Friday, March 29, 2019

The Blood Splatter: Escape Room / Rust Creek (2019)


Director: Adam Robitel
Notable Cast: Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis, Nik Dodani, Kenneth Fok, Yorick van Wageningen

After the cult status that The Taking of Deborah Logan reached quickly within horror circles, director Adam Robitel almost immediately became a name to watch. When his second film, the fourth Insidious feature, became a box office hit, it seemed as though Robitel was not some kind of one trick pony. He had style, a knack for creating tension, and horror fans were willing to stand by his work. His latest film, Escape Room, looked to be Sony’s next bid for a yearly horror franchise in terms of both mainstream appeal and fantastic gimmick. With Robitel at the helm, there was a great chance that they might be able to pull it off even if the concept seems a bit eye-rolling on the surface.

If anything, Escape Room not only makes a strong statement for a new yearly horror franchise with its Cube inspired puzzle meets trap solving exercises and its fantastic use of an ensemble cast, but it allows Robitel and company make a highly entertaining film to stand on its own. Most of this is due to the impressive use of sets and the director’s knack for creating tension and suspenseful thrills out of some of the most asinine scripting elements. While the overall world building, about a secret organization that has seemingly brought together six strangers to survive increasingly strange and outlandish Escape Rooms, is fairly ungrounded and occasionally formulaic for horror fans to experience, the execution brings it back home to sell the entire thing. There are multiple set pieces that are instantly memorable and Escape Room makes use of the concept impressively well. In particular, there is an ‘upside-down room’ sequence that is both fascinating to watch as the characters attempt to survive the traps and solve the puzzles, but it’s shot in a way that’s wholly disorienting and fascinatingly well-paced. Throw in some rather stock, but fun characters to watch as they try to navigate their own past assumptions about everything and one another and we have a highly entertaining horror film runs with its strengths.

Considering the decent box office and threaded plotting for a sequel, Escape Room is primed for the franchise it was obviously crafted to kick off. Although the film leans towards fringe horror than anything, since it shies away form showing the violence and instead focuses on the fun visuals and thrills of its pacing, this is a franchise that I am more than willing to follow. Particularly if Robitel stays on board to direct. It sounds like both are going to be happening, so you know that I will be in the theater next year when it comes out.


Director: Jen McGowan
Notable Cast: Hermione Corfield, Jay Paulson, Sean O’Bryan, Micah Hauptman, Jeremy Glazer, Daniel R. Hill, John Marshall Jones, Denise Dal Vera, Laura Guzman, Virginia Schneider

IFC Midnight did a great job of marketing Rust Creek when it first premiered, using the strong initial reviews of the film to spin a campaign that the film was the first great indie survival horror film of the year. In a way, they aren’t wrong. Rust Creek is a fantastic film. It has a great sense of grounded reality to some great performances, the tension is tight and effective, and the film loves to play with its audience in its narrative. However, calling it survival horror might be a stretch. Now before I get lambasted with people pulling the genre card on me, I keep a pretty open mind to what horror cinema can be interpreted as. While the film certainly uses some survival horror elements, particularly in the first act, it’s pretty light and definitely on the very outskirts of the genre. It’s just fair warning for those who might carry in the wrong expectations. If I was to label it anything, I would call Rust Creek a brilliant dark thriller.

With that bit of context out of the way, Rust Creek is able to dig its heels into its concept and deliver some truly intense and surprisingly thoughtful cinema. It very much starts off as though it’s going to be the survival horror that it was marketed as, when our young heroine finds herself lost in the backwoods and two crass and creepy guys try to take advantage of her. The resulting survival sequence, with her in the woods on the run from these two guys looking to make sure she stays lost, is of the usual variety. It’s impeccably well made though as it doubles down on the reality of the situation starts to build its characters through it. However, Rust Creek is not content in staying in the formula and starts to deviate quite a bit in the second half to some surprising results. It plays on the audiences’ expectations, layers in a bit of more traditional thriller elements, and never pulls away from the characters. To give too much more away would be detrimental to the experience, but the choices that director McGowan makes, the strong and nuanced performances, along with how the tension and pops of thrills unfold make it quite the impressive watch.

Although Rust Creek will probably still fly under the radar as the year goes on because it refuses to sell itself out to wild style or gimmicks, it should be one that genre fans should check out. It’s realism, performances, and strong detailed direction make it a sleeper hit in quality for the year. Rust Creek comes highly recommended.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, March 25, 2019

Us (2019)

Director: Jordan Peele
Notable Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Cali Sheldon, Noelle Sheldon, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop

Jordan Peele, quite frankly, came in and busted modern horror wide open in a lot of ways. His debut, the Academy Award winning socio-political satire horror film Get Out, was a massive surprise hit with critics, fans, and box office. Whether one likes the film as much as I did is almost irrelevant. The film was a cultural phenomenon. This leaves a big question mark for a follow up. Although Get Out was often referred to as a ‘social thriller’ or some other bullshit genre as more discerning fans refused to stake it as a horror film, it was very clear from the outset that his sophomore effort, Us, was going to be HORROR in all caps. Still, that question mark loomed over it. Could his second effort be as provocative while maintaining that sense of respect to the horror community and history that Peele so obviously feels? In many ways, it absolutely does. Us is able to spark a thoughtful and layered commentary. The film is loaded with symbolism and detailed nuance to some of its vague narrative elements. It’s also a film that emphatically embraces the horror genre. It’s brutal, intense, and quite suspenseful to boot. If anything, Peele must have seen the that looming question mark and decidedly brushed it aside, refusing to play that game. Us is another horror cinema statement and easily sets the benchmark for the year.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Til Madness do Us Part (2013)

Director: Wang Bing

Yunnan, located in the Southwestern region of China, is home to a large multi story complex that is the infrastructure of a mental institution, where we focus on just one of what appears to be many floors. Here, the many tenants seem to follow no law nor is there any sort of authoritative happenings going on in order to help guide these residents about on their daily livings. Instead, these poor souls are just set loose within the confines of the building, well the floor in which they reside, and are free to roam wherever and do whatever they see fit. Chaos runs amuck here, and Wang Bing's relentless following camera captures the sad reality of a system that cares not of its own subjects.

Til Madness do Us Part is a work that left me completely speechless when the credits finally began rolling after four heartbreaking and infuriating hours. I was set to do reviews spanning numerous works of Wang's, but after sitting through them, and this one in particular, I found myself exhausted and at a severe loss for words. His filmmaking and the realities in which he reveals in such a staggeringly raw manner, admittedly make it really hard to just start speaking about them afterwards.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Triple Threat (2019)

Director: Jesse V. Johnson
Notable Cast: Tony Jaa, Scott Adkins, Iko Uwais, Tiger Chen, Michael Jai White, Celina Jade, Michael Bisping, Jeeja Yanin, Ron Smoorenburg, Monica Mok

Hype can be a challenging thing for a film. As soon as Triple Threat was announced, the hype was already at maximum. Between the impressive ensemble cast, the director, and the general tone that immediately came with it, Triple Threat was immediately an action fan dream – particularly from the martial arts variety. Even with all of that riding along for the journey, including how long the film was taking to get a release in the US, Triple Threat is a massive action cinema treat. It looks hype in the eye, says “talk, talk, talk” and then knocks its lights out. The fact remains, even with some smaller issues that arise here and there, that Triple Threat delivers on its promises. It has bigger than life characters, a wildly efficient plot, and enough action to shake the foundations of cinema. It’s a film that certainly gears what it does towards its distinctive audience, for better or worse, but for someone like myself I could not have had a better time watching the film.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Hard Way (2019)

Director: Keoni Waxman
Notable Cast: Michael Jai White, Luke Goss, Randy Couture, Madalina Anea, Grant Campbell, George Remes, Ovidiu Niculescu, Andreea Diac, Michaela Holla

In a strange way, I felt a lot of hype for The Hard Way. Weird, huh? It’s a straight to home video (Netflix this time around!) action film with a very limited budget, a generic plot, and almost no marketing behind it. There are two things that intrigued me. Firstly, the cast is stellar for low budget action fans. Having Michael Jai White team up with Luke Goss is gold in terms of second tier action. Both of these guys deserve their own A-list franchises, but until that happens, we have to appreciate their screen stealing abilities in films like The Hard Way. Secondly, the film is directed by Keoni Waxman. If you look through some of my previous reviews for films from this director, you will see that I often give him the benefit of the doubt for making watchable films around all of the issues of having Steven Seagal as a lead. This is his first action film without Aikido Dracula in like a decade. That’s also exciting.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Unity of Heroes (2019)

Director: Lin Zhenzhao
Notable Cast: Vincent Zhao, Michael Tong, Wei Ni, Li Lubing, Li Bing-Yuan, Chen Chen

If I were being truthful to myself, I would say I was anxious going into The Unity of Heroes. The film felt like it was heavily reliant on nostalgia for fans of the Wong Fei-Hung films from the 90s, in particular the films of the Once Upon a Time in China series, and I wasn’t sure that was going to be enough to carry the film. Thus, I was cautious going in and just went in to have a fun time. This is how I would suggest anyone watching the film go into it. If you do, then you could very well find quite a bit of enjoyment. The Unity of Heroes is hardly a great film, but it’s one that wears its influences proudly on its sleeves and wants its audience to have a good time with the film more than anything. While it’s not a film full of substance or the layered thoughtfulness that made the Once Upon a Time in China films iconic, it does entertain and have fun with its story and characters. That’s worth something, right?

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Greta (2019)

Director: Neil Jordan
Notable Cast: Chloƫ Grace Moretz, Isabelle Huppert, Maika Monroe, Colm Feore, Stephen Rea, Zawe Ashton

Greta is the kind of film that sneaks up on a person. Most mid-level films have been relegated to straight to streaming in a lot of ways, but this one certainly had just enough star power in to it garner that wide theatrical release. Still, it’s not like director Neil Jordan is a household name at this point and so it’s not that shocking to see that even with its wide release it struggled to find its footing and audience. Particularly when the film itself is a substantially mixed experience. However, despite its own issues, Greta is the kind of film that has a weird ace in its sleeve for the third act and it saves the film from being a wholly forgettable and formulaic experience.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Captain Marvel (2019)

Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Notable Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Lashana Lynch, Annette Bening, Gemma Chan, Clark Gregg, Lee Pace

It’s that time of year again. That’s right, it’s the first Marvel film to hit the big screen for the year (with two more on the way by the time July rolls around) and with it comes the usual banter about the substance and quality of the superhero genre takeover of the box office. This first film of 2019 belongs to Captain Marvel, a film that Disney and Marvel seemingly pushed forward as scrutiny from its dedicated fanbase began to criticize the juggernaut company for taking so long to produce a female lead superhero flick. It’s not often that the live action DC films beat Marvel to the punch, but in this case they did. Still, there was a lot of momentum going into Captain Marvel. Not only was this their first female lead film, but it was riding on the coat tails of a highlight year for the company. In 2018, both Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War came out blazing to massive box office numbers and incredible critic and fan praise. Hell, the former even won a couple of Oscars and was nominated for one in the best picture category. Ant-Man and the Wasp aside, which came and went with little in the way of punch and pizzazz, that’s some huge momentum going into Captain Marvel and it was going to have a lot to live up to in terms of quality and expectation.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Lady Detective Shadow (2019)

Director: Si Shu-bu
Notable Cast: Shang Ring, Qi Jing-bin, Zhang Pei-yue, Zhang Ren-bo, Qiu Yun-he

Like most cult cinephiles, I am a sucker for specific subgenres of film. One of which is wuxia films. Good, bad, weird, boring, if it’s a wuxia film I’m willing to take a swing at it with my time. This is how Lady Detective Shadow came into my viewing queue. Quite frankly, this is a film that somehow went under my radar for quite some time and now it’s getting a US release. Naturally, it needed to end up on my watch list. Now, for more discerning fans unlike myself, it’s probably best to go into Lady Detective Shadow with a grain of salt. The film is low budget, showing those concerns in a variety of ways as it attempts to coat itself in early 2000s style rather than taking time to lift its wuxia elements up. The film is also incredibly cheesy. However, keep in mind that it is a made for TV film. It’s still a fun film that attempts to take its audience into its world with a plethora of gimmicky characters, some silly humor, and anchors much of its success on its lead, titular character. It’s not a film that’s going to blow most of its audience away, but Lady Detective Shadow has its fair share of entertainment and wuxia fans may enjoy some of what it has to offer.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

So Dark the Night (1946)

Director: Joseph H. Lewis
Notable Cast: Steven Geray, Micheline Cheirel, Eugene Borden, Ann Codee, Egon Brecher, Helen Freeman, Brother Theordore, Gregory Gaye

When it comes to digging into cinema, I tend to overlook too many films prior to the 1960s. Mostly because there is so much to dig into that sometimes its hard to know where to start. For that, I usually depend on outside sources to guide my purchases. One of them being collector’s distribution labels like Arrow Academy. When it was announced they would be releasing a Blu Ray for Lewis’ crime noir film So Dark the Night, I was ecstatic. Lewis had his fair share of impressive films under his belt and this film has garnered quite the cult status over the years as an overlooked gem of both his career and the genre. With that in mind, it’s somewhat perplexing that it took time for this film to build its momentum. It certainly deserves the serious praise it receives for its unique blend of style and detail that is built into what might have been a lesser B-grade film. It’s not a reach to understand why, at the time, the film may have been overlooked, but with the always teaching hindsight and context So Dark the Night is the kind of film that absolutely deserves a Blu Ray release of this stature.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

The Fifth Cord (1971)

Director: Luigi Bazzoni
Notable Cast: Franco Nero, Silvia Monti, Pamela Tiffin, Wolfgang Preiss, Ira von Furstenberg, Edmund Purdom, Maurizio Bunuglia, Rossella Falk, Renato Romano

Arrow Video has become a destination home for classic giallo films to find a new life for collectors. This intention was a statement that the company made very early on when they started distributing titles. Whether it’s the wildly known classics, the schlocky exploitative films, or the artsy fringe films, when Arrow announces the release of a new giallo title, it’s reason enough to get excited. Most recently Arrow grabbed a handful of giallo fan favorites and their latest is the Luigi Bazzoni directed film, The Fifth Cord. Now, this is a film that I found to be, at least in the cinephile circles that I interact with, a very well-regarded film. Not one that is often brought up in conversation like some of the other classics, but one that certainly had earned the respect of the fans. The way that The Fifth Cord is regarded by fans might be the best way to describe the film too. Although the film has some fantastic elements to it, executed in a means that pulls the mundane murder mystery script well up into the upper echelons of the genre, it’s also a film that doesn’t necessarily make a huge splash in style that would garner the bigger audience of people referencing it. Still, even as the film plays things more grounded, it does it in such a fantastic manner that it’s a wonder it’s not referenced more as a cornerstone of the genre.