The Devil’s Tongue is a Powerful, Influencing EVIL. “The Dark and The Wicked” reviewed! (Acorn Media / Blu-ray)



Siblings Louise and Michael Straker return home to their farmland house when their terminally ill father becomes bedridden.  A long time alone and isolated before her children arrived, Virginia provided suitable care for their father up until the voices started.  Lurking in between the shadows around the rural home, a menacing presence wedges itself into an already splintered family spirit as the harbinger of death coming for their father’s soul.  The influence of voices and grim visions tatter Louise and Michael resolve, testing their unconditional love for family and moral obligations, but evil can be very persuasive the closer their father comes to his end. 

The battle grounds of losing oneself during the verge of loss has commonly been a recurrent topic amongst indie films.  For filmmaker Bryan Bertino, the concept feels deeply personal.  “The Strangers” and “Monster” writer-director’s latest discomforting horror film, “The Dark and the Wicked,” uses Devil speak in mass, detrimental volumes as an allegoric device for the internal deconstruction of family, capitalizing for his tale the use of his family’s rural Texas farm house written as a threatening locale of isolation and the tenebrous unknown.  “The Dark and the Wicked’s” paganistic undertones heavily perceive a dissipating family structure’s disconnect from not only God but from the community who has been all but absent from coming to the fictional Straker family aid.  The 2020 released film is produced by Bertino’s production company, Unbroken Pictures, alongside Shotgun Shack Pictures (“Hurt”), Traveling Picture Show Company (“The Blackcoat’s Daughter’), and in association with Inwood Road Films.

To play characters accustomed to the rural lands of the Texas outskirts, “The Dark and the Wicked” required a range submerged with leisurely movements, a Lonestar draw, and to, of course, look good in plaid and Wrangler jeans.  The cast that emerged was nothing short of spectacularly precise in fabricating the lives of remote lives rural Texans, opening with a Texas-born Julie Oliver-Touchstone (“Bounded by Evil”) sewing dresses in the barn, tending the farm’s goats, and chopping produced in her white nightgown as who will be the catalytic mother, Virginia Straker, that passes not only the 24-hour hospice care to her children but also all the beneath the light misery that drives her terrified.  The girth of the story revolves around, Louise, “The Umbrella Academy’s” Marin Ireland, and Michael, Michael Abbot Jr. from the upcoming “Hell House,” as sister and brother who return back home upon the news of their bedridden father (Michael Zagst).  At this point in the story, where we meet Louise and Michael for the first time, a shrouded background puts a delectable side dish of mystery into making them initially interesting, but over the course of the 96 minute runtime, the enigma dissolves around why Louise no longer works from the Postal Service and what’s stringently being shied away from the thick layered division between the siblings from being close to one another.  The impending standoffish goes unspoken, never comes to a head between them as like the unfolding of “The Strangers” where Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman unravel and expose their marital struggles with the invisible wall between them before, and even in the midst of, being terrorized.  There’s something there that isn’t being part of the exposition or coming back around when the Devil comes really calling for their father’s doomed soul.  Instead, Ireland and Abbot simply assimilate well enough into their falling into farm life dynamics as the sister who must shoulder the responsibility of hospice care and the brother overseeing what could be considered man’s work of handling the duties of raising livestock.   We also get some messed up supporting second fiddlers to execute Satan’s handywork with performances Lynn Andrews, Tom Nowicki (“Conjurer”), Mindy Raymond (“Bigfoot Wars”), and “The Walking Dead’s” Xander Berkeley channeling his best Julian Beck’s Kane performance as a sinister Priest making a house call.

Bryan Bertino has a stillness about his films. Their creepily quiet, stirred in a somber stew of macabre, and utterly deranged in a nihilist coating. What appeals to me about “The Dark and the Wicked,” as well as “The Strangers,” is Bertino’s gift to deliver powerful fatalist realism. His stories couple earthly family drama with otherworldly malevolence stemmed from the deeper affects of prolonged relationship breakdowns that literally assigns a demonizing blame on the supernatural for people’s own crumbling failings. Another aspect is the godless presence wholeheartedly felt throughout from the Straker’s loud and proud proclamation of atheism to the lack of religious artifacts. Michael nearly tosses the priest out of his keester just for making checking and noting his mother’s recent unbeknownst connection to God to which Michael took great offense. This leads into the Straker’s lack of community connection as they seemingly are adverse or are agonized by those who wish to help and those who rather seem them burn under the guise of the malice presence. Goats are thematically prevalent to the story, especially when the shadowy Wicked hides amongst the herd, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Goats are often associated with Pagan beliefs, such as with the deity Baphomet, and the evils marked upon them by cultures all around the world and by having the Straker farm be a goat farm is more than just coincidence. “The Dark and the Wicked” brings chaos and confusion much like any circumstances where one or both parents die and all the burdens, all the consequences, and all the pure emotional baggage that comes with death is passed to the children whether the Devil is involved or not. When broken down rudimentary that decline of hope and overwhelming grief can cause a great amount of destruction for any family and even extend to friends with suicide being heavily portrayed in the film. Bertino masterfully touches upon every collateral damage output leaving no one spared from death’s, the Devil’s, hopeless hold on them.

Filled with frightening imagery, plenty of toe-curling suspense, and a loud silence of utter despondency, “The Dark and the Wicked” is a must own for any horror fan and, luckily for you, Acorn Media International just released the Bryan Bertino film on Blu-ray in the UK in alliance with horror’s favorite streaming service, Shudder. Listed as region 2, but more accurately a region B in Blu-ray format, the PAL encoded release is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. If there was one word to describe the comprehensive picture that word would be dark. Bertino maintains an eclipsing cinematography through hard lighting, matted lifeless colors, and a reduction tint to give it that extra gloomy blackness. Cinematographer Tristan Nyby’s first collaboration with Bertino is also the first debut into the genre field and Nyby comes out on top with an ability to show just enough, whether through shallow focus or obscured wide shots to always keep the depth and range of the unknown factor alive and frightening. In regards to the Blu-ray quality, “The Dark and the Wicked” has little to offer in details not because of the lack there of but because much of the film is shot in the dark, a fine midnight black with little-to-no wish or noise, and dim lighting . Facial details do appear slightly soft as you can’t make out the blemishes or even skin pores, but the intentional flat coloring steers much of that away from the senses. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound is a boost of jumpscare ambient effects. The range and depth finely pitch the position of well-timed scares, especially when the strung together bottles, glasses, and cans rattle in a discordance. Dialogue has lossy muster that makes discerning characters’, especially Michael or his mother, Virginia’s, Southern draw. English subtitles are optional. Special features include only a Fantasia Q&A with actors Merin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr that dive into their characters quite a bit and into Bertino’s morose mindset. Bleak and genuinely personal on a whole other level, “The Dark and the Wicked” is quintessential truth when talking about the Bryan Bertino Americana horror film and, believe you me, expect more devilish descriptors that’ll shock you.

Censorship is the Very Definition of EVIL! “Censor” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)



British film censor, Enid, views video nasty after video nasty day in and day out, certifying ratings based on the realism of the violence, and receiving public hellfire when a gruesome murder is vilifies her approval of a film.  After viewing one in particular that strikes a familiar nerve, one involving around the circumstances of her little sister’s disappearance from years ago, she digs deeper into the filmmaker’s background, piecing together a puzzle that her sister may still be alive.  With her parents given up hope declaring their youngest deceased and under mounds of criticism pressure from inside and outside of work, Enid’s lone rove through distasteful filmic horror and probing the crew involved sends the censor into a frantic frenzy between what’s real and what’s not. 

For the record, just so we’re clear between you and I, film censoring is a complete crock that limits artist expression and can negatively alter the tone of work far from the original message or effect.  I can see where censorship is necessary for the greater good when considering public television that aims to evade young eyes from extreme violence, gore, nudity, and harsh language while still appeasing adults with a semi-intelligible cut of the film, but to have the MPAA, or any censor board for that matter, do what they do in order to classify and certify a rating to meet a criteria is a slap in the face of personal responsibility.  Yes, some individuals need a rigorous structure to tell them what to do, but you know comical and asinine when there are three different cuts of a film in the U.S. market, not to forget to mention all the various versions around the globe to sate countries distinct regulations and requirements.  Luckily, Prano Bailey-Bond’s immersive reality checking horror, “Censor,” makes no assumptions on the matter and we can just enjoy the dark side of story based off the UK filmmaker’s 2015 short entitled “Nasty.”  The story, set in the 1980’s at the height of violent and gory VHS movies known as video nasties, is co-written by fellow “Nasty” writer Anthony Fletcher and is produced by the London based, female operated and story-driven Silver Salt Films as the company’s first feature credit and is financially supported by the Film4, Ffilm Cymru Wales, and BFI.

If not for Irish actress Niamh Algar in an virtuous cyclone encompassing lead of Enid, a stern censor agent, the dismal atmospherics whirling around Enid’s processing of possible new evidence in her sister’s vanishing wouldn’t be as timorously potent.  The “From the Dark” and “Raised by Wolves” actress embodies a strong stoic stance of not only a censor with a target on her back every time the public blames her for ill-fated news involving the extreme films she approves, but also as a woman in the workplace who is subjected to subtle objectifying by male coworkers, in which some are more privately outspoken than others, and male film producers with a diminutive eyesight of her professional demeanor by making unwanted advances in lieu offering their support to make their films depicting rape and murder of usually female victims more approachable and marketable to the censor board.  Algar perfectly poises Enid in her ticks, the abrasive fidgeting of her nails against each other or the slight rolling back of her shoulders that makes an awful, unnatural cracking sound, sharpen Enid’s complexion.  Even Enid’s hard gulping is felt in unison of the tension of a woman on a verge of sudden collapse.  Clearly the film’s one and only frontrunner as we dine off Enid’s sole perspective, Algar runs off with “Censor’s” gloomy tone by her performance of unwavering convictions blended with throbbing agitation in her character’s repressed explosion trajectory.  Supporting players do their part living in Enid’s unique vision with Sophia La Porta, Adrian Schiller, Clare Homan (“Afraid of the Dark”), Andrew Havill, Guillaume Delaunay (“Victor Frankenstein”), Richard Glover, Clare Perkins, Danny Lee Wyner, Vince Franklin, Nicholas Burns, and Michael Smiley (“The Nun”) as a topnotch sleazy extreme film producer rounding out the cast.

Performances all around are stellar and the idea is sound as I can see a video nasty censor of the 1980’s fall victim to the job because of an unclear and checkered past, but problems with pacing jet Enid from composed posture to immediate wreck in a blink of an eye without much of a fundamental development for unravelling being greatly depicted other than the jarring movie that sends her spiraling for answers.  This doesn’t hurt “Censor’s” main theme of the inconclusions of what really drives the murderous animalistic qualities in all of us regarding nature versus nurture.  The longstanding idea that video nasties promote influential violence and sordid behaviors has been the talk of controversy for decades and science, at least none of that I’ve read, hasn’t 100% proven that extreme films dictates the mind’s will other than those impressionable in the sponge-like children.  Bailey-Bond decides not take a stance in declaring a clear cut opinion, merging both assumptions together in a mesh of madness still leaving the theorists spinning their notions and evangelical nuts spewing their anti-liberal arts sermons.  What really sells “Censor” for me personally is the tell all climatic finale of Enid’s disturbing outcome in a warped contraview, flipping back and forth through the static of the back button during the times of higher numeral, unsubscribed pay-per-view channels where glimpses of picture pop into the frame for a split second.

“Censor” is nowhere near what’s consider a video nasty, but the Prano Bailey-Bond psychological thriller still has the grip of an inexorable depth for what’s to come, for violence, far from hitting the cutting room floor as the film heads to theaters June 11th and on demand one week later June 18th from Magnet Releasing. Shot in two aspect ratios, more so in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio than in the pillarbox 1:33:1 to reflect the video nasty format in the time period, Bailey-Bond and director of photography, Annika Summerson, continue to stay as true as possible to the Golden Age of 80’s horror by shooting in 35mm in a handful of various style to blend Enid’s reality with the fiction of lurid dreams and the daily grind of workplace hazards (which, to me, watching horror movies all day long sounds like a dream job! The censoring part, no so much). Runtime clocks in at 84 minutes with no wiggle room for bonus scenes during or after the credits. The Brits have always had a hell of a go with film censorship, weaponizing and vilifying for political gain, as films become the lamb for the slaughter for public outcry against social-economical woes, even arts bedeviled by the harsh censors of it’s own country, and “Censor” aims to be the carrier wave of that historical downspout of misguided judgement while also shredded the thin moral fabric of one woman’s reality into tiny bits of off the rocker guilt.

You Can’t Run From the EVIL That Seeks Out the Competition. “Homewrecker” reviewed! (101 Films / Digital Screener)



Michelle is at the point in her life, struggling as a 30-something year old interior designer, where the urge to have children is strong.  When trying to conceive with her husband seems to be going downhill, she is befriended by an overly obsessive stranger, Linda, who has took an uncomfortably intense interest in her personal life.  An innocent enough invitation back to Linda’s house proves costly with Linda’s flickering infatuation for Michelle’s private business that turns quickly sour in a cat and mouse game of survival.  Trapped, Michelle must understand Linda’s madness in order to stay alive.

Ca-ra-zyyy!  That’s one of many ways to label Zach Gayne’s woman-on-woman scuffle in the comedy-horror “Homewrecker” that will surely turn many feminist heads at breakneck and contentious speeds with the better woman standing scenario.  Gayne’s freshman film tests the wills of two very different women and their counter mindsets while excavating a common core connection rooted subconsciously deep within them both.  A distinction that gives the 2020 riotous feature an edge is the two sole actresses, Alex Esso (“Starry Eyes,” “Doctor Sleep”) and Precious Chong (“Luba”), daughter of famed stoner comedian Tommy Chong, portraying Michelle and Linda are also “Homewreckers” cowriters alongside Gayne, equipping their characters with an authentic image by filling the roles themselves and getting out of the project exactly what’s desired.  The trio also produce the film in a coproduction with fellow producer Josh Mandel of Industry Standard Films and under the financials of Precious’s mother Shelby Chong, Chris Morsby, and Delaney Siren as executive producers.

Precious Chong, hands down, steals all the glory in “Homewrecker” with her wide-eyed, mentally unstable, zany, and stuck in the 80’s single white female that makes Glenn Close performance seem diminutive and more like an innocent and shy little crush in “Fatal Attraction.”  Linda epitomizes the very definition of crazy as a person unable to progress from an era of her peak youth being the most popular girl in school, judging by the VHS tapes, 80’s soundtrack, and outdated board games, I’d say Linda’s popular party girl inner nature hasn’t disembarked from the late 80’s to early 90’s train, and Chong delivers a singularity tweak of neurosis and delusion that frighteningly teeters from over exaggeration to real representation.  Unfortunately, Chong’s invasive, off-the-rocker performance overshadows Alex Esso’s more level-headed, amiable, and fight or flight Michelle and her unconventional responses and reactions to Linda’s incessant behavior in, perhaps, a more poorly written character.  Michelle is the too nice to the point where opportunities arise for escape or attack and she chooses the total opposite in trying to reason with an unreasonable person.  The motivation behind Michelle for even going to Linda’s house is rather slim so either something deep in her subconscious wills her to go (maybe Linda’s eagerness to lend an ear on a torrent of personal unloading) or she’s a just gullible to a fault.  Rounding out the cast is the man in the middle, Robert, played by Kris Siddiqi and the friendly neighbor Wilson, played by Tony Matthews (“The Craft: Legacy”), in a bit part that’s a clever homage to the Wilson character in Tim Allen sitcom, “Home Improvement,” as he peeps just over the fence to say hello as well as an contradictory play on the “Homewrecker” title.

Aforementioned, there is gray area in the character actions and rationales that thins much of the story’s harrowing affect and even seeps slightly into the more dark comedic moments.  Yelling (in my head) at the screen for Michelle to jump out the window (after lingering half out for clearly a minute) or taking advantage to overpower Linda (during a moment of long poignant embrace) was just a waste of my mental breath as the Michelle is frustratingly too timid, too nice, too afraid to cut the unseen bounds that holds her back from reinstalling balance in her upheaved life held in Linda’s unstable hands.  The pacing a bit of a drag as well by holding onto scenes, with various cuts, longer than necessary.  For a film slightly over an hour long, the conversing segments between the principle characters, Linda and Michelle, could last up to 20 minutes with more than most of the chat awry by Linda’s idiosyncrasies.   What works for “Homewrecker” is single day story set inside Linda’s home that really hones in and develops the snowballing turmoiled relationship between the two women. Being the film’s strong suit in unveiling the crux of the problem that’s not surface level crazy person versus sane person, the plot point revelation truly did blindside me and I was like, whoa.  Everything made sense without having to dig deeper into exposition to understand the minor details of what was happening exactly.  “Homewrecker” also has great brief climatic gore involving an emblematic sledgehammer and a pair of sharp scissors that, again, comes unexpectedly from a cat and mouse game that has been rather tame for most of the film.  Zach Gayne’s film pleasantly puts a blood red cherry on top of a deranged ice scream sundae dripping with fanaticism fudge in a scrumptious little fatal attraction.

Efficiently compact but just as aggressive as an overly jealous and overactive girlfriend plagued by psychosis, “Homewrecker” premiered it’s way digitally into UK homes by 101 Films back on May 24th.  The Toronto, Canada production is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio with a lean runtime of 76 minutes.  Co-producer Delaney Siren serves as the cinematographer for “Homewrecker’s” regular split screen and multiple angle shots denoting a clear sense of where each character location is without the film feeling like a typical slasher while maintaining the focus on telling both women’s side.  “Homewrecker” marks Siren’s first feature film as a cinematography, but has multiple credits in the genre for macabre inspired music videos under the Toronto based music recording and film production company, “Reel Wolf Productions.”  For a film that has completely and satisfactory bookends, there are no bonus scenes during or after the credits.  Quirky and dark, “Homewrecker” is a read between the lines comedy-thriller about abduction, devotion questioning , delusional obsession, and honesty.

A Diary Full of EVIL Secrets. “The Darkness” reviewed! (Reel2Reel / Digital Screener)

David inherits his ailing grandmother’s countryside cottage and holidays with his novelist girlfriend, Lisa, who seeks a little refuge to inspire her next big bestseller.  As soon as they arrive and Lisa discovers an old storage chest in the attic, Lisa’s is pulled by a call of a supernatural entity that lures her outside to an unmarked grave, an ominous cave suspected with evil fairies, and a diary that tells the horrifying accounts of a murdered woman.  Their time at the cottage take a toll on Lisa who’s strange behavior places concern on David.  An ostracized priest forewarns possession, death, and the stakes if Lisa remains in the area that’s haunted with witches, ghosts, changelings, and betrayers. 

Originally titled “Dorcha,” an Irish term for dark, and then rebranded as “The Darkness” for the remainder of the English speaking residents of the world, the 2021 released multifaced specter and fairy Irish folklore spectacle is the directorial debut of Tharun Mohan, a current producer for the 2021 United Kingdom vampire versus human boiling point coexistence television series, “Age of the Living Dead,” co-starring our good genre loving friend and actor, Bill Oberst Jr.  While Bill Oberst Jr. is not a part of “The Darkness” (my apologies if I gave a sense of false hope), Mohan, from off the pages of his screenplay, aspires to illuminate Irish mythology as an alluring gothic horror mixture of mystery with fear sans the more popular little green men defending pots of gold.  The self-produced film under the Tharun Productions is the banner’s first feature with Aoun Khan, Neenu Mathai, Anoop Pillai, and Monique R. White serving as executive producers.

While we don’t get Bill Oberst Jr. (still hurts), we do get someone just as good with “The House of Bly Manor’s” Amelia Eve!  The UK actress headlines “The Darkness” in the role of Lisa, the struggling novelist looking for a slice of inspiration but instead receives the whole pie of possession.  Eve lives it up as an entity puppeteering her youthful outer shell in the filth and muck, stuffing her face with all the food in the cottage, and, at times, imitating an urbanity style of death.  Meanwhile, her boyfriend David (Cyril Blake) would have probably unintentionally babe’d her to death if she wasn’t already being haunted by a vindictive Victorian spirit.  “The Darkness” is Blake’s introductory role into feature films and the 36 year old, South Yorkshire actor can’t quite capture sincerity when it comes to his girlfriend’s unusual behavior.  David also just wanders to-and-fro around town in an aloof manner for more than just one reason until things become dire with Lisa and  then is that only when he’s starts to get really involved and attempt to fix whatever’s afflicting  Lisa, even if he has to entertain an informed, but shunned, eccentric priest (John Sudgen) with tea and biscuits in order to get just what the hell is going on.  A number of side characters pop up with an inclining of importance, such as the nosy waitress (Marian Elizabeth), a powerful witch (Gillian Kirkpatrick), and a determined historian (Mary Drake), but fall short of any real significance by fluttering in with just enough motivational tidbits and then flutter out of the scene and let the principle characters work out the rest.  “The Darkness” is a dual timeline narrative with the current story focusing on Lisa’s bubbling black enchantment slowly taking over her body with the backbone base layer account of events providing a tell-all mystery driving Lisa mad with a menacing spirit.  Occurring around a few decades ago before Lisa and David arrive, Niav O’Connor (Katherine Harthshorne) mysteriously disappears from her husband Bryan (Adam Bond), but much of this is revealed through the Lisa’s obsessive reading of Niav’s diary which begs the question, how did Niav write her demise in the diary pages if she was already dead?

And that last sentiment ultimately describes Mohan’s film, as an unfocused and trite expression of amateur storytelling.  There’s difficulty in trying to nail down, or taking a stab at anything as the saying goes, in the “The Darkness’” many moving parts and many fiends in the off shoots Mohan tries to tie in from all various directions.  Even in the film’s final scenes, Mohan had to pen in one more twist that corrodes even further the integrity of a much desired narrative about Irish mythologies and the malevolencies that spur them. Myths are the heart of “The Darkness,” more specifically with the changelings who are fairies that replace real people, and Niav and Bryan O’Connor’s ghastly tale echoes the non-fictional account of Bridget Cleary, an Irish wife murdered by her husband under the suspicion that his wife was a changeling. Connections made between the past and present are roughly tied together at best with only Niav’s unearthed and charmed diary serving as a conduit to possess Lisa’s curious id. The pursuit of revenge for her untimely demise falls upon… well, that part of the story is undoubtedly vague as Niav seems to be resurrecting from the grave, so to speak, to reveal dubious secrets held by relatives from the lineage of her husband Bryan and cling her spiteful lifeforce to that bloodline and haunt O’Connor descendants like a severe post traumatic stress disorder; yet the vapid ending doesn’t justify the means, falling short the buildup of the hallmarks of folklore horror in witches, changelings, fairies, dark arts priests, and ghosts with anything but spectacular.

No cheap thrills, no gore, no nudity. “The Darkness” relies heavily on the suspense of the gothic tale itself to drawn in and spook audiences as the Mohan film creeps onto digital streaming services and video on demand this month, May 3rd, from the fresh-faced independent UK distribution label, Reel2Reel. The production value on “The Darkness” catches the passing aesthetically expensive eye while still being an economically financed and that’s a big credit to director of photography, Ariel Artur, getting the artistic shots that displays time and patience in getting the minor key angles right to at least extract a gripping moment of apprehension, resembling 60’s and 70’s European horror to likes of Hammer Horror or Amicus in appearance alone. As far as bonus scenes during or after the credits, there are none. As a starting line feature, “The Darkness” is not terrible. Let’s be clear on this as Tharun Mohan understand the fundamentals of filmmaking with sound positioning of characters in scenes, a superb, expensive look on a value size budget, and the Amalie Eve’s crazed performance is a thrill in itself, but envisioning the structure still remains behind the blinders, leaving “the Darkness” just an aimless shot in the dark.

HELLelujah! God Does Not Deliver Us From EVIL! “We Still Say Grace” reviewed! (101 Films / Digital Screener)



A family living in deliberate solitude looks to God to provide them with everything they need to sustain.  Harold’s two teenage daughters have never experienced beyond the 14 acres of land their father and mother own, but the youngest, Maggie, can’t help but think of the wonders outside her father’s god-fearing, draconian sheltering.   When three teenage boys travelling to California suddenly break down on Harold’s remote land, an eager Maggie can’t wait to taste a mere glimpse of their perception of the outside world.  Being a good Christian man, Harold welcomes the hapless travelers into his home and convinces them to follow the rules and stay the night, but the boys’ seemingly happenstance car troubles is manipulated into an unavoidable sign of God’s will, or at least so in Harold’s eyes, and he decides to carry out a predetermined family suicide pact for him and his family to be welcomed into the gates of Heaven.

The one think learned, or maybe had shed more light on, out of this pandemic is the unstable relationship people have with God.  Religious extremist have weaponized the Powerful and Almighty against every day people like you and myself with contentious, hate-filled vocabulary such as damnation, burning, hell, etc., for those who do not seek his glory the way asininely seek it.  “We Still Say Grace” epitomizes that very lifestyle of devout fanaticism that has also been highlighted with buffoonery as the very same people who verbally condemn others usually don’t walk-the-walk but only talk-the-talk or are a charlatan involved in a more sinister plan.  “The Lodge’s” Brad Helmink and John Rauschelbach write and direct the film that has become their second feature horror film produced by the filmmakers under their Brothers Shamus Pictures, Mark Sonoda of Dauntless Studios, Room in the Sky Films, and Lexicon Entertainment. 

Now, I’m not a religious man or spread the word of the divine in my reviews, but God love Bruce Davison as the “Dahmer” and “X-Men” actor is a silver fox crazy man of God living rurally with his wife and two teenage daughters.  Davison relentlessly rallies Harold’s madness and is having a good old time performing as a man with a hidden agenda.  Harold is an intriguing character with little-to-no information about the character’s background or reasoning for being unreasonable, but that doesn’t seem to faze the legendary actor who had cut his teeth into horror 50 years ago as the original rat-speaking avenger, “Willard,” as Davion trots down a path of deceitful radicalism and manipulative exploitation.  Those he unscrupulously cons with pious smoke and mirrors are his own family in wife Betty (Arianne Zucker, “Days of Our Lives” daytime soap opera), Sarah (Rita Volk), and Maggie (Holly Taylor, FX’s “The Americans”).  As a viewer who is currently, at this very moment, chin deep in catching up on FX’s Cold War espionage thriller series of Soviet spies living as ordinary Americans in Washington, D.C. as they carry out missions in the name of Communism, I found difficult in separating Holly Taylor from her the 2018 series that ended its successful run in 2018 when she was a teenager.  Taylor’s roll in “We Still Say Grace” typecast the actress as another teen though having filmed the movie as a young adult woman, but the lighting is different and I don’t mean in a literal illuminating sense.  Taylor steps out from “The Americans’” 80’s setting and into, what I presume, is the 1990’s based off some wardrobe choices, car models, and the time frames that fit into those constructs and while she still has this inkling of suspicion that her parents are up to something, a parallel that has carried over, there hasn’t been this much ill-fitting reverence of a man hellbent on belting those he breaks bread with on a daily basis.  There is hesitancy and fear in Taylor eyes and that’s breaks up her from a reoccurring teenager role.  When the three teens (Dallas Hart, Frankie Wolf, and Xavier J. Watson) show up at the front door, that’s when things go, more than usual for Maggie, terribly awry. 

Aside from Bruce Davison, the other performances muster little faith in their roles with overplayed tropes, especially the stranded teens who could be plucked out as the Three Stooges of horror they’re so easily identifiable across the genre.  The premise itself isn’t exactly novel of a Bible thumping person teaching and preaching self-sacrifice, aka suicide, as a way to transcend beyond the heathens of this Earth but marketable and attainable as a small independent production with a California desert location, minor but effective special effects, and a handful of actors where much of the money is spent on talent.  “We Still Say Grace” is structurally very loose with character development and plot points, leaking continues dribbles of minor shifts that never patch themselves up on the backend.  For example, Harold’s not the black and white evangelical nut he seems to be but that is where his arc pauses and doesn’t backtrack into reasoning.   Helmink and Rauschelbach do better on the scene setups and interiors that make Harold uncomfortably fearsome and hostile in any context as he sometimes looms in the shadows of his farm chic house or toys with people, even his own family, like rats in a maze as he guides them along to their doom.

Premiering for the first time in the UK courtesy of 101 Films, “We Still Say Grace’s” penitent themed horror-thriller releases digitally this month of May.  As for the imagery presentation, and take this with a grain of salt with any digitally released film, the nearly 94 minute runtime seems to be filmed with a sun derived dust and light haze that I would compare the appearance more akin to trying to look through the bottom of a hard water stained glass.  Under the cinematography of Douglas Quill, the haziness plays into the rustic and dusty atmospherics that give age to the story and Quill frames Harold as a dominant and isolated figure, especially amongst the holy trinity ablaze in human flesh, as if he was the sole antagonist against the world.  The moment for shattered lives remains intent on the very edge of our corneas with the holy hell of “We Still Say Grace’s” patience brittle villain ready to gaslight and sacrifice anyone resisting against the grain of God’s good graces.