Those Little EVIL Buggers Ruin Everything! “Ankle Biters” reviewed! (Dark Star Pictures / Digital Screener)



Injured hockey goon Sean Chase has severe on-ice anger issues but leave from the game curbs his temper for the better after meeting an internally distraught Laura Haywood.  Enamored by the mother of four who enjoys rough sex as much as he does, Sean decides to willingly plunge into marriage by asking Laura for her hand against his friends and family passive advise him of the hefty, multi-kid baggage in Laura’s tow.  To set the romantic mood, Sean takes Laura and her young kids to his family’s lakeside cabin where all the locals know him, personally and professionally, but when the girls discover cell phone footage of Sean and Laura’s bedroom exploits and interpret them as Sean hurting their mother, they devise mischievous retribution on Sean in order to protect mommy. 

From being a bare knuckler enforcer using the rink as his boxing ring to becoming the haplessly smitten and blind to four little girls’ perception of him as the bad guy, the once penalty box denizen Sean Chase is now the penalized good guy in the Canadian dark-comedy “Ankle Biters” from writer-director Bennet De Brabandere.  Also known as “Cherrypicker,” the title used in the film, the film is Brabandere’s first feature length film based off a story by lead actor, Zion Forrest Lee (“Hit It”), who oft puts delicate notes of misperception as the main theme in his tale.  Shot primarily in the harbor village of Ontario’s Tobermory “Ankle Biters” is produced by Michael Flax of Flax Films, director Bennet De Brabandere, long time makeup artist Sean Sansom with credits from “Land of the Dead” and “eXistenZ, and special effects company, Mindwarp Productions’, Francois Dagenais (“Saw” franchise, “Chucky” SyFy series).  The film is presented in part by APL Films.

As if seeking some sort of self-punishment, story originator Zion Forrest Lee takes the form of a punching bag for four overprotective little girls; four real life sisters, in fact, played by Rosalee, Dahlia, Violet (“Bad Santa 2”), and Lily Reid, the latter Reid having played a significant role in Johannes Roberts’ recent “Resident Evil” reboot as young Claire Redfield and will be involved in another Lee and Brabandere collaboration in the upcoming apocalypse thriller, “Salvation.”  As a father of three girls myself, the Reid girls are nothing short of genuine, killing their roles with tweaked difference in each of their individual personalities as cute and morbidly curious children and siblings.  Lee offers up a rather over-the-top approach toward Chase’s Mr. Perfect in a way that doesn’t come across naturally as the performance is stuck somewhere between Phil Hartman in “Jingle All the Way” and Chevy Chase in “Christmas Vacation” (I’m in the Christmas spirit with my films, if you can’t tell) with a suave sexy toward the women who swallow it up and dorky goofball toward kids who don’t understand it. Chase’s legendary hockey status has been interweaved into the community surrounding his family’s lakeside cabin, such as the local cops with Officer Brian (Gareth Moyse), local shopkeepers like Jordy (Jordan Mills), and even other vacationers, a pair of lakeside neighbors in Anthony (Doru Bandol) and Caprice Gaddis (Maria Sant’Angelo) with their blossoming teenage daughter Matia (Matia Jackett, “Crimson Peak”). By far one of the more interesting characters, Matia doesn’t actually progress the story with her flirtatious crush on Chase as she’s used as more of a device to propel the Haywood girls into full-blown psycho-kiddies as Matia bites off more than she can chew on a what should have been a routine babysitting gig. The biggest name in the film is the “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” comic Colin Mochrie in an unfunny role as the town’s police chief. “Ankle Biters” houses many curious characters come and go, adding little to story or not adding enough, with select bit performances from Evert Houston, Michael Copeman, and Jani Lauzon amongst the Canadian cast.

Not one single member the cast had that it factor that sparks allurement, intrigue, laughter, hate, or any other kind of emotion they’re trained to extract from you or intent on to make you feel in certain crucial points in the story. As a dark comedy, “Ankle Biters” lacked, well, comedy with an overreaching and flat satire on the innocence of mistaken circumstances. When the opening credits roll with the Gary Glitter “Rock and Roll” sampling “The Hey Song,” a track used for decades at sporting events, and we’re immediately exposed to a confrontational and bearded hockey player punching the eye out of an opposing team player into the title sequence, investing myself was easy as the synch of melodious Jock Jams and brutality is promised for the horizon; however, quickly skating from the ice is our beloved bloody-knuckled goon gone in a matter of oddly edited and sequenced scenes and is rarely seen again, even in flashbacks, as we’re dumped into post-hockey career, clean shaven, and on the behavior mend of Sean Chase trying to quickly nail down a woman with four kids who obviously dislike him a whole lot. I fail to see the transition, I don’t want to see the transition, and I’m angry “Ankle Biters” ended up in this transition whereas having Chase continue to be the injured, but still a fisticuffing and bearded enforcer, going toe-to-toe with brats would have been much more (Canadian) of an amusing watch. The better side of this genre blending coin is the darkness portion that really elevates during the latter half of the lakeside trip. Dead bodies, baby spiders crawling out of an ear, open wound fractured skull, a knife to the eye are just a few of the effective practical and composite applications from Francois Dagenais’s special effects company, MindWarp Productions, that keeps the story grounded with destroying the human anatomy as well as keeping up with the human fallibly in order to not have the film fall completely on its face with everything else erroneous.

Released back in mid-November, “Ankle Biters” landed onto On Demand platforms and DVD home video courtesy of Dark Star Pictures. Even though I’m unable to fully cover the audio and video details from any digital screener, I don’t think what was provided was even a finished version of the film that came complete with top left corner running timestamps and some obvious missing special effects, such as the missing prop knife tip when removed from the eye socket and then the tip is back whole on the next shot. No information on the DVD specs was given to me either. Brabandere and Lee do tease with a follow up sequel involving the “Son of Cherrypicker,” named after the lakeside penned “Cherrypicker murders” in the film which, again, was never made a solidifying connection to other than a brief news report ticker on television. If comparing a film close to “Ankle Biters,” Peter Berg’s “Very Bad Things” fits that gruesome bill with one gross misstep in front of another that eventually culminates to a shocking and even deadlier kill or be killed ending with a grown man versus four little girls.

Watch “Ankle Biters” On Amazon Prime Video

When Alone, EVIL Will Be Your Company. “The Wind” reviewed!


Living at the edge of the 19th century frontier, husband and wife, Isaac and Lizzy, live in complete seclusion as far as the eye can see until another couple, Gideon and Emma, settle a mile away in a nearby cabin. Unused to the punishing conditions the frontier might yield, the St. Louis bred Gideon and Emma find living without the comforts of urban life challenging and rely on Isaac and Lizzy’s strength and experience for survival. However, the frontier’s harsh reality produces a malevolent presence that flows through the prairie, stalking and toying with the settlers, only revealing itself to Lizzy while the others act if nothing is going on or just acting strange. The sudden and violent death of Emma and her unborn child send Gideon and Isaac on a two-day ride to nearby town, leaving Lizzy to face the isolated terror alone with only a double barrel shotgun that never leaves her side, but in her strife, Lizzy learns more about her newfound neighbors and even unearths some troubling truth about her husband that even further segregates Lizzy from the rest of reality.

If there wasn’t one more single thing to demonize, director Emma Tammi conjures up “The Wind” to mystify the western frontier. As Tammi’s debut directorial, penned by short film screenwriter Teresa Sutherland, the supernatural film’s dubbing could be a rendering of a long lost Stephen King working title, but all corny jokes aside, “The Wind” really could from the inner quailing of Stephen King’s horror show mindset. The film’s produced by Adam Hendricks and Greg Gilreath under their U.S. label, Divide/Conquer, and released in 2018. The same company that delivered the horror anthology sequel “V/H/S: Viral,” Isa Mezzei’s sleeper thriller “CAM,” and the upcoming, second remake of “Black Christmas” with Imogen Poots and Cary Elwes. With a premise dropped right into the fear of the unknown itself and with some powerful production support, “The Wind” should have soared as an unvarnished spook show come hell or high noon, but the jury is hung waiting on the executioners ultimate verdict regarding Tammi’s freshman film.

Five actors make up all the cast of “The Wind,” beginning with the solemn opening night scene with frontier men, Isaac Macklin (Ashley Zukerman of “Fear the Walking Dead”) and Gideon Harper (Dylan McTee of “Midnighters”), waiting patiently outside a cabin door until Isaac’s wife, Lizzy (Caitlin Gerard of “Insidious: The Last Key”) walks out, supposed baby in hand, and covered in blood. The subtle, yet chilling scene sets the movie from the get-go, sparking already a mystery at hand and coveting most of the focused cast. The two characters unannounced at the beginning, swim in and out of flashbacks and toward the progression of Lizzy’s embattlement with “The Wind.” That’s not to say that these characters are any less favorable to the story as “Slender Man’s” Julia Goldani Telles shepherds a vivid description of subtle lust and extreme instability that rocks a strong and self-reliant Lizzy living priorly a stale reality. There’s also the introduction of a wandering and warm pastor that leads to chilling reveal questioning any kind second guesses there might be about Lizzy. All thanks to veteran television actor, Miles Anderson.

“The Wind’s” non-linear narrative teases two courses, one working forward and the other backwards to a catalytic moment that becomes motivational for majority of characters in the prior days and the beginning of the end for one in particular. Though the latter centralizes around Lizzy’s flashbacks and encounters with the evil spectral wind, her descent into madness conjures more violently through the discovery; it’s as if her current state of mind has been stirred, whirled, whipped, tumbled, and agitated from the past that keeps lurking forward into her mind’s eye. Tammi pristinely conveys a subtle message of undertones from the past and present that chip away at Lizzy’s forsaken reality, leaving those around her delicately exposed to her untreated alarms to the nighttime wind of a menacing nature. Teresa Sutherland’s script to story is illuminate tenfold by the wealth in production that recreates the rustic cabins and the callously formed hardships of the western frontier and if you combine that with the talents of cast, “The Wind” will undoubtedly blow you away.

Umbrella Entertainment delivers Emma Tammi’s “The Wind” into the Australian DVD home video market and presented in the original aspect ratio, a widescreen 2.35:1, that develops a hearty American untrodden landscape for the devil to dance in the wind. Cinematographer Lyn Moncrief’s coloring is a bit warm and bland to establish a western movie feel and really had notes of a Robert Eggers (“The Witch”) style in filmmaking with slow churn long shots and a minimalistic mise-en-scene, especially for a similar pseudo-period piece. Eggers invocation solidified itself more so in the Ben Lovett’s crass and cacophony of an instrumental score that adds more to the creepiness factor while remaining relatively framed in the time era. The Umbrella Entertainment’s release goes right into the feature without a static menu so there are no bonus features to dive into. “The Wind” might feel like an unfinished piece of cinematic literature, but remains still a damn fine thriller that seeps ice cold chills into the bones and ponders the effects of loneliness and trauma that’s nearly puts this film into the woman versus nature category, a premise that will be hopefully concluded by a upcoming book adaptation.