All Hail the EVIL Slumbering One! “Sacrifice” reviewed! (101 Films / Digital Screener)

Years after being quickly whisked away to America as a small child from his remote Norwegian island birthplace, Isaac returns nearly 30-years later with his new, pregnant wife, Emma, after the death of his mother leaves the empty family home in his inheritance.  With their heart set on fixing up and selling the house before the birth of their child, Isaac and Emma learn that marketing the seaside and scenic estate comes with a tragic past when the local sheriff discloses the brutal murder of Isaac’s father inside the home.  The dreadful information and the bizarre locals with their customary traditions doesn’t alarm Isaac who, instead, feels a strong connection and is drawn to staying whereas Emma, plagued by terrifying nightmares ever since stepping onto the island, is eager to sell and return to American as soon as possible, fleeing a community that worships an aquatic deity beneath the water’s surface.   

Based off dark fantasy and science fiction writer Paul Kane’s short story, “Men of the Cloth,” found in the author’s “The Colour of Madness” collective works, “Sacrifice” is an alienating folklore horror bound by the influence of a Lovecraftian core under the direction of a filmmaking due in Andy Collier and Toor Mian.  As their sophomore film as collaborating directors, following their 2017 psychological cop horror “Charismata,” Collier and Mian tackle Kane’s short story head-on by changing only a few details, such as location, family structure, and the title from formally known as Kane’s “The Colour of Madness” to “Sacrifice”, but keep rooted the foremost principles of “Men of the Cloth’s” cultish discomfort that’s greatly inspired with the otherworldly sensation of an amiss atmosphere akin to Robin Hardy’s “The Wicker Man.”  Filmed around the idyllic and mountain enclosed shore town of Bjørk, Norway and in the town of Volda, Norway, the 2020 film seeks to plop strangers into a strange land as a production of the London-based companies, Loose Canon Films and Hydra Films RKM, in association with Dread.

Over two years ago was the last time we reviewed a Barbara Crampton movie with “Death House,” that included a plethoric cast of her all-star genre brethren with Kane Hodder, Bill Moseley, Dee Wallace, and others, and, now, Crampton makes her glorious return to the Lovecraftian turf that nostalgically brings most of us horror fans back to the New York-born actress’s “From Beyond” and “Re-Animator” days.  “Sacrifice’s” Cthulhu spirit finds Crampton playing a small town Norwegian sheriff, Renate Lygard, in which Crampton, under the training of a dialect coach, surprises us with a fair Norway accent as she provides a quasi-warm hospitality set of manners upon island outliers in Isaac (Ludovic Hughes) and Emma (Sophie Stevens) Pinkman. Hughes and Stevens nudge their way into a solid man-and-wife, but their dynamic density becomes crispy at times and pale from their initial arrival soon after rustling with the natives. The lack of vitality doesn’t stem from the wedge being driven between from the lure of Isaac being called by the natural phenomena of the Northern Lights, the drunken friendly benevolence of Gunnar (Lucas Loughran) and Ledvor (Jack Kristiansen), and the full frontal skinny dipping of Renate’s beautiful daughter, Astrid, an eye-opening film introduction from Johanna Adde Dahl; instead, the Pinkman’s bond held together about as tight as using kindergarten grade craft glue that bled into the performances as well that came off stiff and unnatural. Aside from Hughes and Stevens hailing from the United Kingdom and Crampton from the U.S., the remaining cast was curtailed to Norway nationals, as such with Loughran and Kristiansen, rounding out the cast with Erik Lundan, Dag Soerlie, and Ingeborg Mork Håskjold.

“Sacrifice’s” cult mania lays on a thick coating of grass roots that really set the tone for an foreboding outcome.  An idyllic Norway fishing village propped between the eclipsing mountain range and marine inlet intrinsically obscures an already unspoken secret that’s only been rendered on the faces and actions of the residents.  At the center of village’s idiosyncrasies are the two hapless protagonists venturing into unknown territory with only an inherited house in their back pocket and a vague sense of youthful recollection; this sets up for an obvious antagonism theme of locals with a sense of xenophobic nationalism, especially against two Americans.  The initial friction opens the flood gates for cultural customaries to be weaponized against Isaac, who wants to strongly embrace his heritage, and Emma, who can’t seem to grasp the village’s peculiar beliefs and even goes as far as being naïve of and mocking the village’s traditions and deity.  The tension is compounded by the ominous presence of the labeled slumbering one, sleeping beneath the glossy surface of the inlet waves, but conjuring up tangible and intense nightmares that plague the every island inhabitant, a mystery Emma can’t explain, won’t entertain, and ignores exploring that turns Emma floundering more into Isaac’s sudden disinterest in her albeit soon-to-be-parents.  “Sacrifice’s” climatic, tell all scene harbors more secrets regarding Isaac and Emma’s purpose on the island that are to be interpreted by the audience, but don’t connect back to any string along clues leading up to a poignant and sharply-shocking ending.  Instead, “Sacrifice” acutely wraps up not only the story but also the characters like a paper wrapped fish at the fish market ready for sale without any huff about where, why, and how that particular bug-eyed fish became the gutted victim of man’s delicacy.

“Sacrifice” shores folklore horror swelled with Lovecraftian roots and is docking digitally today, March 15th, in the UK courtesy of 101 Films. The film has a runtime of 87 minutes and is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, shot on a Sony CineAlta Venice camera. Co-director Andy Collier tackles his first credit director of photography gig with interesting shots looking up through all different angles and vessels that hold water. Whether boiling eggs, taking a bath, or in small cove, Collier, and Mian, put eyes on the bottom surface, promoting all varieties of water within it a lurking presence and the imagery is done extremely well with depth and space to pull off the illusion. A fair amount of soft lighting, moments of bright primary color glow, and the specs of well-placed lighting to barely illuminate a scene is broodingly worthwhile. Tom Linden’s original score is fiercely compliment as a folklore staple, harsh-chord intensity that lingers well after the boiling blood levels drop to a mere tentacle dwelling simmer. There were no extra features or bonus scenes included with the digital screener. While the build up didn’t pay off at the bloody end, the two-tone terror of “Sacrifice” wrecks the nerves and frays warm pleasantries with wicked wallowing, slumbering, nearby in the shallows.

The Dying Baltic Traditions Live in the Ashes of EVIL. “Cult Girls” (Umbrella Entertainment / DVD)

The pagan Cult, the Golden Path, remains nearly all that is left of the ancient practice as Lithuania becomes one of the last countries to be converted to Christianity in the late 14th century.  Led by an archaic, yet powerful, goddess named Ragana, the Golden Path promises to flourish once again with the power of death, reincarnation, and control through sordid misdeeds.  When Dalia and her two young sisters become prepped for a ritual of an important role in the cult, potentially leading them down the path of sex and sacrifice, a traitorous follower helps the sisters attempt to escape their emmeshing fate as the police raid the Golden Path compound ensuing a firefight that leads to the death Ragana and Dalia’s getaway, but her sisters are kidnapped and held captive by the remaining cult members.  Years later and riddled with guilt, Dalia must know what happened to her sisters and she tracks down a death metal cultist, Moloch, who seemingly has a connection to Golden Path, with the help of Samoth, a black metal fanatic, but Moloch forestry hermit lifestyle cuts off Dalia and Samoth from the rest of the world and the convicted arsonist against all things Christianity may have more up his sleeve than what meets the eye.

With a title that sounds like an all-girl goth band from the grunge era of the 1990’s, or maybe even more so from the “Scooby Doo” franchise (Hex Girls anyone?), “Cult Girls” summons the actuality of being an acute quasi-historical and dark fantasy thriller hailing from the Ozploitation capital of the world, Australia.  “Cult girls” is the second, non-documentary film from “The Matrix’ inspired “Narcosys” director, Mark Bakaitis, who directed, wrote, and edited his the multi-location sophomore film that has on location scenes from not only in Australia, but also in Lithuania, at the notable Hill of Crosses landmark, and in the indiscernible urban locations of Germany.  Bakaitis serves as producer alongside executive producer Douglas Kaplan of the diverse arts platform production company, All Edge Entertainment, based in Santa Monica, California. 

The Australian production casts an American to star as Ragana, the brood matriarch destined to rejuvenate Golden Path’s permanence, with “V’s” very own Jane Badler.  Badler brings an international presence to the feature and isn’t a stranger to films from the down under.  With the actress’s soul-seducing cutting eyes and demonic empress allure, the New York born Badler exacts Ragana’s clutching strength as an underground Pagan seeking unlimited decadent power.  However, Badler is overshadowed by the timorousness of Dalia whose polar opposite presence is granted a more favorable chunk of screen time.  Finnish born Saara Lamberg plays the humbled Dalia, living her life out of a covenant while searching out the cult that once almost stitched her into the sew of sleazy affairs to unearth the whereabouts of her younger sisters.  Dalia’s a bit of a dull principle with no substantiated efforts in finding her siblings and it isn’t until Samoth stalks her one night, recognizing the Golden Path’s symbol tattooed on her wrist and offering his manhunt services to find the expelled Moloch, an exaggerated black metal anti-Christianity anarchist in a saturating performance by Albert Goikhman.  In the middle, masked brutes, half naked women, and, fallen by the waist side, Dalia’s sisters in standalone plot point narratives that, as far as story structure goes, does nothing to motivate the narrative other than be an ostentatious aesthetic of locations and debauchery.  “Cult Girls” rounds out the cast with Tony Markulin (“MurderDrome”), Algias Karazija, Dean Kirkright, a handful of Bakaitis’s family, and Simay Argento, a distant relative to Dario Argeno playing a Cult Auntie in the film.

“Cult Girls” borders being avant-garde of an unfiltered auteur’s will in a mesh of artistic polishes and prose dialogue, but the film slides into being more of an 83 minute music video over staying it’s welcome and drudges through a repetitive stylistic cycle to an almost nearly unwatchable extent.  Yet, “Cult Girls” somehow manages to retain attention despite the chewy acting and it’s ambling story that hits a dam wall of uncertainly of where the script should head. Bakaitis shoulders the story for modern Gothicism tapped with half naked occultist, sometimes bathing in blood, and a plague of nightmare imagery that director of photography Trent Schneider tunes into well with noir vitality despite being the cinematographer’s debut feature film, but through the shiny exterior of a handful of solid mise-en-scene work, “Cult Girls” numbs the impact of the soul corrupting Pagan syndicate, that may or may not be shrouded with supernatural foundations, and the anti-Christian propaganda with half-baked violence from geriatric men, masked with Dia de los Muertos style masks, able to be kingpins of an untouchable prostitution ring façade for their occult sacrifices in broad public without a bat of an eyelash.  Granted, prostitution is likely legal in Germany and Lithuania so authorities might turn a blind eye, but brothels are a convenient opportunity for police investigations. “Cult Girls” treasures the fact of Lithuania’s languishing heritage without being overly filmic heresy by blending in shaded sleaze and death, but there lies no story in Dalia’s unenthusiastic search for her sisters in a much more preacherly themed death metal horror that confuses cult with religion.

 

Apocalyptic reincarnations and traditional folklores collide in Mark Bakaitis’s “Cult Girls” on DVD now from Umbrella Entertainment. The Australian release is a single layer DVD with region 4, PAL encoded format, presented in a widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Trent Schneider’s keen eye captures a grim fairytale surface of black magic masochism and, at the same time, breathtaking in the pure nature scenes, but the imagery is mostly in devoid of richer color that lingers around a bluish-gray monochrome tone and struggles with hazy details, especially around facial features, that smoothly fuzz over. The English, German, and Lithuanian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix battens down with shiplap genres of traditional Lithuania folk and modern metal from composing sound designer Erin McKimm, implementing the traditional songs of Lithuania sung by the Melbourne-Lithuania community singers, The Lost Clogs. Industrial action fills in every nook and cranny of the remaining score with decent range and depth of ambiance. While the dialogue is prominent and clear, there are spelling errors and tiny text issues with the English subtitles when the narrative lands in Germany and Lithuania. The DVD’s bonus features includes audio commentary, making of featurettes with cast and crew interviews, Bakaitis’s short film, “Mercy Kill” that serves one of the founding themes for “Cult Girls,” and music videos directed by Mark Bakaitis. For an Australian film, “Cult Girls” will feel more worldly, unlike anything else that comes out of Australia, and have partisan propaganda against Christianity, but in the end, the insidious Pagan evil, on the precipice of resurrecting, wearies on, like a tireless sermon of doom.

EVIL Doesn’t Care For Your Fame and Fortune! “The Lingering” review!


Young Dawa Wang and his mother live in a rundown mansion in 1980’s China. Dawa’s father labored in a wood factory over the course of a year, away from his family, and was supposed to return to celebrate in the New Year, but when he didn’t arrive, Dawa’s mother phones the factory to only find out that there was a landslide at the factory that drowned many of the workers. Not only does Dawa’s mother fear his father is dead, she suspects the house is haunted by his spirit on that very New Year’s Eve night. However, the presence was much more malevolent. Years later, Dawa, a young man, leaves home against his mother’s desperate wishes as their life of poverty drives him to seek solace in wealth, but when the news of his estranged mother’s demise, the now upcoming restaurant entrepreneur returns home to identify her body and to collect on a wealthy realtor offer on his childhood home. Dawa again comes face-to-face with the baleful presence, sparking the unravelling of a 30 year mystery.

Derrick Tao and Mak Ho Pong’s “The Lingering” is a Cantonese Hong Kong ghost story written by Edmond Wong {“Ip Man” franchise screenwriter) and the first penned worked by Zheng Dong. Originally titled “Ku Zak,” “The Lingering” marks a freshman film under the directorial duo of Pong and Tao who manage to scare up a rich atmospheric supernatural fright. Laced with Chinese traditions and catered to retain a more modernized kitsch, Tao and Pong have rendered great fluidity through the decades without the realization of a massive time gap between the two first and second acts; a relatively tough obstacle for any first time directors and the filmmakers manage to pull it off seemingly with ease and poise under Mandarin Motion Pictures productions, the company behind the money aggregating “Ip Man” flicks so there was money to toss at the ambitious auteurs.

“Keeper of Darkness” star Kai-Chung Cheung stars as the grown up and successful Dawa who salivates at the prospect of fame and with a lucrative restaurant franchise as his finger tips, Dawa will go as low to ignore his mother and sell her willed estate to further his prosperous image. Perfect for his role, Cheung challenges himself to be the arrogant and thoughtless whippersnapper many elderly quip about while they throw an angry fist in the air in some kind of protest. The character arch feels deserved with Dawa, going from a young innocent boy, to a bratty teen and young adult, to a successful and negligent son, and then reverting back to being the loving boy he once was; the stages were pleasant to behold and both performances, Cheung and the young child actor, did an excellent job at their respective roles. Cheung’s love interest counterpart is played by Anthena Chu, whose previous films included a couple of sequels, that must be mentioned here, were in the series realm of “Raped by an Angel.” Chu, a complete angel in “The Lingering” dons the role of Dawa’s well-off wife with well-off friends who offer well-off contracts to fund a well-off life for Dawa. While Anthena’s role is rather complimentary to Dawa that symbolizes poor and wealthy children can unite as one, her character flounders the rest of the way and becomes a hapless, if not second string, catalyst in Dawa’s rediscovery of love for his mother. Completing the cast around Cheung and Chu is Bob Yin-Pok Cheung, Fung Lee, Yao Tong, and Terry Zou.

From out the gate, “The Lingering” amps up the shadowy, spine-tingling specter action with an ominous roaming presence, a creepy kid, and a surplus of jump scares complete with an equal amount of braised pork dishes. The first act, set 30 years prior, is all about the pseudo scare with mounting music to, low-and-behind, nothing actually there to frighten the Cantonese out of you Westerners and, to give credit to Edmond Wong and Zheng Dong, a developing mystery enshrouds this mother and son of who exactly looms around the rustic Wang mansion. However, as the narrative progresses into Dawa’s older self, a man desperate to forget his roots, the mystery becomes a mystery more so when his family home becomes haunted by his own mother. At this point in the second act, “The Lingering” is up to two different spooks circulating the grounds like illuminating ghosts in Pac Man. By the third act, the whole haunt falls to pieces and an overwhelmingly forced theme is stuff down our throats about how us children should never forget about the sacrifices of our parents and how their love sustains them despite our affectionate inadequacies and equal rights – Dawa’s equal right to be rich – yeah, it’s a stretch, I know. The philosophy is sound but the execution irreverently chokes out the ghostly atmospherics in baffling fashion and a, for a comical effect, blue balls moment.

Sticking around on Blu-ray home video is “The Lingering” courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment. The region A and widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio, release teeters heavily on the tint scale with a over-saturating bluish hue, especially during night scenes or darker moments of plight, making defining the object in the mirror or in a brief photo capture difficult to define. Blue for sad as it’s saddening to lose a chunk of that goose bump atmosphere to over tinging. The Cantonese language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is by far the reigning attribute of unfiltered bite tracks including a sparkly clear dialogue track, a formidable LFE score that’ll get the blood pressure up, and simple, yet effective, range and depth with the ghost house antics. Available are English subtitles that sync well, yet are more on the kindergarten-ish side of interpretation; almost as if audiences couldn’t comprehend comprehensive and/or complex sentence structures. Bonus features include the trailer and other Well Go USA Entertainment preview trailers. Clocking in at 87 minutes and more of an ode to parental sacrifices, “The Lingering” doesn’t stick around to neatly gift package to it’s audience an eloquent evil apparition feature as promised in the beginning that saw a 100 meter sprint into a tormenting zone that harrows a mother and son by a bloodied soul aimless in disposition, yet compelled to crucify the family.

[YOUTUBE=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJhtkX0AyZI]

Own The Lingering on Blu-ray!