EVIL is in the Waiting Room. “Host” reviewed! (Second Sight Films / Blu-ray Screener)

Six friends, locked down due to COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, hold a séance with a medium over a video chat platform.  With some skeptical of the astral plane practice and connivingly mock the ritual without aware of the consequences, they unwittingly call forth a false spirit under the guise of their seemingly harmless mockery.  In short, a malevolent demon crosses over their spiritual internet connection plane, attaching itself to their domicile surroundings.  Unable to break the connection to the spirit world, surviving a night that was supposed to shoulder quarantine boredom with excitement and booze has beleaguered the friends with a night of undisclosed deadly terror.

When online game night during quarantine life goes horribly wrong in Rob Savage’s “Host.”  The UK bred survival tech-horror is the sophomore feature length film from Savage who co-wrote the cast sundered script with Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd, who has previously collaborated with Savage on the director’s short films, “Salt” and “Dawn of the Deaf.”  “Host” plays into being a film of the moment, shot entirely over the pandemic lockdown with unconventional production direction conducted through video chat platforms with each actor pent-up performing in their own personal abode and being subjected to wear multiple crew hats to avoid spreading COVID-19 from face-to-face interactions.  Despite the severe limited enforced by the threat of infection and the local governmental mandates, the film received hefty financial backing from horror’s most prolific streaming service Shudder after director Rob Savage pulls off a video chat prank with colleagues and friends of him checking out a mysterious sound in his antic and seamlessly interlacing a jump scare clip from Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s “REC” that scared the bejesus out of the unsuspecting participants to his prank.  “Host” is a production of Shadowhouse Films. 

“Host” stars five real life friends, aspiring actresses in the London area looking for work that has become frighteningly scarce in the pandemic’s wake, and they’re joined by a sixth, the outlier male to join the virtual hangout session.  To add authenticity to the circumstances, each actress has their parent-given (or stage-made?) names incorporated into the film, heightening the illusion of a friend being ripped apart by a demonic entity, especially if a sly Rob Savage redacts much of the script to keep his actors in the dark in certain scenes to garner real reactions.  Haley Bishop, who has worked previously with Savage on “Dawn of the Dead,” spearheads the nighttime gathering for a little séance fun, to stave boredom with her closest friends, with prearranged invitations to Jemma Moore (“Doom:  Annihiliation”), Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward, and Edward Linard, who is the only one of the six not to use his actual name and goes by Teddy.  Each character provides a slight unique viewpoint that integrates into the story nicely, such as Jemme’s jokester and cavalier attitude, Caroline’s bracing for the supernatural consequences, Radina’s distracted relationship troubles, and Teddy’s wild and carefree persona.  “Host” rounds out with minor co-stars enveloped into the séance chaos, including Alan Emrys, Patrick Ward, Jinny Lofthouse, and “Double Date’s” James Swanton as the malevolent spirit.

Cyber and social media horror has no leverage to be groundbreaking horror anymore as a handful of these subgenre jaunts slip into our visual feeds every year in the last decade and “Host,” on the surface, might perpetuate the long line of outputted tech horror in an overcrowded market.  However, “Host” has a beauty about it that doesn’t reach into capitalistic territories like the ill-conceived “Corona Zombies” from Full Moon or the Michael Bay-produced “Songbird” about sustaining love in the time of dystopian pandemic and, instead, redefines how tech horror not only uses innovated methods in creating movies during lockdown but how the knuckle white and teeth chattering terror is perceived in the reinvention of the ominous presence that has found its way through the fiber optic cables and into our cyber lives not in the context of a social media obsessed society but in a quarantine-forced one that brings a whole unique set of isolation fears and complications.  While the characters try to form a much desired human interaction the best way that they can through internet video chats, they’re also connected by the spiritual circle that has engulfed the apart, but together, connection, sparking a palpable atmosphere of mass fear together.  Audiences will be pulled into this fear being visually privy to Haley desktop screen, that’s not quite tipping into the found footage field, as she helms control of the video chat that quickly spirals into a Zoom-screen of death as one-by-one each friend succumbs to the unwittily summoned demon.  Rob Savage has reformed the tech horror genre much like George Romero had revamped the zombie on not so much a social commentary level, but vitalizing new life into it, making “Host” a game-changer in horror. 

While I wasn’t lucky enough to review Second Sight Film’s Limited Edition Blu-ray Boxset of Rob Savage’s “Host,” dropping today, February 22nd in the United Kingdom, housed in a rigid slipcase with illustrated artwork from Thomas Walker with an original story outline booklet, new essays from Ella Kemp and Rich Johnson, and 6 collectible art cards inside, I was graciously provided a BD-R that included the film as well as the bonus content.  The region B, PAL encoded, just under an hour runtime film, clocking at 57 minutes, is nearly shot entirely on Zoom that melds in the position of negative space inside tightly confined camera optics and plays right into the hands of dark spots that the optics can’t entirely define, leaving the space void in a blanket of inky black.  From video to audio, the sound design meshes the natural auditory blights that would conventionally spoil audio tracks for the sound department, but Savage and Calum Sample found the mic static or the distorted or near cancelation of sound during a high pitched screams added elements of grounded fear rooted by technology to where people can relate to when having their own video chat technical difficulties during meetings or such while also playing into the theme with funny face filters, augmented backgrounds, and the bells and whistles of the platform. Second Sight’s slew of special features for this limited edition boxset includes exclusive commentaries with director Rob Savage, producer Douglas Cox, and the cast, cast interviews about their individual takes on the film, a behind-the-scenes feature, Rob Savage’s group prank video that sowed the seed for the film, the same prank done on a single individual, Kate, Rob Savage’s short films – “Dawn of the Deaf” and “Salt,” the actual Séance held by the cast, crew, and a real life medium, a British Film Institute Q&A with the director, Gemma Hurley, Jed Shepherd, Douglas Cox, Haley Bishop, Brenna Rangott, and Caroline Ward, and an evolution of horror interview with cast and crew. The best horror movie of 2020 now has the best release of 2021 from Second Sight Films; “Host” logons to be the heart clutching video call from hell.

Own “Host” on Limited Edition Blu-ray Boxset from Second Sight Films by clicking the poster!

The Cycle of Life Can Be EVIL. “Vivarium” reviewed! (Screener/Vertigo Releasing)


Gemma and Tom are a happily in love young couple who are looking to purchase a starter home. They visit a real-estate agency for a brand new housing development called Yonder. Met by a strange and persuasive real-estate agent, they’re convinced to follow the unusual agent to tour the neighborhood that has been marketed as the family forever home with everything they could ever need and want. A row upon row of identical houses and yards go as far as the eye can see and before the tour of the rather ordinary house number 9 ends, Gemma and Tom find themselves alone inside with the bizarre agent gone. Their efforts to leave the mysterious residential suburbia proves impossible as each turn leads them back to house number 9. When a box containing a baby boy is left at the doorstep with a note to raise the child to be released, the young couple reluctantly reside into domestic confinement.

Vivarium defined is an enclosure, container, or structure adapted prepared for keeping animals under seminatural conditions for observation or study or as pets, like an aquarium or a terrarium. “Vivarium,” the 2019 movie, embraces the definition, twisted into an idiosyncratic neighborhood block of duplicity from the “Without Name” director, Lorcan Finnegan. Story concept is flushed out by Finnegan and “Vivarium’” credited screenwriter, Garret Stanley, in their second collaboration for the director’s sophomore feature endeavor that’s a panicking puzzle in every square foot of Yonder’s backwards backyard. The film resonates with echoes of Finnegan and Stanley’s seminal short film, “Foxes,” from 2012, revolving around a couple living in a remote and forgotten housing development and become drowning in obsession, madness, and malaise as shrieking foxes surround their isolated home. There’s an equating animalistic instinct to each film that brandishes many of the same motifs as well as joining themes that are corralled in Finnegan’s copious foreboding and disconnecting dehumanization narrative. “Vivarium” is produced by XYZ Films (“Tusk”), Fantastic Films (“Stitches”), PingPong Film, and Frakas Productions (“Raw”).

The happy, young love birds are played by Imogen Poots (“Green Room” and “Black Christmas” 2019 released remake), who has an underlining affinity for not typecasting herself in the same role, and Jesse Eisenberg (“Cursed” and “Zombieland”), who manages to step a foot outside his conventional performance of a rattle mouth, know-it-all. However, Eisenberg deserves the praise of a man with severed ties from reality as the actor embraces a reserved manic by channeling Tom’s obsessive need to dig, an aspect of his handyman profession he’s good at in perhaps providing an escape from cage-less confinement, and being the bearer of skepticism of caring for an abnormal child. Gemma has complications of her own confronting her educator responsibilities for young children. She struggles with internal conflict, does she still use her innate care and instruct a young mind or in self-preservation, take Tom’s passive aggressive approach? Poots and Eisenberg share a mutual, caring bond that defines Gemma and Tom kind of steady, kind of loose relationship that gradually devolves civilly, like the amicable breakdown of a marriage revealing lost, but not forgotten love between two people. Along with the surreal atmosphere, “Vivarium” grades well in the creepy kid department with the child in Tom and Gemma care, but don’t even bother giving a name. Dubbed with a playful man’s voice, a shrill scream ignited by displeasure, a knack for imitating, and always dressed in Sunday’s best, Senan Jennings’ middle aged boy presence is a supernova of chilling proportions with a performance that gives his co-stars a run for their money while Eanna Hardwicke is equally spasmodic and creepy as the grown up, young man version of the boy with a little more alienating know-how and clandestine about his origins.

Finnegan and Stanley pursue thought-provoking substance of human corporeal limitations and how we, as humans, cycle through them with such cavalier ease. The opening scenes examples this with the practice of the common cuckoo laying their mimicry egg inside the nests of other birds. As a brood parasite amongst birds, the cuckoo egg hatches and the cuckoo chick pushes out the mother birds’ inborn chicks and becomes the sole chick in the nest with the surrogate mother tending to the cuckoo’s dietary needs. When the cuckoo is matured, it is grossly larger than the mother bird and, also, mimics the bird species to an extent, much in the same way of the boy or young man Gemma and Tom surrogate as being the unintended mimicry that infiltrates and ousts the limitations of his foster parents. Finnegan and Stanley also explore the parental lifecycle with the theme that our children will replace us, extend our legacy, but we will ultimately be forgotten. “Vivarium’s” craft dictates a larger scale, disproportionate, otherworld teemed with secret subterranean corridors leading to other disturbing observatory immures, making for a stimulating meta-induced terrarium as we watch miniature versions of Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots suffer inside a screen from the comfort of our couch.

If you’re stuck at home, living the quarantine life you’ve always wanted, “Vivarium” may just break of your introverted stance on home with it’s “Black Mirror” and “Twilight Zone” encouragement. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vertigo Releasing and Wildcard Distribution released film has circulated digital only on the following platforms in the UK: iTunes/Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Google Play, Rakuten, BT, Playstation, Microsoft, Curzon Home Cinema, and BFI Player. Unfortunately, I will not be able to comment or critique of the audio, video, or bonus features of this release due to the varying elements of a digital screener. Novel, suspenseful, and a great film to brood over, yet difficult envisaging, “Vivarium” truly resembles slithers of somber dimensions of an upside world with lashings of surveillance paranoia.

Amazon Prime Video is one way to watch! Rent or Buy “Vivarium” with Prime Video

Evil Wants Your Children! “Slender Man” review


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 Search for Evil, Evil is Always Close! “Lycan” review!


Set in Talbot County Georgia of 1986, six university students are assigned a write a 25-page report on a moment in history. The subject for the report was ultimately based off of local lore, a haunting story from a century old newspaper clipping that told legend of Emily Burt who was the prime suspect of being the notorious wild animal that tore through the local sheep herds. Ill-prepared and flippant for the report’s hot Georgia weathered journey into the woods, the students ride horseback through a labyrinth of trails on the Burt property and come under attack by a lurking bloodthirsty presence hellbent on separating them and tearing them to pieces. Desperation sets in when tensions flare, sides are taken, and perceptions are misled in a time of grave crisis, leaving the schooled students being taught a lesson in isolation and confusion in a classroom of ill-fated situations.

“Lycan” is the 2017 released survival horror thriller from co-writer and director Bev Land, making his inaugural feature film debut. Michael Mordler co-wrote the script that’s been described as “Hitchockian” and resembles a backdoor twist much to the similitude of M. Night Shayamalan films. Like Shaymalan’s earlier work, “Lycan’s” horror is extremely effective without having to bare witness an antagonistic beast and by leaving the girth of the killer’s destructive path to the imagination, our minds begin to formulate diegesis theories and build hypotheticals to the killer’s characteristics. The use of wolf-o-vision is a past time tool that flashes all it’s teeth to bring life to an unseen threat, but Land and Mordler pen a breadcrumb trail of hints that compound to a head in the midst of the chaos, unveiling the true threat in a full frontal way that’s a silver screen rarity, but nearly takes the fun out of the mystery.

Starring in “Lycan” is Bev Land’s wife, Dania Ramirez (“Quarantine”), in the lead role of the mysterious Isabella Cruz. Ramirez’s has to accomplish multiple feats with Isabella Cruz whose a bit of an awkward loner who then has to reintegrate herself into the social realm of a group of variously distinguished characters. Parker Croft portrays as pot smoking, wise-cracking, pervert named Kenny McKenzie who documents the trip with an 8mm camera, Rebekah Graf is the stuck up and prissy Blair Gordon who only accompanies the group on this trip because of Jake Lockett’s baseball jock Blake Simpson. Craig Tate, unfortunately, falls into the stereotypical ‘token black guy’ Irving Robinson while Blair’s sorority pledge, Kalia Prescott’s Chrissy Miller, opts to the gal to get laid. Aside from Ramirez, the rest of the cast of characters fall into formulaic limbo, stuck in their own devices, and never really elevate into more than just surface level characters. Two of the more eyebrow raising actors that never saw the character development light of day were that of Gail O’Grady (“Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2”) and Vanessa Angel (television’s “Weird Science”). O’Grady’s Ms. Fields warranted more background into how the ranch owner came to have Isabella Cruz enter her life and much more unopened mysteries about their dynamic.

While “Lycan” offers an up-to-snuff survival horror, the story’s bookends fall short of fully completing the story. The opening puts big man Presley Melson’s lonely farm boy stuffing lady of the night Anna, played by Alina Puscau (“Dracuala: The Dark Prince”), full of his pork roll. As the wolf-o-vision circles the lovemaking barn setting, Melson and Puscau trot out with only their skivvies to check out the outside racket and become, uh, victims of the antagonist? Not really sure because the scene starts from afar and the wolf-o-vision glides right up to Melson’s face without much of a peep from either Puscau or Melson. The ending is just as enigmatic with a brief present day scene (the story is set in Georgia 1986) of an unknown little girl picking up a razor sharp object from the leaf strewn ground and then there’s a cut to black to roll credits. Before this useless segment, the pinnacle moment of the third act springs too many leaks to plug. Combined with the stagnant and underdeveloped characters, “Lycan” is an unkempt story left wide open becoming a victim by it’s own scripted structure.

MVD Visual presents onto a region one, unrated DVD, the 1 Bullet in the Gun production, “Lycan.” Presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1, MVD’s DVD image is beyond spectacular with immense details in every scene, even in the production illuminated night scenes. Digital noise is completely absent and the coloring is naturally vibrant. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound has an effective ambient track with clarity and range in the wolf howls and the cracks and snaps of outdoor living. The original soundtrack by Devine Adams and score by Jason Pelsey revel in distortion free perceptible measures. An audio downside would be the dialogue track that suffers from unfortunate mic placement, leaving major story affected parts of the dialogue left muddled and indiscernible. Bonus material includes interviews with director and co-writer Bev Land, along with co-writer Michael Mordler, the cast including with Dania Ramirez, Rebekah Graf and Vanessa Angel, and Crystal Hunt (Executive Producer) and Steven C. Pitts (2nd Unit Director). A panel discussion with the Lycan producers and the original theatrical trailer round out of the extras. Land and Mordler’s “Lycan” disperses moments of original horror with snap-witty dialogue, but as a whole, the story trends toward a paint-by-the-numbers route without breaking the mold as a low tier “Hitchockian” thriller.

Buy “Lycan” on DVD at Amazon!