Struggling filmmaker Gavin York discovers a stowed away box full of film cassettes in his in-law’s basement. As York delves into the tapes, he becomes obsessed with the tapes’ contents involving two film students documenting the evoking of localized folklore phantom, known as Peeping Tom, as their thesis. Capturing Peeping Tom on their camera acting as a human lens, the two students can’t escape the malevolent presence that gets closer and closer to their reality with every shutting off the camera. York, himself, is also being documented by a group of filmmakers, attempting to capture the far-fetched story of Gavin’s unravelling of the historic legend as well as to turn a profit in revealing that Peeping Tom does, in fact, exist. The two tales of filmmakers ride a distressing parallel that spirals them into ghastly obsession and forces them to never, ever blink again!
“Butterfly Kisses” is the 2018 supernatural faux-documentary from writer-director Erik Kristopher Myers. The “Roulette” filmmaker finds inspiration in Ellicott City, Maryland’s, very own, staring contest champion in Peeping Tom; a 16th century labeled example of a Flickergeist, a shadowy image just on the edge of the peripheral vision, and Peeping Tom also goes by the monikers Blink Man or The Tunnel Man. “Butterfly Kisses” title comes as when Peeping Tom gets closer with every blink of an eyelid, his victim will need to painfully keep their peepers open for as long as they can, but when Peeping Tom is so close, close proximity to the face, flutter’s his eyelashes against her eyes forcing one to blink and succumb to his deadly motives. With Myers’ film, a little bit of this reviewer wanted to see Peeping Tom actually deliver the act of butterfly kisses upon a victim before mangling the poor soul into oblivion.
While both documentaries involve shedding light onto the exposure of a Flickergeist, the narrative harshly shines more of the starlight onto the characters making these films. Gavin York is essentially dissected while he being self-absorbed in himself and his dollar signs he thinks his project is worth to the word. Seth Adam Kallick does Gavin well though perhaps slightly overselling the performance; however, there never was a deeper rabbit hole for York to escape from, leaving not a lot of range for Kallick and his character to arc. York studies and analyzes the original thesis film spearheaded by Sophia Crane, played by Rachel Armiger, and her cameraman Feldman, played by Reed DeLisle. The dynamics are fine between Armiger and DeLisle whom poke the bees nest of folklore legends, but moments to reflect their humanity, why should we care about these two characters as people from abandoned or forgotten footage, didn’t quite translate. Rounding out the cast Erik Kristopher Myers, Matt Lake (Author of the “Weird” state book series), and Eileen del Valle.
The documentary inside a documentary is like looking into a mirror that’s facing another mirror, ping-ponging back and forth between parallel stories that are only set a part bestowed year their recorded while peppering Peeping Tom true to form, as a flicker of a shadowy figure. Myers does his due diligence in editing these two films together, meshing appropriately the intertwining, sometimes combating, docs to find common ground in a linear story. Sometimes the realism just didn’t hit the mark and creating that casual dialect or the valueless moments didn’t blossom, staying focus more on the task at hand. Also, this narrative has been told and rehashed before in some way, shape, or form, whether hunting the legend of Bigfoot or summoning the Slender Man, finding separation between Myer’s film and those other project proves difficult. What’s enjoyable about “Butterfly Kisses” are the welcoming jump scares and while only a couple of jump scares make the cut, the two are well-timed, well-scored, and well-placed to send a shockwave through out the nervous system. Even I jumped on these scenes.
Four-Fingered Films presents Erik Kristopher Myers’ “Butterfly Kisses,” a supernatural documentary that explores a national, Great Depression-born, folklore bred in Maryland and depicts a contagious obsession of stubbornness and worth. Unfortunately, an online screener was provided for this critique so the audio and video aspects will not be reviewed. There were also no bonus material with this screener. “Butterfly Kisses” is a quasi-found footage spook show surrounding another of America’s frightful urban myths, granting Peeping Tom more staying power just inside the corner of our peripheral vision, but the film doesn’t quite highlight and tour the reason or the rhyme to Flickergeist’s true power. Myers chose to detail the downward spiral of those consumed by the sight of his very questionable existence in more than one profitable fashion and that can be more frightening than the realism of a ghoul.
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.
Lionsgate has just announced that the supernatural thriller, “Winchester,” will be available Digitally and on a Blu-ray Combo Pack (includes Digital and DVD) on April 17th! “Winchester” stars Helen Mirran (“Red,” “The Queen”), Jason Clarke (“Terminator Salvation”), Sarah Snook, Finn Scicluna-O’Prey, Emma Wiseman and directed by Jason and Michael Spierig (“The Undead”, “Jigsaw,” “Daybreakers”).
“Inspired by true events, Winchester is set on an isolated stretch of land outside of San Francisco where there sits the world’s most haunted house. Seven stories tall with hundreds of rooms, the house has been under construction for decades. But heiress Sarah Winchester (Mirren) is not building for herself, for her niece (Snook), or for the troubled doctor (Clarke) she has summoned. She is building it as an asylum for hundreds of vengeful ghosts.”
The Winchester Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD includes a never-before-seen “making of” featurette, which includes cast and crew interviews, and will be available for the suggested retail price of $39.99 and $29.95, respectively.
Type: Theatrical Release
Rating: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, drug content, some sexual material and thematic elements.
Subtitles: Spanish, English SDH
Feature Run Time: 99 Minutes
BD Format: 1080P High Definition 16×9 Widescreen 2.39:1 Presentation
DVD Format: 16×0 Widescreen 2.39:1 Presentation
BD Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio™, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio, English Descriptive Audio
DVD Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio, English Descriptive Audio
Just off the rough stormy shores of Nova Scotia is a remote island where American Tom Doherty becomes the newly hired lighthouse caretaker in search for good money. Already overwhelmingly cloaked with the lighthouse’s creepy adjacent housing and being forewarned by the island’s infamous legends, an isolated Tom experiences the abilities of dark force first hand and doesn’t know whether the forces are real or madness has swallowed him from the extreme isolation. As Tom continues the work, he discovers clues along the way that suggest the island holds a nefarious past involving murder, suicide, and cannibalism, but an old bible with a list of names is the key that has the potential to unlock all the island’s mysterious doors and can also be Tom’s unfortunate undoing if he maintains being the lighthouse caretaker.
Based off the Angela Townsend book with the same title, “The Forlorned” is the 2017 silver screen adaptation of Townsend’s mystery-thriller from “Dead Noon” director Andrew Wiest who has helmed a jolting, supernaturally visual and auditory accompaniment to Townsend’s literary work. To maintain authenticity, Townsend co-wrote a script alongside Wiest and Ryan Reed that’s riddle with an ill-omened story leading audiences down a path of insanity-ladened darkness. But what exactly is “The Forlorned?” Forlorn has two definitions: 1) pitifully sad and abandoned or lonely 2) unlikely to succeed; hopelessness. Either of the disparaging definitions, if not both, can be used to described “The Forlorned’s” eerily gloomy story that’s saturated in a motif of burdensome loneliness and relentlessly bashes the concept into our heads in a constant reminder that no one can ever escape the island even in postmortem. The character Tom is the very definition of the forlorned. Whether because of due diligence or a dark force, his role of caretaker is a permanent position allotted to him unwillingly by a sadistic, secret-keeping demon that seeks to swallow more unfortunate souls.
Colton Christensen inarguably shapes the role of Tom Doherty into his own with a solid solitary performance for more than half the film. Christensen also, for much of the last ten minutes of the story, had to systematically break away from his character in order to forge a combative persona to Tom and while Christensen does the job well for one character, shouldering a second didn’t suite the actor’s abilities despite a total embrace of character and a few jabs at his own humility. Wiest has worked with Christensen prior to “The Forlorned” and has seemed to continue the trend of using his own entourage of actors with the casting of Elizabeth Mouton (also from “Dead Noon”). Mouton’s character is briefly mentioned near the beginning as a little girl of a previous caretaker, but her adult version only makes the scene in the latter portion of the story to provide a better clarification and exposition into the demon’s background. Also serving exposition as story bookends and peppered through as emotional support is Cory Dangerfield’s “Murphy,” a sea-salty old bar owner who liaisons with the lighthouse committee and can make a mean clam chowder. Murphy hires Tom to do the restoration and caretaker work and while Murphy initiates Tom existence into the fold, Murphy, for the rest of the film, serves as slight comic relief and, in a bit of disappointment, an unfortunate waste of a character. I also wanted Benjamin Gray, Shawn Nottingham’s priest character, to be built upon and expanded more because the character is a key portion that, in the end, felt rushed with quick, messy brush strokes in order to finish painting the picture.
At first glance, Townsend, Wiest, and Reed’s script screens like a typical, if not slightly above par level, haunting where Tom encounters sportive spirits, ghastly visions, and a slew of ominous noises inside a time-honored lighthouse home, but then a twist is written into play, pitting Tom against a masterminding demon whose conquered many other bygone caretakers and whose the epicenter of all that is sinisterly wrong with the island. The demon, who has taken the form of a man hungry hog, lives only vicariously through the camera’s point of view, never bestowing an appearance upon to Tom or even the audience, but referenced numerous times by island locals and boisterously given hog attributes whenever the demon is near. The concept fascinates with this demon-hog thing kept stowed away deep inside the isle’s bedrock even if the dark entity never makes a materializing appearance, but where that aspect thrives in “The Forlorned,” a pancake thin backstory for the demon goes simply construed with a slapped together account of its languished two-century long past and wilts the demonic character wastefully down with backdropped uncertainly, powerlessness, and puzzlement that’s forlornly misfired. There’s no deal with the devil, no selling of the soul, no medieval rite that gives the demon-hog it’s power; it just turns into an evil spirit out of greed.
Andrew Wiest’s production company, Good Outlaw Studios, presents “The Forlorned” that found a distribution home in Midnight Releasing, the fine folks who released “Blood Punch” and “WTF!” “The Forlorned” is available on DVD and multiple VOD formats such as iTunes, Vimeo, Vudu, Xbox Video, and Google Play. Since a screener was used for this critique, a full review rundown of the technical specs will not be provided and no bonus materials were featured on the disc. Director Andrew Wiest and his cast and crew entourage are able bodied participants in assembling a good, entertaining, and sufficient indie mystery-thriller brought to fruition out of Angela Townsend’s story with the author’s pen ship assistance. With a little tweak here and there on the antagonistic demon-hog, “The Forlorned” might have necessarily escalated into a richly dark territory of a more volatile, blood thirsty spirit that’s scribed to have racked up body after body, century after century; however, the fleeting chronicle of how the demon-hog came to be a malevolent being leaves a bittersweet aftertaste on a premise that started out spooky and strong.
Grieving parents, Jessie and Mark, aim to heal the deep wounds of the tragic and accidental death of their young son by fostering an orphan boy named Cody. After the mysterious death of Cody’s mother and having been through two concerning foster parents prior to Jessie and Mark, Cody strives to be the most sweet and loving child to his new and pleasant foster parents, but Cody has a dark secret that keeps him up at night. When Cody falls into a dream state, his subconscious imagination manifests his awe-inspiring dreams and even his worst nightmares that become deadly with the presence of the malicious Cranker Man, a dream shadow who can pluck anyone into disappearance that happens to be near the slumbering boy.
“Before I Wake” director Mike Flanagan labors over all that is supernatural, churning out more than his fair share of specter-centered storied films including “Absentia,” “Occulus,” and the more favorable sequel to “Ouija,” entitled simply enough “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” that was produced alongside “Before I Wake” in 2016. Flanagan’s knack for suspenseful tall-tale horror doesn’t pigeonhole the Salem, Massachusetts born director into producing the same terrorizing story over-and-over and while “Before I Wake” has undoubtedly a few heart-pounding horror elements, fantasy more than so strong arms the genre into a branding submission. If I may be so bold by comparing “Before I Wake” to Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan Labyrinth” might be committing, perhaps, blogger career suicide, but the draw to resemblances can’t go ignored with what “Before I Wake’s” Cody creates from his overly stimulated dreams is much more familiar to what “Pan Labyrinth’s” Olivia character imagines when she escapes the horrors of a war bred sadistic maniac, if even only in a diluted version of events.
“Superman Returns” actress Kate Bosworth headlines with co-star Thomas Jane (“The Mist,” “Deep Blue Sea”) as the unwitting foster parents who are forcing themselves back into the parenting game. I specifically was not coming to terms with Bosworth’s performance as Jessie; her facial expressions and body language, along with her tone and line deliveries, were too lifeless with rigidity and repetitiveness. So much so that I compared Bosworth to Suzanne Cryer’s impassive Laurie Beam character from HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” Unless the inexplicable amount of grieving has voided her of all emotion, like the Borg drone from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the role of Jessie is written with a variety of mood driven circumstances that start with her insomnia, to her willingness to not leave their home, to being carelessly exploitive with Cody. Being a fan of Thomas Jane since 2004’s “The Punisher,” I might be a bit biased, but Jane had more range with the ability to switch back-and-forth between mixed attitudes and sentiments, making the dynamic between Jane and Bosworth clunky and awkward. To round off the trio of main actors, you might recognize the pint sized actor playing Cody as Jacob Tremblay from the 2015 Oscar Winning Brie Larson film “Room” portraying an innocently pitiful dreamer with an unquenchable thirst to be loved.
The Flanagan and Jeff Howard co-authored storybook script, intentionally or not, borrows heavily from psychoanalyst Sigmund Frued’s dream interpretation theory that wishful fulfillments are more common in children. Previous day activity, or day residue, has influential properties on a child’s dream, much like with Cody in this story, and Cody’s dreams are written to be an exaggerated fruition, fulfilling his desires and illuminating his emotions to the brightest or the darkest extent. Like many other films that involve the misunderstanding of children, adults Jessie and Mark blindly understand all the possibilities of Cody’s uncontrollable gift, exploiting Cody’s powers for their own greed. I did find that I love Jane’s Mark character as he tries to show Jessie the errors of her reasoning as he’s a bit of a kid himself, living vicariously through Cody with the video games and with the pizzas as if husbands, or men in general, are actually children at heart. Cody’s gift becomes a power struggle with Mark caught in the middle and the consequences of this struggle result in being the catalyst to unify Jessie and Cody as a strong bond between Mother and Son. Men totally receive the shaft in this picture where both dominant adult male figures are reduced to a forgotten or humbling state, left behind because mother knows best when it was really mother who dismantles the situation.
“Before I Wake” is a boogeyman fable of sleepless nights that independent Canadian distributor Mongrel Media presents on Blu-ray for the first time anywhere in North America on a home entertainment platform come January 10th. The film has been in a distribution limbo since U.S. theatrical distributor Relatively Media filed for bankruptcy, but, luckily for fans of the supernatural genre, Mongrel Media obtained home video rights. I was provided an online screener link, forcing my hand to not comment on the specs of the Blu-ray audio or image quality nor touch upon the bonus material, but what I can state is that the spin on the dream killer won’t stop here with “Before I wake.” Dreams, like conceptions of outer space, are vast with unlimited, unconstrained content that surrealist director Mike Flanagan has only partially tapped into by exploring the dangerously innocent perceptions fabricated from a child’s abstract mind.