EVIL Wears a Mask, Has Sex Parties, and Likes to Watch. “X” reviewed! (Cinedigm / Digital Screener)

Christian King was handed the philanthropic The Foundation once was directed by her mother Lynda, a legendary singer with powerful vocals who is now on the decline with onset dementia.  Christian, along with her business partner and friend, an equestrian stable hand named Danny, uses The Foundation as a façade for monthly masquerades of elaborate dinners and afterhours sex parties that rake in substantial donations from her clients, but Christian, who clads no mask, doesn’t partake in the normal debauchery of the orgiastic stage.  Her perversions are more privately invasive as she gets off on voyeurism with a hidden camera recording every thought-to-be discreet act her clients are doing in the bathroom.  When a Stella, a familiar face from Christian’s High School past, crashes one of the parties, forgotten secrets bubble to surface that lead to nail-biting paranoia.  Compounded with the seemingly recorded rape of Stella in her bathroom, Christian King’s money and monarchy threaten to expose her peeping Tom habits to the world. 

Sex, lies, and video tape.  “X” is the Generation X’s response to Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” doused in cynicism and a disaffection spray.  “X’s” carnality of deceits is the edited and directed work of LGBT+ advocating filmmaker and music artist, Scott J. Ramsey, who co-wrote the 2021 released film with Hannah Katherine Jost.  Ramsey and Jost previously collaborated on Ramsey and producer, Kevin De Nicolo’s short music videos, “Knave” and “Queen,” for the duo’s queer electro goth-pop band, The Major Arcana; the shorts inspired the feature films voyeuristic qualities, majestically medieval terminologies, and, of course, a queer theme.  A garnered support sees “X” as a family produced suspense thriller from not only Kevin De Nicolo, but also Alex serving as producer with Susan and Tazio De Nicolo as executive producers for the self-funded production under Ramsey’s indie banner, The Foundation, completing the filmmaker’s trifecta of multi-media storytelling.

Following polar oppositely a minor role in her first feature film, “Sleep Away, a family comedy, Hope Raymond quickly jumps the rated for everyone shark and right into the complex titular character a melodrama sexcapade and illicit perversion. Raymond plays a King, a character named Christian King, who employs the definition of her name by applying the real world as her kingdom, or at least her lavish home, to used for the monthly orgy shindigs. Christian King was probably name more suited for a male lead, and was at one point most likely written for such, but tweaking the role for a female actress gave Christian King new meaning, a new perspective, and a whole new depravity intrinsically worked into a system that’s thrives off of identity anonymity, ambiguity, and gender reversal. While Raymond plays the royal King, her business partner, Danny, plays the royal Queen under the sexuality masking by Brian Smick, also making his sophomore feature film appearance. Raymond and Smick comfortably indulge themselves into roles of pansexuality without having the lifestyle be the crux of “X’s” core. Zachary Cowan and, introducing, Eliza Bolvin play the, whether intentional or not, monkey wrenches thrown into the King and Queen’s perfect, cash-cow machine. “X” endows Bolvin’s Stella as a threat to the King’s illicit Kingdom, but Stella provides strategic publicity as a renowned cam girl in certain circuits to which the Queen aims to market for new members. When Stella invites her boyfriend, Cowan’s Jackson, that’s when things get complicated with misperception and mistaken identities. Rounding out “X’s” cast is Valerie Façhman, Hans Probst, Ashley Raggs, Vickey Lopez, Mira Gutoff, Miyoko Sakatani, and Wendy Taylor.

The five act chaptered narrative, described a Shakespearean tragedy and a Hitchcockian thriller, continues the regal motif all along the way, exploiting the means to sound ritzy, refined, and provocative and to show the power of sovereignty with Christian King’s thumb over every single orgy participant’s dirty little bathroom secrets or as she puts it, “I know them better than anyone else,” as she shamefully masturbates to what should be the privy of relinquishing the bladder. The idea of getting off on watching people in the bathroom isn’t just a twisted, one-off fetish, but also symbolizes a power aspect against the unaware, leading to self-serving and self-induced loneliness because of the one-up she holds over them. “X” tries to justify King’s rationale for exploiting her sexually engorging guests with flashbacks of sexuality shaming by the snarky high school boys, which in my opinion, dilutes the LGTB+ perception of you are who you are because something terrible happened to you. However, on the other side of the spectrum, you have Danny who is also taken advantage of in more than one way and in a different and separate context, but doesn’t react in the same regards as his King. Their dichotomy exposes true personalities and gives audiences a defined line of ego and humble attributes to experience different perceptions and events that speak to who they are as an individual. “X” circulates around the titular King of self-proclaim monstrous perversions in a dicey cinematic case study in vanity, arrogance, and the sexy manipulation power.

From being entirely shot in Northern California to the five year, labor-intensive production, “X” marks a spot with a digital and DVD release from Cinedigm with digital platforms including VUDU, Google Play, Amazon, and iTunes. “X” runs a lengthy, but well entertaining pace of 127 minutes and is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. In a little buyers beware tidbit, the dialogue track might feel dubbed and that’s because it is. Director Ramsey has noted that due to the constant crashing waves in the background, much of the the three year post production included re-recording all the dialogue as well as creating a 11-track score album accompaniment entitled “At the Devils Ball” from his band The Major Arcana. Chantel Beam’s first feature credit is a good solid effort with a slew of medium closeups and framing of multiple actors in a single scene while tip-toeing outside the box and into another world with a playful black and white sequence and the hidden bathroom camera reel that’s spun like a kinky comedy, but renders into the realm of diabolical depravity. As a pillar of anonymity, X has always served as the wild card for anything goes and the same rings true for Scott J. Ramsey’s autarkic ball room blitz between sex and perversion film.

Buy “X” on DVD or Stream from Amazon Prime Video!

Obey EVIL’s Every Last Command! “Held” reviewed! (Magnolia Pictures / Digital Screener)

Emma and Henry Barrett celebrate their 9-year marriage anniversary by renting an isolated house complete with modern day automation bells and whistles. On the morning following their first night’s stay, they come to a horrifying realization someone was in the house and has displaced their clothing. As panic begins to set in and the couple try to flee, the house suddenly locks down, barring the windows and doors under the smart home controls, and a Voice commands them to obey every word in order to reveal devastating secrets and fix what’s broken in their splintered marriage by returning to antiquated ideas of a patriarchal system. Implanted with an electroshock device, Emma and Henry have no choice but to comply to every authoritative command, turning their romantic getaway into a house of wringing pawns.

Out of all of fight against misogynism and #MeToo inspired films that have been released in the last few years, Jill Awbrey’s scripted story is the most fascinating with an implausible overkill plot derived from, and this would be the scariest part, actual male frames of mind that were not systemically changed too long ago and are still ineradicably infesting a good chunk of male psyches today. The Fresno, California-shot film is entitled “Held,” a literally captivating suspense-thriller with whispers of James Wan’s “Saw” crisscrossed with, and I may get flak for this, Wes Craven’s “Scream.” “Held” is steered by Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, directors of “The Gallows” and the subsequent “Act II”, with a follow up with edgy confines of a pintsize location embellished with hidden rooms and secret passageways bringing normalcy to the forefront of topsy-turvy inequity. Under Cluff and Lofing’s Tremendum Pictures banner, “Held” is also produced by the directors alongside Kyle Gentz and Cody Fletcher.

Jill Awbrey is not only the screenwriter of “Held” but also stars as the Emma Barrett, an internally traumatized woman weary of strange men asking none-of-their-business questions. Her feature film actress debut plays opposite of vet actor Bart Johnson. The television and “Simon Says” actor Johnson puts on his husband hat as Henry Barret frustrated and disheartened by Emma’s recent lack of intimate interest. All of the Henry’s resentment and Emma’s self-reproach fades away when the house comes down on top of them, literally, in a barrage of hidden spy cameras, an uncontrollable to them security system, and by an obscured voice coursing through various wall intercoms with ground rules and instructions. Before trouble finds them in the guise of a vacay rental, Awbrey and Johnson make a fairly convincing seasoned husband and wife with all the rapport familiarity trimmings; Awbrey instills a meekish quality that makes Emma reserved in not being assertive enough to help herself, a condition stemmed from a traumatic event in her past as the opening moment of “Held,” while Johnson follows Awbrey’s lead in an equally good job showing a nurturing and doting husband who wants nothing more than to take care of everything for his wife. When the panic sets in and the possibility of escape seems futile, Awbrey and Johnson have to use separate approaching methods and mindsets that become essential to “Held’s” time warp speeding male chauvinism undertones. The supporting cast is folded into “Held’s” firm two-lead narrative with precision story placement from Rez Kempton (“Stag Night of the Dead”) and Zack Gold (“Fear Lives Here”).

“Held” is a fight in hell for women who feel that there is life bares no choice in the matter, when their voice is silenced by fear, when the prospect of death is as strong as a masculine build, and when an atrocious past experience hinders personal growth. The commanding-to-demanding obedience tale freefalls from worse case scenario to the absolute worst case scenario of a clear cut redeeming need for change and to once and for all extinguish the old-fashioned binary thought of men being stronger, faster, smarter, better, and more dominate then women. Speaking of old-fashioned, Cluff and Lofing incorporate 1950s era technology, such as a tube television set, rotary phone, and computers with nobs and dials, into the vacation rentals’ futuristic hardware as a symbolizing blend of the seemingly evolved present day man being motivated and driven by antiquated thoughts. The filmmakers also work in nicely Awbrey’s misinterpretation of a Biblical paradise by parochial views by warping the fabled beginnings of man and woman for their own selfish desires. The plot point twist was uncomplicatedly easy to predict but wasn’t necessarily unwelcomed either as the turning point layered a crazy subplot involving a radical marketed and hairbrained scheme with such audacity it’s felt unbelievable. And there were a handful of select scenes that did feel unbelievable by computing more a comical reaction than a petrifying one as perhaps intended. What’s probably more even more of a quirk in “Held” is the script’s subdued dialogue that garnished with not one single obscenity, but the action, which includes multiple graphic stabbings, a self-surgery extraction, and one particular scene where Emma is choked slammed through a wall, conveys extreme intensity in a superficial imbalance with the dialogue. Underneath the tender discourse, “Held” has a crupper of brutal violence that never slips.

Those following Ephesians 5:22-24, reading wives should “submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the LORD,” will find “Held” as a blasphemous counterattack of disobedience against the strong arming of a behind-the-times complementarian marriage. “Held” will be released by Magnolia Pictures as a Magnet released film, presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with a runtime of 94 minutes. The Frightfest 2020 film is a perfect union of imperfect times and feminism fight back and director of photography, Kyle Gentz (“The Gallows Act II,” “Zombies 2”) captures it all with a bright, nearly sterile, perspective full from closed circuit voyeurism, to aerial shots of isolation, and to shaky cam with flashing lights to produce ear splitting pain effect. There were no bonus scenes during or after the credits. The Garden of Eden has been man and woman’s place of paradise and destruction but for Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing’s “Held,” the battle of the sexes is more barbaric than it is biblical when Adam’s machoism stakes claim to Eve’s forbidden fruit.

A Snapshot of Evil. S.L.R. review!

SLR

S.L.R., or Single Lens Reflex, involves a man obsessed with online young girl voyeur porn, but when he discovers photos of his underage daughter being photographed and uploaded online by a shameless and anonymous user named ANORAK, the emotionally compromised man must engage the user while battling his own obsession.

Game of Thrones star Liam Cunningham does a phenomenal job as the father searching for his daughter’s mysterious predator. Cunnigham’s struggle between being a voyeur porn enthusiast and a father is delivered systematically once the photos of the daughter, played by Amy Wren, become more frequent. The very plausibility of this happening is more than likely than we want to imagine. I’m sure we see ourselves or our close family as Saints who could do no wrong, but look at Saint Peter and his betrayal against Jesus.
Elliot-Liam-Cunningham-stares-at-a-computer-PHOTO-CREDIT-AIDAN-MONAGHAN
The short film, written and directed by Stephen Fingleton, also embarks on the question of accessibility of material and how fast the fire can spread online. The beginning of the short shows how an instant snapshot of a woman’s panty from an upskirt angle can be uploaded in two seconds without obstacle. In seconds, the photograph would hit a thousand views because, frankly, people are perverted. In seconds, that very photograph, of a young naive girl, would be the face of voyeur porn and what if that girl was your daughter and she was underage? That’s another question that pops to mind as you don’t really know what the age might be of these girls. Of course, the website hosting photos might describe the girl as a “barely 18 teen hottie.” We easily digest this as we believe anything on the internet as true.

Well delivered as well as the material is disturbing to think about. Fingleton captures a father’s fears, a perverts lust, and little girl’s innocence. The short film is open ended for the viewer to create their own ending; I for one wanted the ending to be more disturbing because porn addiction, like any other addiction, can be a cycle and the father’s vice won’t be suffocated that ease even if his daughter’s pictures were only a temporary obstacle. Check the Best Irish short film below according to Foyle Film Festival.