Night Terrors Are Not EVIL Enough. “While We Sleep” reviewed! (VMI Releasing/ DVD)

“While We Sleep” available on DVD home video at Amazon.com!

Neurologist Nina Evanko is perplexed by the unusual CAT scans of 13-year-old Cora whose been suffering from sudden onset sleepwalking after her birthday party.  Believing the CAT scan is going through calibration issue with imaging process, Nina orders another set of scans, but when the scans produce the same result and a death of another patient right in front of Cora sends her home early before Nina’s arrival to study the results, Nina convinces Cora’s parents to an at-home sleep observation to root Cora’s sleepwalking cause.  What Nina finds is far more sinister than night terrors or any other kind of parasomnia as a demon has inhabited Cora’s body with nefarious intentions.  Cora’s only hope to save her soul is her bewildered parents, a rattled neurologist, and a rogue priest but a family secret may consume everything. 

If you’re still looking to support Ukraine during the now 6 plus months Russia invasion of their sovereign neighbor, why not support the Ukrainian-U.S. collaborative cinema?  Why not start more precisely with Andrzej Sekula’s 2021 child-possession thriller “While We Sleep” set in the Ukrainian capital and flagship city of Kiev.  Sekula, known more for his work with Quentin Tarantino as a cinematographer on “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” as well as “American Psycho” and “Hackers,” has quietly and seldomly helmed a handful of films over the two decades with “Cube 2:  Hyperspace” being one of them.  “While We Sleep” returns Sekula to the director’s chair for the first time since 2006 with a script by Rich Bonat and the film’s supporting costar Brian Gross, the first feature script penned by the “Jack Frost 2:  Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman” and remake of “2001 Maniacs” actor.  “While We Sleep” is coproduced by American Brian Gross and Kiev-Los Angeles based CinemAday productions, which include company bigwigs Rich Ronat, Yuriy Karnovsky, and Yuriy Prylypko. 

While much of the story begins with Cora and her parents (real life family of husband Brian Gross, wife Jacy King, and daughter Lyra Irene Gross) cursed by Cora’s acute and disconcerting sleepwalking disorder and moody behavior, the daily battle to understand their predicament is not left in the out of their league but most lovable hands of the parents as the film leads you to believe.  Roughly half hour into the film, the narrative switches from the convincing family perspective, despite building background on their low-band relationship troubles and move it nearly 100% to Nina’s problem-solving perspective with a hint of her own troubled past.  Kiev born and “Stranger” actress Darya Tregubova plays the neurologist too curious to shrug off the mysterious case of Cora’s abnormal scans.  Tregubova is fetching without saying but she doesn’t provide the necessary emotional weight of person who’s going through grief and loss issues from the past.  Tregubova also doesn’t convey the necessary weight toward her strong connection to Cora and Cora’s case with only a few expositional moments that hint at such.  These aspects leave Nina outside the bubble of plot events that make the character stick out as unnecessary even more with the character’s negligent professionalism surrounding the wellbeing of Cora and with the parent interactions.  Once the story butts in randomly the blacklisted priest, Father Andrey (Oliver Trevena, “The Reckoning”), with an intimate familiarity with the demon that possess Cora, we know that the story is lost as it tries to quickly and covertly wrap its grip around how to come to a head with this storyline.  You can’t have a possession film without a priest, right?  Father Andrey feels very much like a leftover thought, but Trevena tries his darnedest to sell a washed-up man of the cloth with desperation pouring from word out his mouth despite looking like an English hooligan in a pop collared leather jacket. 

“While We Sleep” has not-so-brittle bones of demonism and possession albeit lacking its own or established cultural mythos, yet there’s a disjointed nature about the story structure and plot points that just don’t make sense that crumble that coherency faster than Cora descending into the depths of demonic disorder. The opening scene is the most perplexing of all with an elaborate birthday cake that neither mom nor dad had made or bought for Cora’s 13th year. Without a care in the world, mom and dad don’t explore further who could have possibly made such a beautiful cake and little do they know, the cake, or rather the cake’s candles, are a conduit for demonic transmission into the soul. This part is never explained through the rest of the picture and, in fact, Gross or Bonat don’t touch back upon a possibility of explaining the odious presence. Much of everything is taken a face value, such as the fact Cora cuts her long hair to a pixie style without an eyelash being bat or in what’s more crtical to the plot is with Cora’s real and darkly unholy father backstory. Those facts are a shot to the brain and we’re still not understanding where Cora’s biological father fits into Cora’s space, into her mother’s space, or even into Father Andrey’s space, but you would think as important as this twist was suddenly deluged in a quick spit of point-blank honesty, the edges would be smoothed over and the picture would become clear as the holy water that was cross was spritzed with; yet, that the aggregation of aggravation of little-to-no details continues to carry out as if everything is perfectly peachy and comprehendible within the story context.

From the at-home release distributor that delivered John Travolta as “The Fanatic,” VMI Releasing, a subsidiary of VMI WorldWide, releases “While We Sleep” on DVD home video. The clear snapper cased DVD, a MPEG-2 formatted DVD5, is presented in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio with an average speed bitrate of 4-5 Mbps. You can see noticeable banding issues in the darker bedroom scenes sporadically throughout. Aside from that, the picture result is fair with more than enough detail for viewing. The English-Ukranian soundtrack is not listed on the back cover, but my SEIKI player reads two audio options: a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a Dolby Digital dual channel 2.0. Discerning the difference between two is not worth the effort as there’s only subtleties in the output. The 5.1 surround sound has obvious better capacity for multi-channeling. Optional English subtitles are available but neither one of the audio tracks available nor the subtitles offer English captioning for the Ukranian dialogue and often times, there are back and forth exchanges that are intended to carry worth behind the exchange. The subtitles just state foreign language speaking which doesn’t help at all so there’s a bit of lost in translation in the dialogue unless you happen to speak or understand East Slavic languages. The 92-minute film comes unrated but doesn’t come with any bonus material as a feature only release. “While We Sleep” only nips at attempting to be a better than average “Exorcist” akin contemporary but remains on the haphazard course of shaky character building and bumpy, unpaved developments that make only for a rocky portrait of possession.

“While We Sleep” available on DVD home video at Amazon.com!

 

At 42,000 Feet, EVIL Can Hear You Scream! “Row 19” reviewed! (Well Go USA / Blu-ray)



Don’t Miss Your Connection For “Row 19” on Bluray!  

Young Katerina survives a deadly commercial plane crash that killed her mother.  As the only survivor to miraculously to alive, she becomes the center of the public and media attention over the next 20 years.  Now as a grown woman with a young daughter of her own, around the same age of her deadly tragedy, Katerina is about to embark on a plane for the first time to visit her mother and though past feelings leave her tense and scared, her daughter and her being a psychologists help soothe her fears…to an extent.  The late-night flight during a snowstorm leaves half the cabin empty with only a few passengers and the flight dwindles the numbers even more when passengers begin to die off in mysterious random misfortunes.  Lines blur between reality and the past for Katerina who’s about the relive the worst day of her life. 

I consciously realize that all things Russian is likely on everyone’s blacklist at the moment with the unfounded war Ukraine, but anything not created by the authoritarian Russian governing body could be, more-or-less, independently controlled by the people of Russia who are, again more-or-less, against the bloody and unnecessary Putin-fueled conflict outside their country.  So, when I sit and analyze Russian native Alexander Babaev’s latest film, a mile-high horror known as “Row 19,” I’m objectively looking at the artist and his craft rather than the possibility of a stalwart countryman just doing his propaganda duty for the motherland.  In fact, there’s none of that latter statement present in Babaev’s paranormal 2021 thriller that touches upon regret and facing fears, penned in the debut feature film screenplay by James Rabb. “Row 19,” or “Ryad 19” and, in South America, “Passenger 666” is the high-flying, dark mystery of the air film from multiple production studios in KIT Film Studio (“Mermaid: Lake of the Dead”), Central Partnership, Monumental Film, and Red Media.

“Row 19” sets the stage with a handsome cast of ensemble characters boarding a sole frostbitten and nearly vacant plane bound for a destination that audiences know all too well will be a landing zone that is anywhere else, but the destination printed on their purchased tickets. A variety of character flavors is always a classic touch when elucidating an unexplained threaten situation. At the yoke is Svetlana Ivanova (“The Blackout”) playing the adult version of the Katerina who bested death being the only survivor of a deadly plane crash 20 years ago. Scarred not only on her leg but also in her head, Katerina vouchsafes herself into getting back on than massive flying steel horse with an internalized pep talk by way of her psychologist vocation who she also helps people with their own internalized issues. However, Katerina is not a very good psychologist when the cabin goes into a tailspin of unexplained death and disappearances. The impression from the film is that the script, at one point or another, had Katerina as a medical physician as she’s often called upon and looked toward by the other passengers to know what to do when a passenger faints or another passenger is burnt to a crisp. She also doesn’t help the matter when she claims to be a doctor (and neglect to mention she’s a mind doctor. I believe that warrants a case for malpractice.). In the adjacent row is the hunky former combat news reporter Alexey (Wolfgang Cerny, “The Red Ghost”) who makes small talk with Katerina and her daughter Diana (Marta Timofeeva) and yet, the suspected sexual tension between them became never present and never materialized. Instead, Katerina and Alexey go back and forth on their mental blocks that causes drug use and shaky hand syndrome, a welcoming change to a rather routine love interest path that’s been overtrodden in other films in similar plots. However, there’s never a full understanding of Katerina’s role in this topsy-turvy spin through realities that only suggests that Katerina has a mighty will that can’t be contained even for her own good. Anatoliy Kot, Denis Yasik, Irina Egorova, Viktoriya Korlyakova, Ivan Verkhovykh, Anna Glaube, and Yola Sanko as the Witch (yes, there is a regular Baba Yaga-esque in the character list!) round out of the cast.

The sky is the limit with airplane horror as the concept of inescapable terror above the clouds can be the most frightening experience for not only acrophobia or claustrophobic individuals, but for average joe passenger looking to earn extra flyer miles on their fear membership cards.  We’ve seen zombies on a plane (traditional and Nazism), we’ve seen gremlins on a plane, and, hell, we’ve seen snakes on a plane.  Now, Babaev introduces the spell-casting witch confined to the rows of the tightly packed, small, and uncomfortable airplane seats and served the Salisbury steak with a side of rancid bag peanuts.  I can see why a witch would be pissed off as well.  However, there’s more than what meets the eye in Babaev’s witch that isn’t just on an obvious killing spree because her inflight cocktail was a little watered down or because of something a little more worthy of a massacre.  “Row 19” aims for misdirection in trying to get the audiences thinking one way by using sleight of hand but really a behind-the-scenes motive is kept in the dark for most of the runtime.  Babaev keeps the momentum fairly charged by setting up individual character personalities with just enough of a touch of odd behavior to make the atmosphere feel foreboding and keep interest in the next key scenes of story progression and at the climatic reveal is where the director’s momentum takes a nosedive, losing the altitude and the cabin pressure of smooth flight with a bow-wrapped-gift exposition that takes all the air of the suspension. 

Fasten your seat belts. Secure all lose items. Lift your tray table and lock it in the upright position. “Row 19” is about to take off and take flight on a Blu-ray home video release from Well Go USA Entertainment. The not rated, region A Blu-ray is presented in a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio with a decompression of around 20-26 Mbps, rendering picture quality of this AVC encoded release better than expected from Well Go USA. Image is sharp, well-delineated, and abundant with the right amount of color, appropriately denoting flashbacks with a filtered color reduction with only the slightest of change by director of photography Nikolay Smirnov. The Russian language 5.1 DTS-HD master audio track is crisp and clear. A solid track, well-established, full-bodied fidelity track that hits all the right channels with the right balance. There is an option English dub as well as available English subtitles on the Russian track. The subtitles synch well, though fast, and are transcribe with no errors detected. The 79-minute feature comes with a static menu, scene selection, and zero bonus features, which is typically the case with these U.S. distributed Russian releases. “Row 19” is visualized phobic fear, a self-flagellation of trying to change the past with what ifs, and director Alexander Babaev instills a shadowy creepiness inside the cockpit of consternation, but stalls at the height of the film’s storytelling success with a wrap-it-up quick and loose ending.

Don’t Miss Your Connection For “Row 19” on Bluray!