Don’t Be Fooled By the EVILs of Your Mind! “Open Your Eyes” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)



Screenwriter Jason is on a deadline.  The producer is looking for his next script and soon.  The writer finds himself in a funk in not only fleshing out his script but also with his memories as a lingering sensation clings to him as flashes of moments that don’t seem quite right haunt his reality.  As he plugs along with his writing, other strange occurrences happen all around him:  a portion of his apartment wall is deteriorating from a leak in an adjacent upstairs unit, a cat has seemingly made it’s way into AC ducts, and objects disappear and reappear.  His dormant apartment complex is frustrating and lonely when he can’t reach the upstairs neighbor or the building manager about the leak that’s destroying his wall, but when he runs into Lisa, a neighbor from down the hall, many of his concerns fade away with her striking beauty and the two start up the beginnings of a possible relationship.  Yet, there’s still something amiss he can’t put his finger on and his newfound friend Lisa might just be the key to his awakening.   

Modest psychological horror has always been a tough one to pull off.  Instead of a straight forward zombie apocalypse or a killer behind a creepy mask slashing to bits half-naked teenagers, the psychological horror subgenre has to develop disintegration details and piece together fragmentations in a whirlwind character study that hopefully materializes into logical sense.  Writer-director Greg A. Sager tackles such threadbare cognizance with the filmmaker’s latest feature, “Open Your Eyes,” a Canadian psychological horror-thriller released this month.  Sager remains firmly in the horror realm with his fourth feature film behind 2012’s demon-seeding “The Devil in Me,” 2014’s supernatural penancing “Kingdom Come,” and 2018’s extraterrestrial thriller “Gray Matter.”  Continue the trend with all his independent productions, Sager self-produces alongside his co-founding Matchbox Pictures Inc., partner, Gary Elmer, who is also the cinematographer on the project.

“Open Your Eyes” is also modest in casting with two backbone characters keeping Sager’s narrative from being an bodiless work of art.  Doing much of the heavy lifting is the Toronto based Ry Barrett and with his close connection with filmmaker Chad Archibald, Barrett has had, in many different capacities, a role in a string of B-horror, including such films as “The Drownsman,” “Antisocial,” and “Neverlost” which are all tied to the Ontario director.  “Open Your Eyes” serves only as the second time Barrett and Sager team up following the release of “Kingdom Come.”   Barrett exudes an unconscious performance in Jason’s unravelling from crunch-time screenwriter to an unglued madman living in Jason’s version of a tenantable matrix.  Jason is almost sleepwalking through a lonely existence even before meeting his neighbor Lisa, a role played by Joanna Saul in her commencing feature film act, and the struggling to keep structural integrity writer hardly suspects and worries about strange manifestations that are happening all around him.  I don’t think Sager captures Jason’s full autonomy awareness that leaves the character more blank than bothered.  Barrett and Saul have adequate enough chemistry to make their barely a courtship romance intriguing, but her character’s implementation into restoring Jason’s vital grip on reality just kind of falls into his lap without a pinky being lifted on Jason’s part to assist in his own deliverance.   Heather May and Julianna Suzanne Bailey round out the small cast.

Aside from the nuisances with the character development, the sterilized comforts of Jason’s living conditions alone provide an unconventional chill.  Though living in an apartment complex is normally assumed chockablock with tenants living their lives, Jason’s apartment building is virtually vacant, void of the hustle and bustle of occupants, with not as much as a whisper from the exterior of Jason’s top-to-bottom, side-to-side walls.   What seems to be an idyllic environment for a concentrating writer becomes an oppressive variable that yet doesn’t seem to slow down or question Jason’s momentum or leave any kind of sense of threat along the way, leaving his what should be an ominous place of mind-bending confinement hanging out to whither and dry up .  I thought the plot twist to be shrouded enough to warrant a semi pleasantly surprised and unexpected ending that connects topically to today’s real-world climate.  Not to be riding a one trick themed pony, Sager also plays upon the themes of grief over loss and how the mind compensates with overactivity and gap fillers to avoid a complete mental system overload while also subtly adding a static charge of illusory sensations to make unsettling disturbances.  “Open Your Eyes” will not scare your socks off as it’s not that kind of film; instead, expect a slow-burn mystery more puzzling than panicky as the walls begin to crumble…literally. 

Okay, puzzlers.  Get puzzling on the new mystery horror-thriller, “Open Your Eyes,” that was distributed this past June by Gravitas Ventures on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital.  Producer Gary Elmer, as director of photography, paints the dark corners with softer figures that provides a really good shadowy contrast between character and background.  Elmer’s small use of the blue tint, his over-the-shoulder hallway delph, and shallow focus add tidbits of appeal without just “Open Your Eyes” seeming like another flat indie production.  Since I was provided with a digital screener, I can’t comment to confidently on the audio and video qualities of a physical release, but presented 2.35:1 widescreen was digitally shot on a CineAlta series Sony Venice camera that effectively provides a smoother grain, especially in the inky shadows, that transmit a really rich data scheme for post-production and offers that flexibility in producing range.  Another byproduct of the Venice camera is the natural looking skin tones seen with Elmer’s film when not under a tinted lens.  No bonus material offered with the digital screener and there were no bonus scenes during or after the credits.  Perhaps with a runtime a little longer than necessary, clocking in a 99 minutes, “Open Your Eyes” is a quaint terror touching the tattered strings of a mind, body, and soul pushed over the edge and into a falsehood bred by fear and loss.

Own “Open Your Eyes” on DVD or Watch on Prime Video!

No Aloe Cream Can Soothe This Evil! “Bite” review!

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Costa Rica’s beauty attracts tourists with it’s crystal clear ocean beaches, idyllic and serene island surroundings, and being a luxurious phenomenal getaway for last hurrah bachelor or bachelorette parties. Costa Rica also conceals Casey’s, the bride-to-be, dark and drunken affair and a deadly murky water dwelling insect inhabiting the depths of a secret sublime pool far off the beaten tourist path. When Casey sustains a bite from the unseen bug, she brushes off the injury as nothing more than a little bug bite, but as Casey recovers from her alcohol-fueled trip back home in the States, she notices strange open sores along her skin, she can’t hold down any food, and her hearing enhances by tenfold. Scared beyond all else, Casey alienates herself from her friends and fiancé as she slowly mutates into a nightmare creature, spawning eggs from her mouth throughout her small apartment and supplying fresh bodies for her millions of offspring as soon as they walk through her door.
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Body horror is alive and well and in your face as Chad Archibald’s 2015 film “Bite” is living proof that the human form is completely, and biologically, mutable. Elma Begovic stars as Casey, recently engaged to a financial investor named Jared living in the same building that’s owned by her soon-to-be mother-in-law, and as her personal troubles mount after a night of alcohol induced memory loss in Costa Rica, Casey’s outlook on her future with Jared diminishes as she second guesses long term commitment and the situation doesn’t help itself when you’re biology transform into an acid bile spewing fiend. The film also stars Jordan Gray as Jared, Annette Wozniak and Denise Yuen as Casey’s bachelorette party friends Jill and Kirsten, and Lawrene Denkers as Jared’s overprotective mother whose a real nasty crone and is written by Jayme Laforest.
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Secreted with an absolute nod of respect by attributing a creature that’s familiar to David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” remake, “Bite” also has an individual personality about it with an extreme Jekyll and Hyde complex containing stark contrasts of smooth, clean structures, such as the apartment building Casey and Jared reside, and with conventional presence in the characters themselves. Reality is then turned on it’s head with visually foul and putrid mucus and a slew of glistening caviar covering the walls and the floor, transforming Casey’s apartment into an eerie swamp of terror and vomit green. A metamorphosed Casey, who resembles a blend of creatures from “Species” and “Splice,” is now the proud owner of a home of horror where every room reeks of death and slick with organic discharge.
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Archibald visually and audibly charges “Bite,” getting up close and personal with Casey’s rancid, boil-infested bite and we’re also subjected to external factors such as extreme outside light, in-and-out screeches, and a clear and positive sensitivity to water to help the audience transition better along with Casey and to not be too much in show when the final result comes to fruition. Elma Begovic’s human Casey constantly feels uncertain. From the first moments of the handheld cam during the bachelorette party, Casey wavers about her relationship with Jared. Back home, she continues to float through the situation and through life. We’re continuously exposed to Casey’s extreme discomfort with marriage, with no having kids, with her displeasure with Jared’s mother, and she also doesn’t even seem to have a job except for walking a neighbor’s dog everyday, which looking back on those scenes seem fairly irrelevant to the story. Only when Casey’s fully transitioned does she firm up her place in life, oozing with confidence and animal instinct, and cozy’s up in a lime green, soft yellow glow comfortable habitat for her new, arguably improved, surroundings. Elma’s glowing bug-eyes are a bit campy, but add to the transforming effect.
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Her apparent plight is a synonymous exaggeration of her tremendous guilt and shame for not being truly committed to Jared and for her blackout one night stand in Costa Rica. Her body horror represents sustaining the physical manifestation of a sexually transmitted disease while, at the same time, discovering she’s pregnant. There’s is so much shame in Casey that even when she can’t confront the problem to her fiance, she can’t even go see a doctor face-to-face and reduces her interactions with a physician by using an ineffective tele-doc instead. Stir her shame and guilt with an abrasive landlord/future mother-in-law and it’s not wonder Casey seeks escape from a hell that dominates her normal life.
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Sometimes the success of a movie is in the details and while “Bite” has great horror house detail, a few aspects bother me and are more about the consistencies than the facts or production goofs. For instance, the bug bite Casey endures in the Costa Rican pool has a much higher location, just above the line of her bikini bottoms, but changes to just under the bikini bottoms, a shade above the middle of the side of her thigh. A stronger case lies with Characters’, other than Casey, perception of the transform apartment. Neither Jared, Kirsten, and Jill react to the extreme odor emitting from Casey’s apartment that was so clear to the landlord who came knocking to confront with former neighbor complaints about the strong odor and neither of the above characters truly reacted with sheer trepidation upon entering a dilapidated apartment owned by this person they know. The indifference the characters displayed didn’t invoke fear, hindering audiences fear to fully enjoy the film.

While the unfortunate details nag at the back of my brain, “Bite” is undoubtedly icky-sticky effective body and creature feature from “The Drownsman” director. UK distributor Second Sight releases the Black Fawn Films and Breakthrough Production film “Bite” onto DVD this October! If you’re a fan of Cronenberg’s “The Fly,” “Bite” is a simpler, thinner modern version sans teleportation machines and Jeff Goldbum. The DVD specs include a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen of the 85 runtime feature with two audio options including Dolby Digital Stereo and a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. I was provided a DVD-R screener disc with no bonus material except a static menu with scene selection and can’t critique the audio or video quality, but the film dotes solid SFX and moderately palatable acting in this gunky-gross story stemmed from one little single bite.