When the Heart Loses is When EVIL Invades the Head! “The Twin” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)

After the tragic car accident that claims the life of their son Nathan, grieving Rachel and Anthony move from New York City to a sublime region of Finland, a place where Anthony’s lineage lies and where he spent time as a child. Nathan’s twin brother, Elliot, is frequently overprotected by his mother after the loss. When Elliot begins to exhibit troubling signs in his behavior that links to his deceased twin brother, Rachel grasps out for explanations, looking for a rational and irrational answer that could contribute to such erraticism in her son. One possibility, paved by a local outsider with her own personal demons, is the Finnish community is beholden to a supreme darkness that seeks to possess the child from the beyond. With nowhere to turn for help, Rachel relies of her motherly instinct to protect her child at all costs and from all malice from all forms. but what the evil that plagues Rachel and Elliot might be closer to her than she realizes.

Identical twins are already at about a 10 on the creep factor scale. Margot Kidder in the dual psychotic role of Brian De Palma’s “Sisters”, the unnerving Jeremy Iron performance of manipulation and cruelty in David Cronenberg’s “Dead Ringer,” and even those Grady twin sisters from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” are an eerie extract overlooking the fact that two people can look so exactly alike. The biological phenomena goes against what proclaims us to be human in the first place – our individuality – and to be regularly utilized as a factor of the strange and unusual in a horror film just fills the cup up with a whole bunch of, and I quote Jordan Peele, nope! Finnish writer-director Taneli Mustonen is the next filmmaker to implement the oddity of identical siblings in his latest horror-thriller entitled simply “The Twin.” Co-written with Aleksi Hyvärinen, “The Twin” is the sophomore horror feature behind 2016’s “Lake Bodom” to emerge from the writers who have found cadence writing, producing, and directing comedies. Spun from Mustonen and Hyvärinen’s production company, Don Films, Don as in the title of respect, along with collegial line producer Mika Pajunen. Responsible for funding “The Twin” are returning “Lake Bodom” executive producers Fabian Westerhoff, Joris van Wijk, and Toni Valla with Shudder’s Emily Gotto acquiring distribution rights with financial backing.

Like most films about twins, the 2022 released twists and turns of a back-and-forth intrapersonal thriller uses one person to Eddie Murphy the roles. That person in “The Twin” is the pintsized Tristan Ruggeri who made his television debut as young Geralt in the hit Netflix book-adapted dark fantasy series “The Witcher.” Unlike most films about twins, Ruggeri really only has to play one but teeter the personality of the other in a symbolic showing of painful sorrow manifested to sorely miss what’s essentially your exact self. Imagine you’re a twin of a deceased sibling and you look at yourself and see your brother or sister. Rugger’s able to capture that emotional payload at such a young age despite being rigid as many child actors typically unfold early in career. Much of the story is seen through the eyes of Rachel, a distraught mother coping with the tragic loss, and the audience experience darkening, supernatural plot that’s unravelling a Satanist cult’s clandestine desires to bedevil her now only son Elliot.  “Warm Bodies” and “Lights Out” star Teresa Palmer plays the now the mature and safeguarding motherly role in the grand horror scheme alongside fellow “Discovery of Witches” costar Steven Cree (“Terminator:  Dark Fate’) playing her novelist husband, Anthony. For “The Twin” to actually work for the viewer to understand on a sympathetic level, you need to feel the love between them and finding love between Palmer and Cree is about as loveless as a platonic relationship. Aside from sharing a bed and a child, the romance and amorous has been removed from play, but that of frigid factor could have very well been intentional for the story. The principal casting concludes with Barbara Marten (“The Turning”) and the town eccentric, a foreigner who Rachel relates to and latches on to when the crisis with Elliot worsens.

“The Twin” is small principal cast with big background actors that menacingly swallow nonconformers alien in nature to their surroundings. Foggy atmospherics, looming, creaky wooden house, and the dissociative difficulties that put Rachet through a tizzy compound the fear and the affliction of anxiety that turns everything close to you against you in a heap of isolation. All the dead silence and surreal nightmares build tension effectively, keeping the audience on the edge for that peak moment. Mustonen and Hyvärinen throw in a capacious curveball that lets characters wander and explore then develop and action against before pulling the rug from under our one-directional firm footing for a twist. That twist, however, is a play fake we’ve seen before in recent years with the armor of horror shielding the true trepidation. When the peeling begins and the revealing shows us more complicated layers beneath the rotten onion, the once randomized vectors formulate a picture and within the systematic process of slowly uncoiling initial perceptions and believed facts, the story takes on a whole new meaning and, sometimes, even begs the question if what we just watched is still a horror picture after all? “The Twin” very much fits into this goose chase genre but fits like a size two times too small. The path Rachel follows is a yellow brick road to Oz. Oz being the satanic cult is scheming kid-snatch in place of the Beast more vigorous. Mounds upon mounds of hearsay, circumstantial evidence, and even a factoid or two lead the film by the nose to an unwittingly demise of its importance to the story as a whole once all the cards are laid out before us. “The Twin” then goes into heavy exposition to try and explain much of what Rachel experiences and it really felt like a bunch of hot air, a passive attempt to briefly summarize the last 109 minutes without really telling us much about anything. There’s still lots of questions concerning Anthony’s wealth, background, and mental fortitude. Questions also arise about the story’s hook that suddenly drives the characters to make radical changes in a blink of an opening montage eye. “The Twin” has shuddering moments of stillness suspense and a disorienting subcurrent that severs safety at every turn but flirts with unoriginality too much for exhilaration in an all-been-done-before dogleg…with twins.

Acorn Media continues to be the leading UK home video rights distributor for exclusive Shudder releases as “The Twin” makes it’s Blu-ray debut in the region. The PAL encoded region 2 Blu-ray is presented in 1080p high definition with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Retaining mostly in gray and blue hue to convey melancholia to the fullest extent possible, the picture quality doesn’t retain a terrific amount of detail. Textures are often softer during gel-night scenes with no well-defined lines and when compared to day-lit scenes, the details are starkly steelier. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound caters to a sound design that can differentiate between the bumps in the night as well as the stock-still silence that strikes at the nerves. Dialogue amplitude is on the softer side but very clean and very clear to comprehend. English subtitles have optional availability. Special features include a making-of featurette with cast interviews spliced in. The standard Acorn physical releases for Shudder remain the same for “The Twin” with a common blue case snapper with one-way cover art of uninspired creation. The film is certified 15 for strong horror, threat, bloody images, and violence. As far as doppelgänger bearing horror, “The Twin” is nowhere near identical to others but as for its fraternal individuality, there’s little unique about the Taneli Mustonen picture involving paranoia and primal maternal instinct.

EVIL Has an Unbreakable Glass Ceiling. “The Five Rules of Success” reviewed (Ambassador Film Group / Digital Screener)

Upon his release from a long prison stint, a man incarcerated into the system since a young boy tries his hand succeeding in the outside world.  Alone with no family or friends for support and looking to keep his nose clean, he designs his own set of rules for success, including responsibly checking in periodically with his hardnose parole officer and saving up enough money and knowledge working at a restaurant to open his own.  When the path seems clear and everything seems to be falling into place for his chances as success, societal temptations gnaw at him as negative influencers tempt to steer him astray and his own goals try to illicitly fast track his efforts.  Will he fall into crooked society’s trap or will he persevere to reach his aspirations? 

Hard knocks.  That’s the simple, raw core theme of Orson Oblowitz’s “The Five Rules of Success.”  The 2021 crime-thriller is the third directorial from the “Corbin Nash” co-producer, but the second penned script following his debut, a seedy L.A. underbelly thriller “The Queen of Hollywood Blvd” from 2017.  The story is the first for co-writer Christian de Gallego who steps out of his international sales executive role to put his ideas onto paper.  As compelling as any story could be mirroring the struggles of a downtrodden ex-con in a society that browbeats and takes advantage of those on good intentions to rebuild, “The Five Rules of Success” is also a visual quest of imagery and color, produced and distributed by the Ambassador Film Group with de Gallego producing and Apurva Patel as executive producer. 

Stepping into his lead man shoes debut is Santiago Segura (“47 Meters Down,” “Scream: The TV Series”) playing the mastermind behind the five rules of success as X, as in X could be anybody.  However, X couldn’t have been more invested into than what Segura put into the story’s character as a man left to his own devices, without support, without a comforting presence, and without much guidance.  Segura’s range is limited to a monotone stare and tough guy attitude that never wavers or breaks and you have to wonder what X is fighting for to make his ambitious dream a reality?  Where does his determination root?  The fact that there is an absence in a grounding, sobering symbol all the more makes X more susceptible to the deeper end of society’s morality pool.  Along his rise up from the ashes, X meets colorfully sordid individuals feeding off his vulnerability due to either being on probation or stereotyped as being inclined to be favorable toward criminal activity…you know, being released from prison and all.  He’s befriended by Danny (Jonathan Howard, “Godzilla:  King of the Monsters”), a drug using goon who works alongside X at his father’s restaurant.  “Crocodile 2:  Death Swamp’s” Jon Sklaroff plays the stark contrasted Greek immigrant father, restaurant owner, and disappointed father to Danny.  Sklaroff and Howard couldn’t be more adversarial as a hardworking immigrant father who struggled to get to where he is today and a silver spoon fed son throwing his life away with riffraff, drugs, and as the restaurant’s cook.  The relationship formed between X and Sklaroff’s character is the wishful dreaming that X couldn’t be the son he never had and all X has to do is be patient and listen to a little friendly advice.  A more brazen and mysterious obstacle in X’s path is his parole officer, Emma, whose uppity authority holds X’s freedom in the palm of her hand played by Isidora Goreshter.  The line is blurry whether Emma has either the hots for X or is secretly a sadist and Goreshter offers to uphold that inscrutable presence with unscrupulous tactics. 

One way to crave out the meaning behind Oblowitz’s film is to not be standing high-and-mighty on greener pastures.  “The Five Rules of Success” sensationalizes real time problems with our prison system and the after effects of walking out a free man after years, if not decades, from a life that’s all you know to a life you know nothing about.  X’s past burdens him immensely as flashbacks, denoted in literal quick flashed cuts, of the downward spiral turning point in his childhood find their way into his determined route to success.  Ultimately, the past and present are one in the same where society sees not a boy, not a man, not a person, but a criminal and how we as a society be contemptuous of former convicts released back into our soicalled perfect public community.  There’s parallelism between each chaptered rule and the downward progression he sustains in his associations with the wrong people that start to twist his mindset, his rules, into the very unlawful reprehensible activities he tries very hard to avoid. Oblowitz does a nice job detailing X’s habits as a loner, working out his pent up frustrations by exercising, shadow boxing, and refining his rules, but the root of all evil is hard to ignore as cold hard cash, easy money for one of Danny’s illicit jobs, begins to lay out the possible steps to skip in order to fulfill his own ambition.  Despite the momentary monotone mishandlings from Segura, the story is well-written and mostly well played out with some scenes more intense than others with the subject material as you begin finding yourself rooting for the ex-con and booing the very society you yourself live in scot-free. 

Clocking in with a runtime at 83 minutes, “The Five Rules of Success” symbolizes the ups and mostly downs in the here and now game of chutes and ladders.  Having been released last month, July 30, be sure to check out the unrated feature available for purchase on your preferred platform of either iTunes or Amazon released by the Ambassador Film Group.  Oblowitz doesn’t just write-and-direct the film, but he also serves as cinematographer dabbling in a Kafkaesque arranged world with hints of tint, hints of different lenses, hints at overexposures, hints at strobe, and more.  Nearly every scene is comprised of a different shooting technique or editing visual that may or may not possibly induce a seizure as forewarned during the preface.  Stylistically, I can only compare and describe “The Five Rules of Success” as this:  Stanley Kubrick’s “2001:  A Space Odyssey” meets Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream.”  As far as extras go, there’s a quaint, no major dialogue memorandum scene after the end credits that speaks to vicious circles and permanency.  For a L.A. shot film that has more technique than bite, “The Five Rule of Success” is a success of an auteur’s written storytelling as well as the visual understanding of just how to tell that story in a surrealistic context. 

Rent or Buy “The Five Rules of Success” on Prime Video!

EVIL Wears a Mask, Has Sex Parties, and Likes to Watch. “X” reviewed! (Cinedigm / Digital Screener)

Christian King was handed the philanthropic The Foundation once was directed by her mother Lynda, a legendary singer with powerful vocals who is now on the decline with onset dementia.  Christian, along with her business partner and friend, an equestrian stable hand named Danny, uses The Foundation as a façade for monthly masquerades of elaborate dinners and afterhours sex parties that rake in substantial donations from her clients, but Christian, who clads no mask, doesn’t partake in the normal debauchery of the orgiastic stage.  Her perversions are more privately invasive as she gets off on voyeurism with a hidden camera recording every thought-to-be discreet act her clients are doing in the bathroom.  When a Stella, a familiar face from Christian’s High School past, crashes one of the parties, forgotten secrets bubble to surface that lead to nail-biting paranoia.  Compounded with the seemingly recorded rape of Stella in her bathroom, Christian King’s money and monarchy threaten to expose her peeping Tom habits to the world. 

Sex, lies, and video tape.  “X” is the Generation X’s response to Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” doused in cynicism and a disaffection spray.  “X’s” carnality of deceits is the edited and directed work of LGBT+ advocating filmmaker and music artist, Scott J. Ramsey, who co-wrote the 2021 released film with Hannah Katherine Jost.  Ramsey and Jost previously collaborated on Ramsey and producer, Kevin De Nicolo’s short music videos, “Knave” and “Queen,” for the duo’s queer electro goth-pop band, The Major Arcana; the shorts inspired the feature films voyeuristic qualities, majestically medieval terminologies, and, of course, a queer theme.  A garnered support sees “X” as a family produced suspense thriller from not only Kevin De Nicolo, but also Alex serving as producer with Susan and Tazio De Nicolo as executive producers for the self-funded production under Ramsey’s indie banner, The Foundation, completing the filmmaker’s trifecta of multi-media storytelling.

Following polar oppositely a minor role in her first feature film, “Sleep Away, a family comedy, Hope Raymond quickly jumps the rated for everyone shark and right into the complex titular character a melodrama sexcapade and illicit perversion. Raymond plays a King, a character named Christian King, who employs the definition of her name by applying the real world as her kingdom, or at least her lavish home, to used for the monthly orgy shindigs. Christian King was probably name more suited for a male lead, and was at one point most likely written for such, but tweaking the role for a female actress gave Christian King new meaning, a new perspective, and a whole new depravity intrinsically worked into a system that’s thrives off of identity anonymity, ambiguity, and gender reversal. While Raymond plays the royal King, her business partner, Danny, plays the royal Queen under the sexuality masking by Brian Smick, also making his sophomore feature film appearance. Raymond and Smick comfortably indulge themselves into roles of pansexuality without having the lifestyle be the crux of “X’s” core. Zachary Cowan and, introducing, Eliza Bolvin play the, whether intentional or not, monkey wrenches thrown into the King and Queen’s perfect, cash-cow machine. “X” endows Bolvin’s Stella as a threat to the King’s illicit Kingdom, but Stella provides strategic publicity as a renowned cam girl in certain circuits to which the Queen aims to market for new members. When Stella invites her boyfriend, Cowan’s Jackson, that’s when things get complicated with misperception and mistaken identities. Rounding out “X’s” cast is Valerie Façhman, Hans Probst, Ashley Raggs, Vickey Lopez, Mira Gutoff, Miyoko Sakatani, and Wendy Taylor.

The five act chaptered narrative, described a Shakespearean tragedy and a Hitchcockian thriller, continues the regal motif all along the way, exploiting the means to sound ritzy, refined, and provocative and to show the power of sovereignty with Christian King’s thumb over every single orgy participant’s dirty little bathroom secrets or as she puts it, “I know them better than anyone else,” as she shamefully masturbates to what should be the privy of relinquishing the bladder. The idea of getting off on watching people in the bathroom isn’t just a twisted, one-off fetish, but also symbolizes a power aspect against the unaware, leading to self-serving and self-induced loneliness because of the one-up she holds over them. “X” tries to justify King’s rationale for exploiting her sexually engorging guests with flashbacks of sexuality shaming by the snarky high school boys, which in my opinion, dilutes the LGTB+ perception of you are who you are because something terrible happened to you. However, on the other side of the spectrum, you have Danny who is also taken advantage of in more than one way and in a different and separate context, but doesn’t react in the same regards as his King. Their dichotomy exposes true personalities and gives audiences a defined line of ego and humble attributes to experience different perceptions and events that speak to who they are as an individual. “X” circulates around the titular King of self-proclaim monstrous perversions in a dicey cinematic case study in vanity, arrogance, and the sexy manipulation power.

From being entirely shot in Northern California to the five year, labor-intensive production, “X” marks a spot with a digital and DVD release from Cinedigm with digital platforms including VUDU, Google Play, Amazon, and iTunes. “X” runs a lengthy, but well entertaining pace of 127 minutes and is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. In a little buyers beware tidbit, the dialogue track might feel dubbed and that’s because it is. Director Ramsey has noted that due to the constant crashing waves in the background, much of the the three year post production included re-recording all the dialogue as well as creating a 11-track score album accompaniment entitled “At the Devils Ball” from his band The Major Arcana. Chantel Beam’s first feature credit is a good solid effort with a slew of medium closeups and framing of multiple actors in a single scene while tip-toeing outside the box and into another world with a playful black and white sequence and the hidden bathroom camera reel that’s spun like a kinky comedy, but renders into the realm of diabolical depravity. As a pillar of anonymity, X has always served as the wild card for anything goes and the same rings true for Scott J. Ramsey’s autarkic ball room blitz between sex and perversion film.

Buy “X” on DVD or Stream from Amazon Prime Video!

2014 Halloween Commercial #7: IKEA – The Shinning

Number seven Halloween commercial comes to us all the way from Singapore. IKEA dives into horror inspirations and pulls out a Stanley Kubrick The Shining reference and it is fantastic.

The commercial has a small boy mimicking an all too familiar and famous scene with the boy and his big wheel trike. Take notice of the small easter eggs along the boys ride until he reaches the twins!

This is a good use of reference to market IKEA’s massive, maze-like store while paying tribute to a horror classic.