Film Review: ISABELLE (UK/Canada 2018) ***

Isabelle Poster

A young couple’s dream of starting a family shatters as they descend into the depths of paranoia and must struggle to survive an evil presence that wants nothing more than their very own … See full summary »


Robert Heydon


Donald Martin (screenplay by)

ISABELLE is a psychological thriller that treads on the successes of past horror classics like ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE EXORCIST.  The lead character is a pregnant mother and the character is being possessed by some demon who wants to live in the human world.

Director Rob Heydon sets the stage at the film’s start with several audience anticipation moves.  An all-American couple (though the film was shot in Hamilton and Toronto, Canada) moves into a New England neighbourhood.  First comes a scream from the pregnant mother, Larissa (Amanda Crew).  “The baby kicked me.  She is strong.”  “You don’t want this baby.”  These are words that propose that things are going to get nasty.

True to expectations, things do not get better.  Larissa meets the odd next door neighbour, Ann (nicely played by Sheila McCarthy) and her wheelchair bound daughter, Isabel (Zoe Belkin), who spends all the time staring at her through her second floor bedroom window.  

Larissa loses the baby.  She becomes terribly depressed and prescribed depression medication that seems to make her go all weird and paranoid.  There is only so much hubby Matt can tolerate.  The script introduces a weird looking pastor who actually is normal and tries to help the couple.  The music is also greta at creating the mood of a scary atmosphere.

The film contains some great genuinely scary moments.  “I want to see my baby,” demands Larissa after delivering her stillborn.  But they never let the audience see it, well perhaps only a glimpse.  

Director Heydon sure is adept at keeping the mood of the film successfully creepy.  The dead baby keeps appearing out of nowhere to invade Larissa’s dreams to just shock her.   The baby’s scorching red eyes add to the scares.  Red eyes are commonly used, as witnessed too with Chuck’s eyes in CHILD’S PLAY, also opening this week.  Larissa also acts weird but McCarthy’s neighbour is sufficiently creepy all on her own.  The camera shot of a newspaper article of a child abuser adds on even more.  It is assumed that Isabel is be the daughter of the child abuser, though the spelling of Isabel is different from the title of the film.

The film has a short running length of less than 90 minutes.  For this short a running time, too much happens – especially at the end, so that credibility is stretched to the limit.  It is not that audiences would believe what transpires on screen anyway, but too much occurring too fast in a hour film tends to come off as silliness.

The best thing about the film is its build up of the couple’s paranoia and how it affects both the husband and mother – and how they cope with it together.  At times, one wonders whether the film is just a psychological drama with no supernatural element.  ISABELLE ends up a satisfactory low budget horror thriller – the typical Canadian flick that stands in as an American one in order to expand its target audience but the film is up for stiff competition opening the same week as CHILD’S PLAY.



Film Review: JUGGERNAUT (Canada 2017) ***

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Juggernaut Poster
After a lengthy absence, a small town outlaw returns to his hometown, violently obsessed with the notion that his Mother’s death was not a suicide.


Daniel DiMarco


This JUGGERNAUT is not to be confused with the Richard Lester film of the same name that starred Richard Harris about bombs planted on a cruise liner.  JUGGERNAUT 2017 is a very different Canadian nitty-gritty family crime drama that America churns out quite well.  This one turns out pretty solid as well.

JUGGERNAUT is the story of two brothers, one good and one bad. Sounds like a parable (Caine and Abel) from the Bible.  Of course, good and bad are relative.  The protagonist is the ‘bad’ one for the obvious reason that not only is the bad one a more interesting character but there is a chance for redemption as well.

Saxon (Jack Kesy) has just been released from prison.  Saxon is, as described in the film, a misanthrope (a person who dislikes and distrusts all human beings).  He re-unites with his older brother, Dean (David Cubitt) in a small agricultural town in British Columbia.  Dean is the town hero, bringing jobs to the town.  Saxon learns from Dean that their mother has passed away while he was in prison, but he believes and goes out to prove that it was not suicide as stated in the death certificate.

A few incidents are too predictable. The first girl Saxon meets happens to be Amelie (Amanda Crew).  When Amelie confesses that she is Saxon’s brother’s fiancee, one can tell that thee is an affair that is just waiting to happen. 

There is a debate about bad person doing a good thing versus a good person doing a bad thing.   It is too obvious that the audience is made to consider which one Saxon is.  Not that it really matters to the plot.

To enhance the film’s nitty-grittiness, DiMarko often shoots in dimly lit settings with moody period music and songs.  Veteran actors Stephen McHattie (as bad guy Hank Sr.) and Peter McRobbie as the father also add to the atmosphere. The film has a side plot regarding Saxon’s estranged relationship with his father who favours Dean over him.  Here, there are EAST OF EDEN overtones especially felt during the reconciliation (well, sort-of) scene.

DiMarco paints a good character out of this chosen hero.  Saxon is described as dumb but not stupid.  Kesy, portrays Saxon with a rugged charm that eventually wins Amelie over.

The story moves along at a good pace but suffers from an odd ending which at least is unpredictable.  But he shoot-out ear the end is a bit of a cop out stretching the story’s credibility.

JUGGERNAUT is a satisfying small Canadian film that achieves what it set out to do, entertain with a story set in a grim atmosphere.  The film opens this week with a VOD/Digital release on March 27, 2018.  The film marked its world premiere at the Shanghai International Film Festival in 2017 as part of the Panorama program and was also screened at the San Diego International and Whistler Film Festivals.


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Film Review: CHOKESLAM (Canada 2017)

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chokeslamDirector: Robert Cuffley
Writers: Robert Cuffley, Jason Long
Stars: Chris Marquette, Amanda Crew, Michael Eklund

Review by Gilbert Seah

With the film’s tagline “Love is hard to pin down”, it is not hard to guess that CHOKESLAM is a romantic comedy about wrestling.

CHOKESLAM is a story about bruising ones knuckles on the barriers of love and the perils of dating a wrestler with a bad temper. The wrestler in question is Sheena DeWilde (Amanda Crew, SILICON VALLEY). But the film’s protagonist is a nerdy 28-year old Corey Swanson (Chris Marquette JOAN OF ARCADIA), a mild-mannered deli clerk who slices cold cuts for a living, whose first love is Sheena. Sheena has just flown into town for their high school reunion. Corey learns of the reunion from an unfunny, clumsily staged hold-up by a classmate he recognizes. He attends, convinced that seeing Sheena one more time will finally give him closure on that better-forgotten chapter of his life.

The script does nothing to make Corey, the romantic underdog likeable. The only time the audience gets a surprise is when he sneaks an unexpected kiss to Sheena. Otherwise, he could be a dirty old guy stalking a pretty innocent lady. Corey is annoying to no end.
What makes a good comedy is timing, a good script with potential hilarious set-ups. The script is only mildly funny and all the comedy seems to fall flat mainly to poor timing Cuffley attempts dead-pan but often switches to sit-com style comedy as a last resort. One example can be seen in the hospital segment where Corey looks blankly at the ceiling with his neck brace just before mother comes in and says silly unfunny remarks like how her son never gets sick.

If one expects to see some professional wrestling, be prepared to be disappointed. There is one scene where two wrestlers go at it while Corey and Sheena look on from the side. But the action is intercut with the conversation (and an uninteresting one at that) so no one really bothers with either. Other wrestling scenes are mainly ho-hum. Three-time WWF champion Mick Foley has a supporting role in the film, playing Patrick – so WWF fans might be thrilled.

CHOKESLAM is an indie Canadian film and I would normally give a Canadian film a chance, especially it being an indie as well. But it is hard to root for a Canadian film that pretends to be American (as seen in the American money dished out from the cash register in the robbery scene). And also harder to root if the film is this bad and uninteresting. So, does Corey get the girl in the end? Well, that is what the film is all about!

CHOKESLAM is part of the Canadian Indie Film Series. The film has managed to snag preview screenings across Canada March 15th while opening widely across Canada on April the 7th. As the director is Canadian from Calgary, the film was chosen as the Closing Film of the Calgary International Film Festival.

The only ones ending chokeslammed are the audience. A good comedy should not be that difficult to pin down!



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Happy Birthday: Amanda Crew

amandacrew.jpgHappy Birthday actor Amanda Crew

Born: June 5, 1986 in Langley, British Columbia, Canada

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