Film Review: LIGHTS OUT (USA 2016)

lights_outLIGHTS OUT (USA 2016) **
Directed by David F. Sandberg

Starring: Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello

Review by Gilbert Seah

LIGHTS OUT is a new low budget horror produced by HOSTEL’s James Wan and directed by David F. Sandberg based on his short story.

LIGHTS OUT is based on several potentially scary premises. There is the mother with mental health problems, the imaginary friend who could be a figment of mother’s imagination (or not), a boy scared of the dark and a monster that disappears and burns in light, surviving only in the dark. But one second thoughts, none of those are original concepts. The last one, though seemingly new is the same premise used in all vampire films.

But the movie plays confidently as a film that scares from things that go bump in the night. A large part of the film obviously takes place at night. The majority of the scares come from the ghoul called Diana who can appear out of nowhere, but only in the dark. As the lights go out in the house, a large mansion of course, the survivors have to arm themselves with torches or flashlights, batteries that soon run out of juice. This ‘novelty’ runs out very fast. After half an hour, the film really gets monotonous, with Diana appearing and disappearing. A bit of distraction is also provided in the script in which Diana might be imaginary and in the head of the mother, Sophie (Maria Bello), who was previously a mental patient.

Sandberg knows how to incite fear from small and dark enclosed spaces. But it takes much more to make a complete horror film.

The story goes like this. When the film opens, a creature kills a man who had promised to return home to his son who had complained of his mother being mental. The boy, Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is still afraid years later with the mother still having problems now manifested in Diana, who she has befriended in the mental hospital. Now Diana is able to appear as a creature but only in the darkness. Diana is breaking her promise that she will not hurt the mother’s children. Enter (out of nowhere), Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), Martin’s older sister and her sexy boyfriend, Bret (Alexander DiPersia) to rescue Martin from crazy mom and monster Diana.

The film makes the rules of the monster as it goes along – how it exists and so forth. The actors all do their screaming convincingly with Bret being the beau in distress. This is more of a female film where the women are heroes with the male and female roles reversed. No complaint here, as it is good to see things going the other way for a change.

But LIGHTS OUT would have succeeded as a 30-minute short film. It is stretched out too long, even at only 80 minutes. Boring, over manipulative and predictable, the film is a good idea that unfortunately does not play out as a full length feature. But it should make its money owing to its low budget. It would be interesting to see what writer/director Sandberg comes out with next.

BODY, Movie Review. Drama/Thriller

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival:http://www.wildsound.ca

body.jpgBODY (USA 2014) ***
Directed by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen

Starring: Helen Rogers, Alexandra Turshen, Lauren Molina

Review by Gilbert Seah

A low budget horror/thriller that starts off pretty well.

As the opening credits roll, the film screen is all black and a voice, barely decipherable, is calling 911 for help.

When the film opens, three girls, Mel (Lauren Molina), Holly (Helen Rogers) and Cali (Alexandra Turshen) party it up at Mel’s house. They start off with Scrabble arguing about certain words used before Mel’s dad interrupts bringing in food. The three exit the house to smoke weed with Mel’s younger brother Josh only to be caught by Mel’s mother. These kind of goings-on are nothing special but can happen all the time when everyone was a teen or later on when becoming one. Thus, everyone can relate to the incidents and this is the reason the film is so engaging at first. Directors Beck and Olsen do more than the normal slasher movie in investing their time on the three characters and the character development. They party hard, and it is entertaining to see them just do nothing but film themselves on their cell phones, for example dancing around.

But things take a turn when the trio decide to party into the night and visit Cali’s uncle’s mansion. But Cali is lying and it turns out that she used to babysit for the Asian family that lives in the house. Things turn sour when the groundskeeper suddenly shows up and is accidentally pushed down the stairs. The film turns into a slasher thriller.

Though not an exceptional film, BODY does possess certain unique traits not found in other films of this genre. First and most noticeable is the amount of effort put into the development of the character of each girl. Cali is the nasty one, Holly the decent rational one while Mel is the in-betweener. The character of Holly also undergoes a transformation that makes her character more complex. Hers is obviously the most interesting of the three. The character development is not there for show but also integral to the film’s plot. The next thing is that BODY is more of a thriller than a horror movie. There is no slasher that never dies or one that keeps appearing after being killed. Thirdly, there is a good transition from humour to thriller. The first half of the film is mostly the girls partying, which brings the film its lighter moments and a few laugh-out loud parts. There are a few psychological moments such as the ones with a girl screaming into the face of another that evokes horror.

The cast of unknowns deliver their performances naturally. They look like genuine teenagers out for a good time with just things getting bad.

But judging from Cali’s bad behaviour and personality one does wonder the reason the other two hang around or keep her as a friend. However, these are little points that usually go unnoticed in a teen thriller.

The film also briefly deals with conscience and consequences but it is not a message
film. BODY ends up a satisfactory time-waster and a good film to watch with a bunch of friends on a night out or at home. The film also opens on VOD Apr 26.

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Movie Review: BALLERINA (short film) Directed by Marc Thomas

ballerina_movie_poster.jpgBALLERINA
WATCH Audience FEEDBACK

5min, USA, Horror/Thriller

A woman at home alone encounters a malevolent presence in the form of a… music box?

Read review by Amanda Lomonaco:

At first glance, Marc Thomas’ Ballerina seems like your typical, every day, predictable horror film, but don’t get too comfortable. Through very subtle nuances, fantastic special effects, a great musical score, and excellent timing, Thomas has made an excellent short film guaranteed to make your skin crawl.

This is definitely one of those short films that I’m at risk of spoiling by saying too much about it. At just 5 minutes, there isn’t much you could reveal about Ballerina that wouldn’t ruin Thomas’ excellently plotted suspense. What I can say is that as a horror lover I rarely find myself crawling with goosebumps when I watch a film, but Thomas’ short had me at the edge of my seat.

One of the great things about this short is what Marc Thomas has managed to do with an already familiar, and almost cliché storyline. Though it’s a difficult art to master, the advantage of using these kinds of stories is the ease with which you can surprise the audience by veering from it even if slightly. Ballerina has achieved this in such a discrete but impactful way, that it’s impossible not to commend it.

The reactions to this film were all intense and infectious. It speaks a lot about any film when it can provoke such a strong reaction from a large group of strangers. If you don’t like horror films, beware; Ballerina will almost certainly give you nightmares. Then again, if you’re anything like me, that might be exactly what you’re looking for.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of BALLERINA:

Movie Review: 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE ***1/2

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival:http://www.wildsound.ca

10_cloverfield_lane.jpg10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (USA 2016) ***1/2
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg

Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.

Interview with 10 Cloverfield Lane Special Effects Foreman – Donnie Dean

Interview with 10 Cloverfield Lane Cinematographer – Jeff Cutter

Spoiler Alert: Please note that in order to provide a readable film review, there are minor plot points that have to be revealed in the review.

It should be noted that every attempt has been made to keep the key plot twists secret so that readers will not have their entertainment of this film compromised.

Films about sole captives have always done reasonably well at the box-office and have sat well with audiences. From William Wyler’s THE COLLECTOR to Peter Jackson’s THE LOVELY BONES to the recent Oscar best actress winning film ROOM, creepiness has always translated to good suspense and thrills. It is surprising that the above three films dealt with the main element of suspense and 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is the only one that is truly a horror picture. And quite a good one at that. The antagonist is played by the excellent John Goodman. Can you imagine waking up after being unconscious in a tiny room only to be greeted by a gigantic unshaven monster of a man? Now that is really scary. And the script written by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stucken, and Damien Chazelle milks that idea to the limit.
The film is a science fiction horror film and the spiritual successor of the 2008 film CLOVERFIELD, although the two films do not share the same fictional universe or continuity.

CLOVERFIELD dealt with teens protecting their neighbourhood from aliens. So 10 COVERFIELD LANE obviously has real aliens in the plot, though the first part of the film teases the audience with the fact that there might not be ab alien invasion and that Howard (Goodman) is keeping both Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Emmet (John Gallagher, Jr.) prisoners in the dark on the false pretext of an alien invasion fall-out. But whatever the reason, Michelle,the lead character, has decided to escape, regardless.

The best parts of the film is Trachtenberg’s depiction of the desperation of all the three characters – each one dealing with it in his or her own way. The script also blends humour in the best of unexpected times. This is obvious in the film’s start with the intercutting with Michelle’s car accident and the titles ‘Paramount Pictures Present” and then car overturning and then “A Bad Robot Production”. The script is also clever enough to always keep the audience surprised with one plot turn after another. Howard can turn from super nice captor, to suspicious host to totally angry monster. The bunker itself is a contradiction of wonderfully designed live-in space to isolated captive room. Even the start of the film is a surprise. Michelle is shown driving away for 10 minutes of screen time before it is revealed she is running away from her lover, Ben (voiced by Bradley Cooper). “I think we’re alone now” is also an obvious but fun choice of a song on the soundtrack.

A bit of moralizing is included for good sport. Is it better to be alive in this situation?

There are a few minor loopholes in the plot, which cannot be mentioned here due to they being spoilers, but these are minor and can be overlooked. But the last 15 minutes of high tech, high budget climax destroys the otherwise excellent plotting of the first 3/4 of the film. It could be argued that the last segment is necessary to bind the two CLOVERFIELD films, but unfortunately director Trachtenberg has thrown all logic out the door as the audience can see what one small bottle of whiskey could do.

Despite its flaws, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is thoroughly entertaining and succeeds as a horror movie. One wonders though of the NORTH BY NORTHWEST styled letter credits the filmmakers have chosen to use.

Also, Free logline submissions. The Writing Festival network averages over 95,000 unique visitors a day.
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Movie Review: THE WITCH (USA 2015) ****

the_witchTHE WITCH (USA 2015) ****
Directed by Roger Eggers

Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie

Review by Gilbert Seah

Set in 17th Century New England, writer/director Roger Eggers (whose background is in production design and theatre) has mounted more than a handsome production in his chilling horror debut. Looking like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT from the frequent flickering lighting (though the comparison does not do THE WITCH, the better film justice) and Shyamalan’s THE VILLAGE from the period setting, the story follows a newly settled New England family from England.

When the film opens, we hear dialogue which informs the audience that the family has just been banished from the village due to witchcraft, details unspecified. They settle on their own on the forest outskirts. The religious family is comprised of William (Ralph Ineson), his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) and their five children. The film centres on the daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is made to look after her infant sibling while the parents toil the land. But the baby suddenly goes missing (never explained how in the film, but assumed to be taken by a wolf), and Thomasin has no explanation either.

William and Kate descend into hysteria. Did the evil in the woods take their unbaptized child? Their twin children, Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson), blame Thomasin but their own behaviour has become disturbingly suspect. Middle child Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) takes it upon himself to search for the answer with dire consequences. Thomasin admits to being a witch to scare the twins into silence but it backfires on her.

The film has certain unexplained scenes like an actual witch that appears and kisses Caleb. The other is the possession of the twins.

The film succeeds for two reasons. One is its ambiguity which makes everything all the more mysterious and scary. Is the family descending into religious madness or are there supernatural forces afoot? But the film falls apart when director Eggers shows actual demonic forces in motion. Second is the scary effects created by the light, setting and soundtrack. The characters speak with an old Northern England accent and old English which takes a while to get used to. Sample dialogue: “What’s the matter with thee? Come hither!” The story is supposed to be based on folklore and the dialogue adapted directly from old literature.

But THE WITCH is a very scary film- not scary in the form of the typical B-horror flick but in genuine fear of the unknown. Religion and superstition drive the family part. Trust in God appears to be the answer for the family, but faith is obviously not enough. The desperation of the family is on clear display and examination here. Eggers shows differing points of view, from the daughter to the father, mother and even the brother., while always centring on Thomasin. Eggers knows how to create a sense of evil from almost any prop, from the goat, to the evil stare of the rabbit, to the woods to the omnipresent darkness. THE WITCH also contains very disturbing images, made even scarier because often, it is hard to make out exactly what is depicted, and much is left to the imagination. The scariest image is the crow picking at the mother’s breast. Evil, indeed takes many forms.

Altogether a very impressive film debut by Eggers and definitely a most chilling one.

Movie Review: I Confess (1953) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival: http://www.wildsound.ca

I CONFESS MOVIE POSTER
I CONFESS, 1953
Classic Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Montgomery Cliff, Anne Baxter, Karl Malden
Review by Steve Painter

SYNOPSIS:

Refusing to give into police investigators’ questions of suspicion, due to the seal of confession, a priest becomes the prime suspect in a murder.

REVIEW:

Alfred Hitchcock was notorious for loathing actors. He once famously remarked that actors should be “treated like cattle.” His least favorite kind of actors were those who used “The Method” technique pioneered by Stanislavski and taught by Lee Strasberg at The Actors’ Studio. Despite his dislike for method actors, one of Hitchcock’s best films starred one of the greatest Method technicians. The movie was I Confess (1953), and its star was Montgomery Clift.

I Confess is not one of Hitchcock’s well known movies. This is hard to believe considering that the cast includes Clift, Anne Baxter and Karl Malden. The story is also top notch. Its premise involves the binding nature of the confession on Catholic priests.

The story begins as the church’s groundskeeper, Otto, happens to get in an argument one night with a man, Villette, who he gardens for on the weekends. Otto wants Villette’s money, but the he won’t give it to him, so Otto kills Villette.

The only witnesses to the murder are two young girls who say that they saw a man wearing a cassock walking from the scene. A small note about the cassock needs to be inserted here. Not only does the cassock play a large role in the movie’s story, but it played an even bigger role in the movie’s filming. Quebec was the only city Hitchcock could find where priests still wore cassocks. So, the cast and crew shot most of the movie on location in Quebec.

Feeling remorse, Otto heads to the confessional. There Father Logan, played by Clift, hears Otto confess to the murder of the rich lawyer Villette. Of course, being a priest who is bound to keep confessions a secret, Father Logan can not go to the police.

The suspense becomes enhanced when it is learned that Father Logan has become the prime suspect in the murder. Hitchcock has created his trademark “innocent man accused” situation. He then ratchets up the suspense like only he can.

We learn that before becoming a priest, Father Logan had been a war hero who had fallen for Anne Baxter’s character, Ruth. The two were lovers before World War II, but Logan never wrote her during the war. When he returns he finds Ruth. The two spend the day together and get caught in a rainstorm, while on an island. They spend the night in a gazebo. In the morning, a man appears and he asks Logan why he spent the night with a married woman.

From here on the man, who happens to be Villette, begins to blackmail Ruth. When Father Logan comes to view the body the day after hearing Otto’s confession, he spots Ruth who tells him that she was being blackmailed by Villette.

Karl Malden’s Inspector Larrue sees the two talking and begins to investigate their relationship. He figures out that Ruth still loves Logan and that she was being blackmailed by Villette. Putting two and two together he accuses Logan of the murder. The climax of the movie occurs in the courtroom where all the major players are. Otto sits in his seat, smugly knowing that Logan will not break his vow. Ruth knows Logan is innocent, but can’t provide any proof. Worst of all, Logan knows who the real killer is, but can’t say anything about it.

I will stop the plot summary here, as I don’t want the end of the movie to be ruined. This great story is also filmed brilliantly. The murder is pointed out to us during one of the best opening sequences Hitchcock ever did. This movie should really be on more lists of the best movies made by Alfred Hitchcock. It is a worthwhile watch for any fan of Hitchcock, Baxter or Clift.

 

 

Also, Free logline submissions. The Writing Festival network averages over 95,000 unique visitors a day.
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Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival:http://www.wildsound.ca

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Interview with Denise Gossett, Festival Founder/Director for the Shriekfest Film Festival

Heading into their 16th year, the Shriekfest Film Festival & Screenplay Competition is one of the top Horror Festivals in the world today. Founder Denise Gossett was voted number 5 out of 13 Most Influential Women In Horror History!

Go to the website and find out about the 2016 season.
http://www.shriekfest.com

I recently sat down with Denise Gossett to talk about her festival.

deniseMatthew Toffolo: Bottomline, what are you attempting to accomplish (and obviously succeeding at) with the Shriekfest Festival?

Denise Gossett: Well, my goal has always been to help get exposure for all of these talented filmmakers and writers that people may not know about. We are all about the indie filmmaker.

Matthew: Why do you think there is such large fan base for Horror Films? Why do so many people like being frightened and scared when watching something?

Denise: I think it’s the same reason people look at a car accident, we are curious, however, we like to experience it when it’s not a life or death situation..that’s where horror films come in. Being frightened is fun and exciting, it’s a visceral experience. Same reason people love roller coasters. The thrill of it all.

Matthew: What motivated you to start this festival?

Denise: I had starred in a horror film & realized that there weren’t any horror festivals in the U.S to help promote it, horror seems to be the ignored step child of the industry and I wanted to change that.

Matthew: What have you learned the most running a successful festival for over 16 years?

Denise: You have to be kind, you have to help people and you have to enjoy it and be passionate….these creatives are trusting me with their babies, whether it’s a script or a film, and I should treat that baby with the utmost care and love.

Matthew: How has the festival changed since its inception?

Denise: The main passion and caring has remained the same, of course, but, now we get submissions from every country out there, Shriekfest wins all kinds of awards, and we have regular fans that attend every year. Also, if you have a win at Shriekfest, it does seem to open doors for people.

Matthew: How many films do you anticipate showcasing at your 2016 Film Festival?

Denise: We will screen approximately 45 films!

Matthew: Can you give us a sneak peak of what to expect for the 2016 Festival?

Denise: Hmmm, we are discussing that right now….ways to make our “Sweet 16th” birthday extra special. New trophies, bigger, better parties, some new categories.

Matthew: Where do you see your festival in 5 years?

Denise: Oh goodness….well, I may not be running it by then. I am an actor as well and my career is really taking off and it’s making it very difficult for me to do both. We’ll see. 🙂 As long as Shriekfest is around, I will be involved in some way. It’s my baby and like I said earlier, I want it treated well. So, in 5 years, it will be extremely hard to get tickets to any of the screenings. How’s that? LOL

Matthew: What film have you seen the most in your life?

Denise: Grease 🙂 I was obsessed with it when I was younger.

Matthew: Is there a country that consistently makes great horror films that you show at your festival year after year?

Denise: Spain really produces some amazing films.

Matthew: Has there ever been a case where a film that you watch that gets submitted to your festival is just too violent or just too gory?

Denise: Well, there are some, but I have an audience that loves that stuff, so, it doesn’t affect decisions.

Matthew: In one sentence, what makes a great horror film?

Denise: A great horror film has a great story with some new or unique ideas, great acting, great filming, great sound, great editing, basically, a complete package.

Thank you so much for the interview. I’m honored.

* * * *

Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the festival director for the WILDsound Film & Writing Festival.