The Dying Baltic Traditions Live in the Ashes of EVIL. “Cult Girls” (Umbrella Entertainment / DVD)

The pagan Cult, the Golden Path, remains nearly all that is left of the ancient practice as Lithuania becomes one of the last countries to be converted to Christianity in the late 14th century.  Led by an archaic, yet powerful, goddess named Ragana, the Golden Path promises to flourish once again with the power of death, reincarnation, and control through sordid misdeeds.  When Dalia and her two young sisters become prepped for a ritual of an important role in the cult, potentially leading them down the path of sex and sacrifice, a traitorous follower helps the sisters attempt to escape their emmeshing fate as the police raid the Golden Path compound ensuing a firefight that leads to the death Ragana and Dalia’s getaway, but her sisters are kidnapped and held captive by the remaining cult members.  Years later and riddled with guilt, Dalia must know what happened to her sisters and she tracks down a death metal cultist, Moloch, who seemingly has a connection to Golden Path, with the help of Samoth, a black metal fanatic, but Moloch forestry hermit lifestyle cuts off Dalia and Samoth from the rest of the world and the convicted arsonist against all things Christianity may have more up his sleeve than what meets the eye.

With a title that sounds like an all-girl goth band from the grunge era of the 1990’s, or maybe even more so from the “Scooby Doo” franchise (Hex Girls anyone?), “Cult Girls” summons the actuality of being an acute quasi-historical and dark fantasy thriller hailing from the Ozploitation capital of the world, Australia.  “Cult girls” is the second, non-documentary film from “The Matrix’ inspired “Narcosys” director, Mark Bakaitis, who directed, wrote, and edited his the multi-location sophomore film that has on location scenes from not only in Australia, but also in Lithuania, at the notable Hill of Crosses landmark, and in the indiscernible urban locations of Germany.  Bakaitis serves as producer alongside executive producer Douglas Kaplan of the diverse arts platform production company, All Edge Entertainment, based in Santa Monica, California. 

The Australian production casts an American to star as Ragana, the brood matriarch destined to rejuvenate Golden Path’s permanence, with “V’s” very own Jane Badler.  Badler brings an international presence to the feature and isn’t a stranger to films from the down under.  With the actress’s soul-seducing cutting eyes and demonic empress allure, the New York born Badler exacts Ragana’s clutching strength as an underground Pagan seeking unlimited decadent power.  However, Badler is overshadowed by the timorousness of Dalia whose polar opposite presence is granted a more favorable chunk of screen time.  Finnish born Saara Lamberg plays the humbled Dalia, living her life out of a covenant while searching out the cult that once almost stitched her into the sew of sleazy affairs to unearth the whereabouts of her younger sisters.  Dalia’s a bit of a dull principle with no substantiated efforts in finding her siblings and it isn’t until Samoth stalks her one night, recognizing the Golden Path’s symbol tattooed on her wrist and offering his manhunt services to find the expelled Moloch, an exaggerated black metal anti-Christianity anarchist in a saturating performance by Albert Goikhman.  In the middle, masked brutes, half naked women, and, fallen by the waist side, Dalia’s sisters in standalone plot point narratives that, as far as story structure goes, does nothing to motivate the narrative other than be an ostentatious aesthetic of locations and debauchery.  “Cult Girls” rounds out the cast with Tony Markulin (“MurderDrome”), Algias Karazija, Dean Kirkright, a handful of Bakaitis’s family, and Simay Argento, a distant relative to Dario Argeno playing a Cult Auntie in the film.

“Cult Girls” borders being avant-garde of an unfiltered auteur’s will in a mesh of artistic polishes and prose dialogue, but the film slides into being more of an 83 minute music video over staying it’s welcome and drudges through a repetitive stylistic cycle to an almost nearly unwatchable extent.  Yet, “Cult Girls” somehow manages to retain attention despite the chewy acting and it’s ambling story that hits a dam wall of uncertainly of where the script should head. Bakaitis shoulders the story for modern Gothicism tapped with half naked occultist, sometimes bathing in blood, and a plague of nightmare imagery that director of photography Trent Schneider tunes into well with noir vitality despite being the cinematographer’s debut feature film, but through the shiny exterior of a handful of solid mise-en-scene work, “Cult Girls” numbs the impact of the soul corrupting Pagan syndicate, that may or may not be shrouded with supernatural foundations, and the anti-Christian propaganda with half-baked violence from geriatric men, masked with Dia de los Muertos style masks, able to be kingpins of an untouchable prostitution ring façade for their occult sacrifices in broad public without a bat of an eyelash.  Granted, prostitution is likely legal in Germany and Lithuania so authorities might turn a blind eye, but brothels are a convenient opportunity for police investigations. “Cult Girls” treasures the fact of Lithuania’s languishing heritage without being overly filmic heresy by blending in shaded sleaze and death, but there lies no story in Dalia’s unenthusiastic search for her sisters in a much more preacherly themed death metal horror that confuses cult with religion.

 

Apocalyptic reincarnations and traditional folklores collide in Mark Bakaitis’s “Cult Girls” on DVD now from Umbrella Entertainment. The Australian release is a single layer DVD with region 4, PAL encoded format, presented in a widescreen 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Trent Schneider’s keen eye captures a grim fairytale surface of black magic masochism and, at the same time, breathtaking in the pure nature scenes, but the imagery is mostly in devoid of richer color that lingers around a bluish-gray monochrome tone and struggles with hazy details, especially around facial features, that smoothly fuzz over. The English, German, and Lithuanian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix battens down with shiplap genres of traditional Lithuania folk and modern metal from composing sound designer Erin McKimm, implementing the traditional songs of Lithuania sung by the Melbourne-Lithuania community singers, The Lost Clogs. Industrial action fills in every nook and cranny of the remaining score with decent range and depth of ambiance. While the dialogue is prominent and clear, there are spelling errors and tiny text issues with the English subtitles when the narrative lands in Germany and Lithuania. The DVD’s bonus features includes audio commentary, making of featurettes with cast and crew interviews, Bakaitis’s short film, “Mercy Kill” that serves one of the founding themes for “Cult Girls,” and music videos directed by Mark Bakaitis. For an Australian film, “Cult Girls” will feel more worldly, unlike anything else that comes out of Australia, and have partisan propaganda against Christianity, but in the end, the insidious Pagan evil, on the precipice of resurrecting, wearies on, like a tireless sermon of doom.

EVIL Can Never Replace Love in “After Midnight” reviewed! (Umbrella Entertainment / DVD)


Well known country boy Hank has everything he could ever need in the small, rural Florida town: having an establish family lineage, being the owner of a local bar hotspot, and obtaining the love of the beautiful Abby. Their gleaming happiness suddenly goes dim when Abby abruptly takes off, leaving a note with little information of her whereabouts or her plans. Fraught in her absence, Hank drinks himself into a stupor most nights of romantic nostalgia while also fending off his rustic home from a beast out of the surrounding woods that continuously scratches at his front door nightly. Hank’s friends believe he’s suffering a mild mental break as night-after-night, the snarling beast evades Hank every effort to capture and kill it.

“After Midnight” is a sheering melodious and delicately programed romance-horror from “The Battery” writer-director Jeremy Gardner allotting co-directorial duties again with continuous collaboration beside Christian Stella. As Gardner’s third film in the director’s chair, second inside the realm of horror, “After Midnight” brandishes more a sappy love story that sings the tune of a love lost warrior where the relationship woes lie within the deepest, darkest corners of himself rather than being a frontline horror sprinkled lightly with dusted coating of amorous renewal. “After Midnight” is a topsy-turvy monster movie not for an insouciant genre fan who rather skim the surface for blood on the topsoil than dig feverously for the originating root. If you’re also a fan of the mysteriously acclaimed, H.P. Lovecraft-inspired “The Endless,” the filmmakers behind that film – David Lawson, Aaron Moorhead, and Justin Benson – produce “After Midnight” under their Rustic Films label in association with Vested Interest, Cranked Up Films, and Kavya Films, casting that querying memento clinging like a foreboding, nagging scratch needing to be itched.

Not only is Gardner the director, he also stars as Hank, enduring the multi-hat involvement in his films in thematic fashion from his previous films, spearheading the roles in “The Battery” and “Tex Montana Will Survive!,” and Gardner has also branched out beyond his work, having roles in the visceral Joe Begos’ films “Bliss” and “The Mind’s Eye.” Gardner sports his common wear of a U-shaped V-neck t-shirt and bushy beard overtop his large frame and wields a sharp tongue, whiplashing small witticisms as he charms his serenading rustic charisma upon Brea Grant as Abby. The “Dead Night” actress enacts every man’s inherent fear of being lost without their better half when Abby hightails from Hank’s steadfast stance on life. Grant provides a flood of emotional drought through a series of Hanks’ melancholy, good times flashbacks that provide backstory fuel to Hanks’ quickly withering grounded state. Gardner and Grant’s chemistry eerily dons the routine life span of young love and weary complacency without so much showing the beat work argumentative discussions and differences of a diminishing relationship; their natural banter never derails even amongst a bedeviling beast with nightly visitations on a drained Hanks’ doorstep. “After Midnight” fleshes out with a cast of superb supporting roles with nearly Henry Zebrowski (“Cut Shoot Kill”) stealing the show as a half-wit yokel, Justin Benson (“The Endless”), Ashley Song, Nicola Masciotra, Taylor Zaudtke, and creature performer Keith Arbuthnot as the man in the monster suit.

Speaking of the monster suit, the unknown origin creature is very Guillermo del Toro-esque with a quasi-rubbery look, but still renders terribly real with the puppetry facial expressions and Keith Arbuthnot contorting his body to exuberate natural movements. However, don’t look to be thrilled by a ferocious beast as the constant the source of contention. It’s more of an afterthought, a pleasant afterthought, filling Hank’s Abby void or is it? It’s a question you’ll be contemplating when the credits role when a monkey wrench finale disrupts your premediated blue print scheme of a reason for the creature’s existence. Romance and melancholy cross paths in an overwhelming heap of love sickness, guilt, disappointment, and jealousy in a well thought out, smart dialogued version of a self-growth narrative.

There always seems to a malevolent monster behind the scenes, perpetrating the demise of a flourishing relationship exemplified by a beautifully wicked allegory in “After Midnight” distributed onto DVD home video by Umbrella Entertainment. The transfer is presented in the original widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, on a region 4, 83 minute runtime disc. The presentation is virtually flawless with palatable natural coloring, gleaming southern-sweat coated, natural looking skin tones, and overall details with Hank, and Hank’s house, looking specifically grimy and unkempt. Greenery is of a brown lush backdropped inside what could be anywhere small town America. The English language 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound audio renders a nice range and depth with the monster’s muffled scratching and growling outside the door, the shotgun blasts are powerfully exalting, and the dialogue clearly couriers through all relationship qualms and Hanks droll dialogue. As of many Umbrella Entertainment standard feature releases, there are no bonus features nor a static menu. “After Midnight” is a contagious love story for not it’s mushy, heartfelt, weepie doting into the tears of self-pity, but for that lingering presence of sinister cynicism the monster epitomizes, a stark terror scratching every night under the skin until the unbearable hole in our hearts is finally sated by love’s return.

“After Midnight” available on DVD at Amazon

The EVILs of Drugs, Addiction, and Art in “Bliss” reviewed!


Dezzy Donahue, a struggling Los Angeles artist, lives life ferociously with hard drugs and heavy drinking despite the cautionary advice of her quasi-boyfriend, Clive. Her current masterpiece falls behind on schedule and she hits a formidable creative block that results in being fired by her managing agent and with cash quickly dwindling, Dezzy’s losing the battle for inspiration that turns to an increasing narcotic intake surging through her system where any and all substances are fair game to explore. When she snorts a line of Diablo, a blissful, out of body experience drug, she finds herself in a rapturous three way with friend Courtney and her on-off side piece Ronnie that leave her with a post-high, post-sex altering inner body inexperience of opening the flood gates on her creativity to draw again as well as pang her with an insatiable need for a fix when no longer riding the high. Soon, Dezzy discovers the Diablo might not have been the drug that lit the fire inside her when a strong craving for blood becomes an inescapable addiction and a means to finally finish her greatest triumph work of art.

An audio/visual besieging rabbit hole shiplapped with braided beleaguering addiction and vampiric pathology in the stimulating aggressive, Joe Begos written and directed visceral horror, “Bliss,” set in the sordid Los Angeles metal scene. The “Almost Human” and “The Mind’s Eye” filmmaker hypnotizes on a stroboscope wave with his latest take on the vampire mythos with a drug-fueled, warmongering hell on a canvas tale of sex, drugs, and diabolical fiend cravings. Produced by Channel 83 Film, as are all of Bego’s works, “Bliss” is the director’s next notch up on the crazy, unrestrained belt that’s already garnished and weaponized with razor wire and three-inch cone spikes and while the story itself isn’t fashioned for originality, the way Joe Bego’s exfoliates the overripe garbage of rehashed formulaic filmmaking from the excessively strained eyeballs, sheepish with mawkish and dull stories, will be a new design to treasure as cult status.

Where’s “Bliss’s” 2019 nomination for best actress in a lead role!? Dora Madison seizes the performance of Dezzy Donahue by storm inside a role of careless abandonment that coils into viperous mode and lashes out with a deadly strike of unconventional fangs. Madison embraces the exotic Joe Begos route covered in blood, paranoia, and a sleazy shade of florescent neon and runs a willingness to express his mesmerizing vision with body cam harnesses. “Bliss” quickly establishes a hard-hitting tenor and Madison, whose credits include “The Loft,” “Night of the Babysitter,” and in the next upcoming Begos release, “VFW,” exacts a fortified layer of extreme sovereign, a do-what-I-want policy with a zero complaint department attitude, while stowing away what little hope and compassion Dezzy has in the forgotten corners of her plainspoken mind until the moment is too late to turn back. The story solely follows Dezzy’s perception of events as she encounters and reencounters characters before and after needing a junkie’s fix, an exaggerated play on an abusers volatile relationships. The cast affixed to roles of Dezzy’s vexing fix are Tru Collins, Rhys Wakefield (“The Purge”), Jeremy Gardner (“The Mind’s Eye”), Graham Skipper (“Carnage Park”), Chris McKenna (“King of the Ants”), Rachel Avery, Abraham Benrubi (“Wristcutters: A Love Story”), and that lovable “Cheers” regular, George Wendt.

At this point in the review, an overabundance of praise for Joe Begos’ “Bliss” has been logged by this reviewer, who is obviously a fan of the film, but more can be unquestionably explored. From previous reviews and comments I’ve come across regarding “Bliss,” a minority have displayed a disdain for the indistinct theme of drug withdraws and vampirism that resembles Abel Ferrera’s 1995 film “The Addiction,” but instead of being set in shadowy alleys of New York’s urban jungle, Bego’s relocates to the wayward esse of L.A. life. Perhaps Begos was inspired by Ferrera’s undiluted struggle and violence that makes “Bliss” a clone to “The Addiction’s” chief thread, but the film’s are artistically polar opposites. “The Addiction’s” black and white photography and slow-burn air tunes more into the story of the Shakespearian tragedy variety, especially when Christopher Walken provides lengthy life stance and coping monologues to establish his eternal dominance over Lili Taylor. “Bliss” proclaims a stimulus trip from the very beginning with a favorable thrashing metal soundtrack and an psychedelic filmic presence that comes with an opening epileptic warning. Both films compliment the figurative comparison for a fix in their own poetic ways and would make a fantastic double feature release or double bill midnight movie.

If this writeup has a jonesing affect, “Bliss” is cut and lined ready for blipping on an Umbrella Entertainment DVD home video presented by Dark Sky Films. The Channel 83 Films production is presented in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, being shot with a ARRI/ZEISS Super Speed Lenses, as credited on IMDB, that would explain the sharp image and stark contrasts on the colors. The visual perception of the seemingly humming-on-your-eyeballs neon lighting barely lets you experience the film in natural lightening during night scenes and only in the daytime that resembles the little normalcy left of Dezzy’s life, fade away with natural light the more she succumbs to blood cravings. “Bliss” feels and acts out like a 90’s film, slightly grainy for grindhouse seduction by way of shooting of actual film stock (35mm!), and forgoes the bubbly shine of perfection, coinciding damningly with Dezzy’s inner circle of sleaze, grime, and gore. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound has a lot of kick and energy with a prevailing metal and punk/post-punk soundtrack feature Doomriders, Deth Crux, and Electric Wizard just to name drop a few. Dialogue is clean with an appropriate depth in the midsts of hard partying and live bands. Range is a little harder to discern since the soundtrack really is overpowering and dialogue sops up the remaining amount of audio track space, but when opted, the ripping of flesh and breaking of bones doesn’t disappoint. No subtitles are offered. Like many of Umbrella Entertainment’s standard releases, the single sided, singer layer DVD has no static menu or special features to offer other than the 80 minute runtime feature. “Bliss” is one coked-out, blood hungry hell of a vampire tangent from the norm that rectifies the optic and audible sanctuary for shock brilliancy to flesh out the Machiavellian in all of us.

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KdXU-n7qSg]

You want it, You need it, You desire it! Own “Bliss” today!

EVIL Doesn’t Stop Until the Director Yells “Cut” reviewed!


In 1985, director Hilary Jacobs sets her sights to finish her Australian low budget horror film, “Hot Blooded,” at all cost, but the ambitious cast and crew struggle to compete with riley personalities that slow down production. The film’s masked killer goes mad and gores with an indefinite stake into the film’s heart after mercilessly murdering Jacobs before being violently killed himself by the film’s vain star, American Vanessa Turnbill. Fourteen years have past and the “Hot Blooded” reels have been deemed cursed for whenever they’re viewed, someone dies, but a group of determined film students are keen on finishing Hilary Jacobs’ last directorial and even gain the original leading lady, Vanessa Turnbill, to return and finish her staggering performance. With the partial, unfinished reel screened by all cast and crew and filming begins shooting on the original set premises, the evil masked killer returns to finish each one off diligently before they’re able to finish the film.

With the late Wes Craven pumping new spirit into the a life support stricken slasher subgenre in 1996 with “Scream,” masked killers surged into proper restoration once more right before the turn of the century and Mushroom Pictures, the cinematic banner of one of Australia’s most notable indie music publisher, Mushroom Group, asserts their debut title into the stratosphere grazing genre that who’ve now initiated a creative footing into film production and distribution with a commemorating meta-slasher entitled “Cut.” Directed by Kimble Rendall (“Bait”) and penned by Dave warner, “Cut” dares to ride the newly rediscovered genre wave early in the wake of establishing predecessors that strived to formulate an un-formulaic counter measure against the slasher status quo, but “Cut” doubles down with Warner’s script that meshes subgenres, compounding the horror to uncharted territories where filmmakers do not dared trek sitting comfortably in their less is more recliner. “Cut” relates more to Wes Craven than most genre fans would like to admit but the similarities the two directors’ characters and killer are compelling to explore and compare. The filming is mostly shot in the Adelaide region of South Australia; the same region that produced recent horror such as 2017’s zombie post-apocalyptic “Cargo” starring Martin Freeman and the great white shark thriller “The Reef.”

Comprised mainly of an Australian cast, “Cut’s” headlining leading lady is an American “Sixteen Candles” sweetheart taking a leap into unfamiliar territory and I’m not talking about of the Outback kind. Molly Ringwald has only ever starred in one other horror film in her 40 year professional acting career and after the dismally reviewed 1997 cubicle-cutthroat thriller, “Office Killer,” the “Breakfast Club” star steps into a more complex role that involves her multi-tasking two persona performances of essentially the same character spanning a story lined fourteen years apart. As a true testament to “Cut’s” makeup and stylist department, Ringwald, who was about 30 years old at the time of filming, goes incognito as she’s barely recognizable as Chloe, a role within a role played by Vanessa Turnbill playing the teenage character in the scrapped “Hot Blooded” slasher. Though a far cry from a coming to age film, Ringwald pivots to a coming to terms with her character’s handling of prolonged fear from the fateful and deadly night the masked killer almost ended Vanessa’s life by strongly playing to the character’s overpowering sense of self worth and brash Hollywood attitude against the one thing she can’t control…her past. Vanessa is not alone in her quest for finishing a scarring afterthought as “Hot Blooded’s” newest director, student filmmaker Raffy Carruthers, picks up where Hilary Jacobs’ left off after being butchered and is determined to wrap Jacobs’ legacy short of being a hack director. As the other half of the two resilient female characters, Raffy is played by New Zealand actress Jessica Napier who channels her inner Sidney Prescott as a strong feminine survivor unnerved by the macabre that’s closing in around her brought upon a sadistic masked killer and braves sacrificing herself to thwart pure evil’s carnage. The rest of “Cut’s” cast disperses the right amount of character building performances by Sarah Knats, Stephen Curry (“Rogue”), Matthew Russell, Erika Walters, Cathy Adamek (“The Babadook”), Steve Greig, Sam Lewis, and pop singer Kylie Minogue (“Street Fighter”) whose had collaborative projects with Mushroom Group and also a role in a Kimble Rendall 11-minutel short, “Hayride to Hell.”

The meta approach “Cut” takes might detach itself from the plot of “Scream,” but in essence, the Kimble Rendall film is derivative work of Wes Craven who aimed to expose and exploit cliched tropes of the slasher flicks to upheave audiences wits on what they know about the genre and where the plot might eventually boil down to in a orthodox simmer of uncreative sensationalism. “Scream” smartly broke down plot structures, revealed character flaws, and even name dropped popular directors and films that became the very foundational basis of the Renaissance slasher era that went unchanged for years, decades perhaps. “Cut” also reasserts shout outs as references, along with Rendall’s creative knack of making every character swim in the pool of suspicion, to build up a catalytic twist no one would or could predict despite all the subtle clues, generally abundant in slashers, toward revealing the killer’s true identity and motivation. I wouldn’t be bold enough to say Rendall’s “Cut” deserves to be above or on the same level as “Scream,” because, frankly, it doesn’t, but “Cut” has a singular, unique identity with all of its own loaded modern day slasher traits such as a high kill count and an intriguing self-referential plot. Where “Cut” shakes at the knees a bit is how the practical effects were accomplished and the scores of cheesy late 90’s-to-early 2000 visual effects bared an ugly resembles of something that could have come straight out of the Super Mario Bros. film adaptation. A minority of the kills were decently crafted to bring a honorable character death, but there were many that succumb to a quick edit or stemmed from an off screen cut down that took away the breadth of impact and left more to be morbidly desired. Where “Cut” struggles shouldn’t be deemed ineligible for attention because of those reasons and, in fact, “Cut” sustains a high entertaining rating with immense value in the replay sector to catch thematical intimations and do a comparative analysis on Crave and Rendall’s films on how they experiment, treat, and respect the greats that were once lost to success over a long period mediocre financial and routine blundering.

Umbrella Entertainment and Beyond distribution debuts the Blu-ray release of the Mushroom Pictures and Kimble Rendall’s “Cut” with a full HD, 1080p 4K restoration from the original film’s 35mm interpos and presented in a widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The 4K scan illuminates the hard, dark lighting used primarily for tone setting, granting an extremely gothic look without being inside the parameters of inherently gothic set design and the scanned transfer also revitalizes the snaps of color where appropriate while still leaving the natural grain from the 35mm filmstock. The English language dual channel DTS-HD Master Audio track has lossy quality because there is such contentious and explosive moments that warrant audio quality; however, the 2.0 track is sufficient to lay simple groundwork of depth, range, and clarity and the soundtrack, no matter how generic, elevates to a concentrated level with the killer on the hunt. Dialogue murkiness is no issue here with a clear path of discernible lines. Special features seem limited and antiquated for a 4K, Blu-ray debut release, but do include archived cast interviews with Molly Ringwald, Kyle Minogue, Jessica Napier, and Kimble Rendall, behind-the-scenes of some of the shots, a commentary with director Kimble Rendall and writer Dave Warner, storyboard and concept art gallery, “Hayride to Hell” short from Rendall that stars Minogue and Richard Roxburgh, and the theatrical trailer of the film. The back cover states a region B disc, but my player was set on A and prior press releases suggested a region free release so this particular gem should play in any region. If a die hard Wes Craven fan, place the 20-years-young “Cut” into your queue as a forward thinking slasher with brass balls and a marred killer with modified gardener sheers that provokes the genre still to this day.

Why settle for standard definition when “Cut” makes a 1080p debut onto Blu-ray!!! Click to buy it now!

EVIL Must Be Broken In Before Being Used. “The Wheel” reviewed!


In the near future, paraplegic inmate Matthew Mills volunteers under pressure to join a Satoshi-Telefair Industries experimental treatment program that not only promises to reduce his sentence, but to also to regain mobility in his legs. With nothing more than the hope to return to his daughter, Mills is enticed by the agreement and gives himself to a shadow company who regularly contracts with the military, facilitating deep underground at an isolated site. Shortly after signing the release form, he awakes in a dark, steel cell known as The Wheel and is able to move his legs again, but the jubilation quickly subsides as armored men with batons visit his cell to beat and break his body in order for the nano technology, injected amongst his anatomy, to rebuild damaged tissue and make him stronger. The ordeal torments him, but to the researchers observing every detail of his recovery and behavior, Mills is just subject 2-1, another potential subject destined for the Future Soldier Initiative where the unethical testing must continue.

Shady shadow corporations, experimental nano-material rehabilitation and enhancement, and high level science fiction noir from writer James S. Abrams and director Dee McLachlan with 2019’s “The Wheel.” As if not already obvious from filmmaker’s nationalities, “The Wheel” is produced by and shot by Australian production companies SunJive Studios and Film Victoria, a state government agency that advocates funding and other filming assistances for shooting films in sectors of Victoria, Australia. “The Wheel’s” steely posture mirrors the frigid winter snow of Melbourne, Victoria’s covered forests that’s beautiful, yet deadly in the conventional beauty of nature. Yet, “The Wheel” delves into the meddling of what makes man and what also drives man as the story persists on the subject of redesigning the human body, but what that notion doesn’t take into account is what if the human body’s reactions doesn’t go as planed and a clapback ensues with all the synthetic re-wiring behind it? This is what Abrams and McLachlan intended to explore.

Australian actor Jackson Gallagher stars as Matthew Mills, a cripple with a purpose. The “Patrick” actor has been adrift from the darker roles since 2013 until up now with his main role in “The Wheel” that demanded a certain physicality that involved fight sequences with one, or two, or even three opponents and some ariel ropes work. The physically fit Gallagher not only survives the daunting workload, but hastily pulls Mills through his character’s tough transition from hopeful paraplegic to overly confident ultimate fighting weapon without an earnest core of struggle. The same can be said with Dr. Allison Turner played by Kendal Rae (“Out of the Shadows”). Turner’s a rogue researcher who had her practicing credentials revoked after the mistreatment of lab monkeys and was sought after by the Satoshi-Telefair for her detachment qualities, but her Turner’s character also didn’t quite arc properly and resembled a midway plateau from the moment Mills became her research subject. The only character that stayed the course was Dr. Emmett Snyder, a loyal Sataoshi-Telefair researcher to the bone. When he’s not suplexing or drop kicking in a championship wrestling match, David Arquette does dabble in acting. The “Scream” veteran actor fills in a rather unlikely antagonistic role, but the wild eye Arquette remains taut in his performance. “The Wheel” also costars Belinda McClory (“Matrix”). Christopher Kirby (“Daybreakers”), Victoria Liu, and Ben Still.

The spoke of the “The Wheel” rotates on a monotonic and frosty shoulder axle colored in gun metal and iced with dystopian immoralities. Every breathing element and inanimate objects is in a state of distant identity being bestowed labels in a combination of letters and numbers. The utilitarian wheel, an underground experiment facility that shifts rooms up and down and can be rotated to the other side, has no windows or any kind of necessary function other than to test subjects. Where “The Wheel” goes full “Equilibrium” by lacking emotional depth and substance without a coup d’état of the bleak authority, “The Wheel” also lacks vigor to break the blank uniformity and tries to speed through Mills patriarchal fluff to provide reason for his endurance and to provide reason for audiences to care. The epicenter theme to Mills motivation and escape is the thought of getting back to his daughter by any means necessary and was deemed fit to lay by the waist side to rely more on the hand-to-hand fighting like an overly glorified 70’s martial arts film.

Umbrella Entertainment distributes the sci-fi, action film, “The Wheel,” produced by SunJive Studios and Film Victoria onto a region free DVD home video. The clean digital picture in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, has a crisp demeanor that exact a bunch of natural lighting outside with a bit of a lower contrast inside dark “The Wheel” itself. What I found more appealing the anti-aliasing of the drone footage over the snowy covered Victoria forest, suggesting a higher bitrate compression that offers a seamless and smooth recording. The 5.1 English language Dolby audio is offered up with no whiff of an Australian accent in a lossless track that sounds good on the surround channels during action scenes. Dialogue is clear amongst the ample range and depth of ambient layers of researches watching and speaking through comms from inside a box watching another guy inside a box. Like other Umbrella releases, “The Wheel” has no special features nor a static menu. “The Wheel” has ice in the veins, but no warmth in it’s heart that seems vertically challenged on a horizontal slope of dystopian disorder.

The Wheel on DVD