio is as good as this title will ever see without an actiony framework.  Dialogue is completely discernible with well synched English subtitles.  A few pops in the span but no major damage to the audio to speak about in length.  Soundtrack has barrier moments of muffled penetration.  Not too many special features to touch upon with the theatrical trailer, a poster and sill gallery, a 1982 newsreel unearthed from the Polygoon Journal archive, and a reversible Blu-ray cover. “The Cool Lakes of Death” is young and naïve adolescence transitioning into womenhood only to be tripped up every step of the way; Hetty’s eager to blossom turns to withering as the underdog in life’s kennel and Brakel’s purificatory rite of passage beautifully disembowels hope and dreams in a dreamy fashion until finding faith in life come full circle, well almost, in commencing with both feet standing into adulthood.

“The Cool Lakes of Death” on Blu-ray Home Video at Amazon.com

EVIL in the Family Tree Makes for a Terrifying “Reunion” reviewed! (101 Films / Digital Screener)

Recently separated from her philandering fiancé, a pregnant Ellie moves in with her estranged mother, Ivy, whose staying at Ellie’s recently-deceased grandparents family home and packing up home furnishings to put the house on the market.  Strained with going through a pregnancy alone and tirelessly working on her theoretic book of modern medicine deriving from the roots of barbaric magic and medieval practices, Ivy pledges to take care of her while providing space to let Ellie continue research work, but the house lends to the painful memories long thought suppressed in Ellie’s mind, manifesting visions of her adopted sister, Cara, who died suddenly in house when they were children.  As the visions become more prominent, stronger, and real, Ellie questions her remorseful memories and her mother’s recollection of events that sheds light on her family’s horrendous secret of anatomical science.

From the start, the realization that Jake McHaffy’s “Reunion” isn’t going to be a happy one comes as soon as Ellie crosses the threshold into her late grandparents’ home and is immediately swathed with a blanket of unsettling ambiance.  The “Wellness” and “Free the Deed” McHaffy writes-and-directs his third film with a steadfast sense of dread in the New Zealand mystery-thriller that tackles human inbred themes of long suffering guilt, prenatal anxiety, and the role of an estranged family during a time of need.  McHaffy compounds layered fears by compositing them with the confines of an old dark and creaky house witness to all the past secrets.  “Reunion” is a production from a conglomerate of New Zealand and U.S. companies that embark on independent filmmaking endeavors by Greyshack Films, the strong female character supporting Miss Conception Films, Overactive Imagination, and Water’s End Films in association with New Zealand Film Commission, MPI Media Group, and Department of Post.

“Reunion” obviously isn’t going to be your typical relative gathering shindig with your bad joke-telling uncle wisecracking over his 10th Miller Lite or a nose picking brat of a cousin cheating at horseshoes near the pit; instead, “Reunion” a tightknit cast playing the roles of mother, father, daughter, and adopted daughter drawn together not by the sake of longing for bloodline companionship but by necessity and circumstance and imploding by the unfun games of revelations hidden inside the closest deepest and darkest of descendants. “Witches of East End” stars Julia Ormond in a nearly unrecognizable far cry of her more glamourous bewitching role in Joanna Beauchamp on the FOX produced Lifetime Television series. The English actress, who hails from Surrey, assumes the matriarchal presence of a helicopter mother overextending herself beyond the limits of her control in order to seize some kind of power she once had living in the archaic house. Ormond bounces off mother-daughter indignities with her sole child, Ellie, played by Emma Draper in her first feature lead performance. Thick tension between them causes reserved friction Ormond and Draper do well to nurture throughout while a stammering posture by “Lord of the Rings” actor John Bach as the wheelchair bound infirmed father adds a whole new layer of irregular rigidity to Ellie’s nerves and to Ivy’s patience. Aside from being blood related, father, mother, and daughter also have another thing in common – present in the moment of the death of Cara (Ava Keane). Peeling back each emotion output struggles, in a good way, to grasp the character mindset made murky by uncontrollable shaking and crying, sneaking and conniving, lies and deceits, and the disillusioned rambles that vortex around the house without pure clarity. “Reunion” rounds out the cast with Nancy Brunning, Cohen Holloway, and Gina Laverty as young Ellie.

Jake McHaffy’s “Reunion” has the hairs on the back of your neck standing from beginning to end with prolonged foreboding leading up to a shocking finale.  Between the manic and enigmatic performances from Julia Ormond and Emma Draper, a chance to rekindle the past feels like a distant thought and a lost cause being blockaded by the past’s poignant trauma they share.  McHaffy isn’t hesitant about revealing a stymieing history with flashes of image splices and flashbacks cut with an antiquated VHS-style playback producing a statically charged visual incumbrance.  The stress and strain burden’s Ellie’s pregnancy, dam breaking flood of memories, her research into the occult, and the surrounding chaotic state of the house contributes to teetering mental stability creating a visceral unintelligible and augmented reality that is too real for Ellie to keep an authentic perspective and the longer she stays and the more she’s immerse into Ivy’s poisonous maternal supremacy, only fabricating a new and scary world can Ellie dig herself out of her family’s troubling past.  There’s much going on in McHaffy’s story to be bog down fully understanding what you’re seeing and trying to piece together the puzzle is nearly impossible – I, frankly, still don’t understand much of it – but the beleaguered attention of beguiling imagery and that overwhelmingly wild ending entrusts “Reunion’s” place in psychological terror. 

Modern gothic has never looked this good as “Reunion” rises to be a stalwart of horror. 101 Films and MPI Media Group has released “Reunion” digitally this month of March, one year after the start of the pandemic that has kept families away from each other and when eases of restrictions set in that’ll shorten the gap between estranged loved ones that becomes a distressing reunion in itself. Quite a masterful brush stroke from director of photography Adam Luxton building the house into the frame and framework of the story, which goes hand-and-hand with a house that’s deemed a toxic surrounding symbolized by the black sludge that drips out of the sink and into Ellie, as well as crossing video outputs and weaving them in as well. Luxton’s imagery has formulation maturity that combines hard and soft lighting, blurring, a range of depth shots, delineated night scenes, and the capitalization of utilizing the clutter of boxes and knickknacks to tell an eclectic visual odyssey culminating toward an all-consuming finale. The 95 minute runtime film is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio with no bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Reunion” creeps unsuspectingly into the skin, eyes, and soul as a metastasizing slow growth of appalling family drama.

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