Saturday, October 17, 2020

Possessor (2020)


Director: Brandon Cronenberg

Notable Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean

 

When Brandon Cronenberg exploded on the scene with his debut feature-length film, Antiviral, he firmly launched a bright red flare into the night sky. I am here. The Cronenberg name is in good hands. However, the length of time between that film and his latest, Possessor, stated something else. Perhaps the strength of that debut was a fluke? Now that Possessor has found a small, but dedicated theatrical release through Neon and Well Go USA, it becomes apparent that the time between films was worth it. Possessor is an incredible piece of in-depth, harrowing cinema. It’s a film where the intensity of its atmosphere is only matched by its bursts of abrasive violence and stark visuals. Brandon Cronenberg has delivered a modern horror film that matches some of the best work of his father, a true high-water mark, and Possessor is truly a statement film.

 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Fantastic Fest 2020: Bloodthirsty (2020)


Director: Amelia Moses

Notable Cast: Lauren Beatty, Greg Bryk, Katharine King So, Michael Ironside

 

Well, it took a bit longer than expected, but now we have it. Werewolf films are, at least in the opinion of this reviewer, something of a repetitive subgenre. When the execution is there, the films can be a wonderful use of metaphor or representation for social and character-driven elements, but the overall repeated focus of lycanthropy as a physical manifestation of an interior force gets a bit tiresome after a while. When it’s good, boy howdy, is it good, but too often films in the genre are all bark and very little bite. Yet, this is the perfect time in horror cinema to partner the werewolf transformation with character-driven artistry. Bloodthirsty has no qualms in bounding right into it. Fortunately, the execution of the film is remarkably strong with plenty of atmosphere to choke on and the focus on characters makes for an effective watch. It’s a slow film though and its minimal approach to its werewolf elements skirts around delivering on some of its promises. Still, Bloodthirsty is the perfect film for the atmosphere and art driven focus of the current scene.

 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Mile High Horror Film Festival 2020: The Cleansing Hour (2020)


Director: Damien LaVeck

Notable Cast: Ryan Guzman, Kyle Gallner, Alix Angelis, Chris Lew Kum Hoi, Daniel Hoffman-Gill, Emma Holzer

 

Since the release of The Exorcist, the number of exorcism films released has been astounding. The waves of popularity in the genre comes and goes with the tides, but often it’s just a retread of the same concepts, plots, characters, and ideas. Occasionally there are some intriguing slants to the proceedings, such as the weird South Korean exorcism meets Blade hybrid Divine Fury or strong execution to carry it like The Last Exorcism, but often times its simply an exorcise in exorcism that goes through motions. Then, of course, there’s The Cleansing Hour. It’s oddly a film with a meta-layered commentary about the redundancy and familiarity of the tropes where it feeds into its own formula with such an energetic and poppy manner that it comes off as, dare I say, charming. It’s often very familiar, but its strength comes from the chemistry of its characters along with a somewhat scathing observation about the nature of modern streaming entertainment. It’s a highly entertaining ‘demon fucks with people dumb enough to fuck with demons’ flick and it knows to play up the gimmicks with a sly smile even while working through the main points.

 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Jiang Ziya (2020)


Directors: Teng Cheng, Wei Li

Notable Cast: Zheng Xi, Yang Ning, Tute Hameng, Yan Meme, Hi Guanlin, Shan Xin

 

After the immense success of Ne Zha for Beijing Enlight Pictures, the studio was quick to unveil their follow up film, one in the same ‘cinematic universe,’ Jiang Ziya. In fact, the studio must have been so confident in the success of Ne Zha that this second film was meant to be unleashed only 7 months after its predecessor. Unfortunately, there was a, uh, pandemic that occurred, and Jiang Ziya’s February release was pushed back until October 1st for theaters. On the plus side of that, it’s completely and utterly worth the wait. Jiang Ziya is easily one of the best films of the year. Incredible animation imbues a challenging fantasy epic, beating with a heart of gold and told in such a gorgeous manner that I couldn't help but be completely encapsulated in its tale of redemption, deception, and defiance. This Fengshen Cinematic Universe might be one of the cornerstones of animation right now and this film, in particular, cements Beijing Enlight as one of the major players in quality cinema.

 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Mile High Horror Film Festival: Alone (2020)


Director: John Hyams

Notable Cast: Jules Willcox, Marc Menchaca, Anthony Heald

 

As a big fan of John Hyams, particularly after the incredibly underrated Universal Soldier films he crafted to reinvent the franchise as dark, philosophical, ultra-violent works of existential debates, the fact that he would tackle a survival thriller-horror had me all atwitter. With Alone, he strips down the genre to its bare minimum and then perfects it, hammering home the core emotional state of the situation rather than trying to slyly inject an asinine angle on it. Only in the hands of a talented cast with a viscerally subtle director could Alone work as well as it does, but Hyams brings together in an impactful manner that makes it one of the best films of the year.

 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Mile High Horror Film Festival 2020: Unearth (2020)


Directors: John C. Lyons, Dorota Swies

Notable Cast: Allison McAtee, Adrienne Barbeau, Marc Blucas, Brooke Sorenson, Rachel McKeon, PJ Marshall, Monica Wyche, Chad Conley

 

One of the big US premieres of Mile High Horror Film Festival, Unearth is aimed to make some indie horror waves in the community. Following in the steps of one of the popular movements in horror currently, which happens to be the slow burn and atmospheric horror that is often (and irritatingly) referred to as ‘elevated horror,’ there is a sense of message and purpose to the film that ought to ring strongly with those who align with this style. While there is not a lot of information or marketing out for the film at this point, making my usual analysis of the context in this opening paragraph a bit moot, keep the sense of artistic approach that directors Lyons and Swies use in mind as the industry preps to back the film for a bigger release in the future. Unearth is a film dripping with intriguing layers, naturalistic characters, and a wild last 20 minutes that ought to have Lovecraftian fans’ ears burning. On the other hand, it’s also one that takes its sweet, sweet time establishing the characters, plot, and stakes to get there – doubling down on the SLOW in slow burn.

 

FANTASTIC FEST 2020: Queen of Black Magic (2020)


Director: Kimo Stamboel

Notable Cast: Hannah Al Rashid, Ario Bayu, Adhisty Zara, Muzakki Ramdhan, Ari Irham, Ade Firman Hakim, Sheila Dara Aisha, Tanta Ginting, Miller Khan, Imelda Therinne, Salvita Decorte, Giulio Parengkuan, Shenina Cinnamon, Yayu A.W. Unru, Ruth Marini

 

When they announced that Kimo Stamboel’s solo directorial effort, Queen of Black Magic, would be one of the films I had the opportunity to watch at the virtual Fantastic Fest this year, my heart skipped a beat. Quite frankly, it was probably the film I was most eager to see. A loose remake of the 1981 bonkers horror classic, the combination of one of the Mo Brothers and writer (and fantastic director in his own right) Joko Anwar was easily a lethal combination that warrants excitement. To put it bluntly, Queen of Black Magic lives up to the expectations. It’s a raucous cinematic experience, powered by a potent balance of atmospheric tension, gag worthy gore, and effective bent narrative storytelling. For fans of either Kimo’s work, solo or with the Mo Brothers, or Joko Anwar, then Queen of Black Magic cannot be recommended enough.