Keep the EVIL Family Drama for Your Mama. “Abigail Haunting” reviewed (High Fliers Films / Digital Screener)

While searching for a life in Reno, Katie reluctantly becomes an accomplice in a heist job with her abusive boyfriend, scoring a small brown paper bag packed with stolen money.  In the middle of post-heist uncertainty, an opportunity to escape a troubled relationship presents itself and Katie hightails it to her hometown of Prescott with the loot, leaving the dark life behind her in Reno.  Unsure of her next steps, she hides away by moving back into her childhood trailer home with foster mother, Marge, who has nearly deteriorated into a completely catatonic state over the last few years.  As the days pass and Katie catches up with Brian, rekindling a relationship with a high school crush, her secretive past becomes plaited into Marge’s sinister skeleton in the cupboard that pulls both of them into the supernatural wrath of a tormented spirit haunting the trailer home, merging the past and present with a shocking conclusion.

Cursed.  No, not the vengeful spirit who resurrects to plague havoc on the still breathing, flesh and boned to set their tortured, spiritual planed souls to rest.  The curse I speak of involves putting Haunting into the title of any ghost film that has been released in, oh let’s say, the last 20 or so years culminating into being one mediocre release after another of mainstream and independent films that has, frankly the lack of a better word, cursed the subgenre.  Type haunting in the IMDB search field and just glaze over as hundreds of films crash over you in a tsunami of stale capitalism ever since the remake of Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” in 1999 with Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones.  “The Haunting of Connecticut.”  “An American Haunting.”  “23:59:  The Haunting Hour.”  Being one step behind the hackneyed “possession” in nearly every title about, well, possession, these post-2000 ghost films are just morsels of the bigger crapola pie that investors love to sink as little of their money into as possible because the return is greater because ghost film don’t necessarily a R rating unlike other subgenres and, sometimes, piggyback off a successful film with the parlance.  PG-13 in slashers is an oxymoron, if you ask me, but in with ghosts, fear of mysticism and the unknown has enough power to scare if done correctly, i.e. the original “Poltergeist.”  This unbecoming setup leads us to the 2020 release of the revenant thriller “Abigail Haunting,” the latest Kelly Schwarze written and directed full length film after tackling an Area 51 inspired bloody battle beyond the stars set in our backyard with “Alien Domicile, and before we go into whether the Schwarze film, co-written alongside Charisma Manualt, can tame an unbridled use of title-exploitation with a first rate story, the Indie Film Factory production will receive full benefit of the doubt until the end of the review.


The story follows a small town girl, Katie, from Prescott, Nevada who falls into small time crime with a lowlife boyfriend that quickly turns sour and deadly after an armed cash grab, presumably from a Reno casino.  Chelsea Jurkiewicz fits that small description recipe of stuck in a rut local girl without much cause for disbelief.  As Katie, Jurkiewicz’s able to be the part of a young, harried woman running from a checkered past and into the flames of a paranormal bombardment.  The then early 20-something, “Stalker” actress kept Katie balanced between her cash stealing time in Reno, integrating back into what was a rough patch with an unreasonable and abusive foster mother, and dealing with unexplainable occurrences of nightlights turning on by themselves, her room being ransacked, and succumbing to disturbing visions while reminiscing of being a scared child hidden behind a makeshift potato sack mask that becomes a reoccurring object throughout.   While Schwarze loosely ties all the facets together in a nice, tight bow that leads to a climatic unraveling of Katie’s past, the visually assaulted Katie suffers as the centerpiece punching bag that connects them altogether.  To top Katie’s mounting pressure, a face from the past tries to pry his way into her life.  A lost fling in Katie’s fleeting existence is Brian, played by Austin Collazo in his debut film performance, forcing himself into her life in what reeks of single parent desperation.  A moment involving Katie looking through a photo scrap book shows the two smiling together in a lone picture, as if she’s reflecting upon a previous romance or friendship that has since fizzled, but that’s about the extent of their history that doesn’t dive deeper into the reflection or explain the spark from the sudden interest from Brian.  At the crux of the story is Marge (Brenda Daly), a dirtied, nightgown wearing middle-aged woman who fostered abandoned at 4 months old Katie in what only has been, in Katie’s sole exposition, a terrible experience.  Schwarze instinctively ties the trailer home and Marge together as a single entity, enacting as one to push Katie around in a fit of unmotivated hysteria.  Katie doesn’t seem too eager to lift an investigated finger any of phenomena that has plagued her in the home, in the back shed, or even follows her out on a date with Brian.  Instead, Brian initiates digging into her past that sends Katie down Marge’s rabbit hole of hidden secrets in an off kilter directional take where a protagonist stands indifferent or remains stagnant after multiple Abigail encounters that would seemingly rouse up curiosity or for the sake of proving sanity.  Rounding out “Abigail Haunting” is Michael Monteiro, Christopher Brown, and Taylor May as the titular ghost.

Not a positive start with flat, often time dunce, characters in “Abigail Haunting.”  The mindset behind Katie’s involvement with the Reno robbery and a scoundrel lover strains to play a bigger role into the eerie defense she’s positionally locked into at Marge’s dreary trailer home.  Schwarze remains on the fringes around the preoccupations that descend Katie into this dark place in her life between searching for her real mother that abandoned her as an infant, the deadly robbery in Reno, and the abusive ex that all seem to be weighing less on Katie’s shoulders than the duffle bag of a couple thousand dollars that would typical skewer one’s psyche, manifesting more than just the typical side effects of pressure.  Instead, Schwarz doesn’t fold in well enough the incorporation of our angry spirit, Abigail, whose unexplained appearance out of the Nevada blue sky in between Katie’s leaving and returning to Marge’s home denotes not one single explanation of when and why Abigail chooses to be a resurrected, phantasmal spite.  More jeopardizing toward Katie’s past and present life is her obsession with the stolen money versus living a decent life with possibly Brian and his dissociable, divorce struck kid, who the former is clearly obsessed with her, but the story more so saturates with a free floating, full torso phantasm, as the Ghostbusters would say, that undermines the subterranean psychology at work here and clouds the ghost foundation built on deceits, lies, and ugly truths. What “Abigail Haunting” succumbs to is being about as rudimentary as they come with a climax too riddles with plot holes that squish much of good establishing camera work and some decently laid jump scares. Haunting, as in a title, still curses the horror subgenre with middle-of-the-road dynamism.

Death clings to us all. In “Abigail Haunting,” death clings to vengeance in this supernatural thriller dropping on DVD in the UK on February 8th courtesy of High Flier Films and ITN Distribution. The region 2, PAL encoded DVD will be presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with a runtime of approx. 85 minutes. I initially had high hopes for Abigail to be at least be a derivative carbon copy of “The Conjuring” as “Scare Me’s” Michael TusHaus’s shows off impressive camera work that organically flows through Marge’s tight quartered trailer, as well as in other scenes when applicable outside the trailer location, with generous use of a stepping in-stepping out steady cam. TusHaus’s hard lighting also creates stern atmospherics with full bodied shadows that symbolically keep secrets and spirits in the dark. The digital release had no extra bonus feature available with none displayed on High Flier Film’s website. There were also no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Solid cinematography and palatable performances couldn’t plug up all the plot holes that stiffen “Abigail Haunting” into a two-bit carnival attraction that looks cool upon entry but not worth the money on exit.

 

Millennial Martian Mayhem Is EVIL’s Wheelhouse in “Save Yourselves” reviewed! (Bleecker Street Media / Digital Screener)

Brooklyn couple, Su and Jack, find their noses constantly buried in their devices as the relationship between them begins to stagnate with unfulfilled measures.  In an effort to reconnect with each other meaningfully and detach themselves from the wedging worldwide web, they accept a close friend’s offer to use his upstate cabin as a rekindling retreat getaway from the mundane routine, away from the bustling city, and away from their highly addictive technological devices, shutting themselves off from the numbing side of the world to focus on each other.  As they become acquainted with their isolated surroundings and truly work on themselves, an attack from an alien race of pouffe balls has invaded Earth.  When they finally figure what’s happening, the serenity cabin therapy has been abruptly severed by besieging extraterrestrial furballs from space and they must rely on their little know-how to survive.

To all the modern millennial couples living comfortably in urban stasis and experiencing the world vicariously through the internet, “Save Yourselves!” is a calling and an unlikely savior you didn’t even know you needed from the writing-directing team of Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson.  The duo’s introductory feature length film is a satirical sci-fi side-splitter of the celestial kind that, frankly, exposes the rudimentary sustaining people like Su and Jack who we all know exist and wouldn’t know how to start a fire with the quick strike of a match let alone save themselves from an apocalyptical alien invasion, but much like Su and Jack’s understanding of their surroundings and also to their defense, what does anybody know about surviving creatures from another planet?  “Save Yourselves!” is produced by Peter Traugott and Adi Ezroni of the New York based Keshet Studios as the company’s sophomore feature, Eamon Downey and Philip Erdoes of Last Rodeo Studios (“Scare Me”), and Joshua Blum of Washington Square Films.

Internet obsessed couple Su and Jack can barely not fiddle with their phones, laptops, and even Alexia for more than a minute, scouring the limitless online resource for information and entertainment that even infiltrates into their livelihood of administrative assistant scheduling and online popup box retail services.  “Mr. Robot’s” Sunita Mani sits into the internet top 10 list fixated mindset of Su with a complimenting structure revolving around her character’s meticulous life layout constructed by internet page browser tabs.  Equally as reliant on the power of the internet is her beau Jack, played by “Stranger Things’” John Reynolds in a hipster blend of Crispin Glover with the voice comparisons to Hanna-Barbera’s The Funky Phantom.  Mani and Reynolds accorded a charmingly naïve pair of social media engulfed millennials on a path of monotonous self-implosion and take their characters’ arcs over the growth threshold as their thrust to survive without knowing nothing of the tangible (Jack’s own word) world.  “Save Yourselves” is essentially the Sunita Mani and John Reynolds’ show, but the cast rounds out with bit part performances from Ben Sinclair, John Early, and Johanna Day.

Su and Jack are extremely likeable characters with some real and some fantastical unlikeable problems of social media addiction and space beings snatching their planet right under their touchscreen pressed noses. “Save Yourselves” knits a palpable double meaning that not only conveys the impractical saving of themselves from the impending attack of furry aliens, isolated in a thick, unfamiliar wooded ecosystem, but also save themselves from their own social network debilitated selves who rely too much on the glitzy pyrite of the Gram (Instagram) and Facebook to rule their lives.  Directors Fischer and Wilson gamble with a good chunk of the story’s unresolved aspects the plot points build up so well that might leave audiences scratching their heads while a lip-curling complexity freezes their mouths agape in wondering next steps for hapless couple Su and Jack. For the defense of the unexplained, the Earth invasion is an, as we know it, impenetrable fact of pure science fiction, glimmered in 1960’s fashion with resemblance to the Shatner era Star Trek “Trouble with Tribbles” alien pouffe balls (the filmmakers must have been “Star Trek” fans) of various shapes and colors beleaguering an assault with Spider-Man-like bio-lash to get around, an unquenchable thirst for Ethanol, and sonic fluctuance. When you type it out loud it sounds ridiculous, but “Save Yourselves!” harps back on the classic Sci-Fi features with a contemporary wit toward the inept abilities of today’s modern young adults and their reliance on social media.

Going off the grid nonplusses city dwellers with formidable diurnal life routines in the indie science fiction comedy “Save Yourselves!” that has invaded theaters and at-home platforms this week, distributed Bleecker Street Media. The 93 minute, rated R social commentary satire is shot mainly in an unfiltered, natural light with a handheld and steady cam, grounding the filming within the wilderness of New York’s upper state with a sound staged to recreate the tuning fork of kooky otherworldly sound bites and soundtracks. Since this is a theatrical new release, there will be no review on the A/V aspects. There were no bonus material included or any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Save Yourselves!” is an eye opening gag of real time, real world dependents forced to outlast the odds and grow individually, and collectively, as independent people valued more than thought.

Pre-orde “Save Yourselves!” on DVD ahead of it’s October 9th release.