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Sweatshop (2009)

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SweatshopReviewed by Nomad

Starring Ashley Kay, Peyton Wetzel, Brent Himes, Malanie Donihoo, Naika Malveaux

Directed by Stacy Davidson


Like it or not, we live in the age of the PG13 horror film where good looking kids get dispatched off camera with little fanfare and even less imagination. Add a little nipple to that equation; you get your solid R. It’s rare that we see these two elements mixed together, and rarer still when infused with a bit of vintage 90’s gonzo hack and slash, unflinching camera angles and a healthy sense of humor that doesn’t segue into slapstick. Such a beast is as mythical as the Pegicorn (unicorn Pegasus, natch), bigfoot or a mega pop star who never goes to rehab. In walks a little movie called Sweatshop, the Sid Vicious of horror films…nasty, dirty, unrestrained, hysterical and bloody as all hell.

The plot is a quickie. A pack of alterna-twenty somethings invade an empty, dilapidated warehouse set on transforming it into rave central for a party they’d already advertised on that same night. This is a hard drinking, obnoxious, punk-as-all-fuck hit squad installed with only the most basic of hardcore directives; that being sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. The film makers saw fit to toss in a dash of redneck, just to spice things up. Unfortunately, their advance team has already met sticky ends at the hands of an unseen, hulking force. None the wiser, our crew split off into teams to set things up for the event, get trashed, screw each other, uncover deep, dark secrets about each other… and get destroyed by a thing called “The Beast” and his freaky hench-sisters. The Beast wields a two ton hammer seemingly designed to turn a human body into cherry Slurpee. The best part of this plot? There’s no definitive moment where someone comes screaming to warn the rest of the crew, so our lumbering behemoth can take his time and catch his prey in optimal situations for creating a veritable Play-Doh fun factory of death.

To say this lot was type-cast is an understatement and I’d go one further to say several of them probably showed up in their own clothes. This lends a level of legitimacy to the whole production, allowing the crew to focus on executing an enjoyable enough story in between kills so brutal Eli Roth will be licking his TV screen. Mohawk guy plays the quintessential horny super-punk, looking like he stepped off a Casualties album cover and behaving as if he might hump an inanimate object at any moment. Just wind him up and set him loose. Of course, he’s given the funniest moments in the film, and rightly so. He pulls it all off with ease, as if not acting at all. Goth girl seems to slither from scene to scene using her sex appeal to create or enhance drama along the way. She’s mastered the art of using her eyes to mess someone up from across the room and looks like she enjoys that power every day. Fat dude injects an essential bit of sweaty large guy into this cast of the young and the beautiful. When he appears, he’s so authentic you’d swear you can smell Monster Truck Rally through the screen. The funny thing is, he is only slightly nastier than the rest of this motley crew and yet, it’s just enough to make him the default bad guy! That takes skill..and some crackerjack comedic timing. We’ve also got mini goth who may as well be the goth industrial version of Harley Quinn from Batman: The Animated Series. She prances around, shakes her ass and spits out lines that would make a lumberjack turn beat red…the kind of girl who is an awesome date until she talks you into doing something that causes you to shatter your leg in three places, then laughs her ass off at you until the ambulance comes, taunts you all the way to the hospital and then posts a video of it on Youtube. I think I may have dated her.

With Sweatshop, the carpet definitely matches the drapes in that the cinematography, scenery, actors and their outfits all make sense and work hand in hand to create a fully immersive, cohesive mini-universe. The run down warehouse looks as if untouched for years, containing all manor of implements on which a character might accidentally impale themselves on. To play off this “lesser” impending doom, the film is kept dark and dusty with non-obvious light sources and a high contrast finish. From room to room, this changes to gel with the feel of the scene. Again, these shifts make perfect sense to the tone of the moment and are extremely welcome.

If you were looking for a gut wrenching drama, this is not the party for you. Sweatshop is more like Gossip Girl set in Texas with a semi-psychotic Nine Inch Nails-inspired cast who smack each other before making out. When the crew isn’t trying to bone each other, they are getting slaughtered unmercifully giving you mixed feelings. On one hand, they are pretty damn funny, and you’d like to continue watching them self destruct. On the other, The Beast kills with a flair Leatherface would grin at, and we’d like to see more of that. The deciding factor comes down to the obnoxious levels you can tolerate. For me, this crew had JUST hit the redline on my “I’d like to backhand you” meter when they started dropping like flies. Good timing! This timing is not always good though, as some of the talkie-er scenes drone on and one dance scene in particular had me shifting in my seat. The film makers assure me this scene has since been trimmed a bit, so A-Men for that.

Beyond feeling slightly long and the obvious pitfalls of a low budget, I really can’t find anything more to complain about. The FX is handled in such a way that the low budget is either not evident or works with it to laughable ends, like some top notch Troma scene that has the whole room go “OHHHHHH!!! Noooooo” and wince in unison. Good good good times! I can see Sweatshop finding an audience within the punk/goth/industrial communities as they haven’t had a killer horror film since Return of the Living Dead. Die-hard horror fans will have a good time as they’ll notice where other horror films would have punked out already and appreciate the extra effort. A horror fan can tell the work of another horror fan. As far as mocro-budget horror films go, it doesn’t get much better than this. Solid story telling, good pacing, insanely gorey FX and hot ladies in tight lil outfits. Oh yes..and boobs (for those who mark that as a win win). What’s not to like? Let’s hope this one gets awesome distribution so you can see it soon and not 5 years from now.

4 out of 5

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Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions

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Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa

Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa


During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.

Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).

What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.

While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.

Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.

While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.

With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.

  • Before We Vanish
4.0

Summary

Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.

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Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On

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Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston

Directed by Johnny Martin


When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.

Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.

Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.

 

  • Film
2.0

Summary

Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!

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Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility

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Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita

Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita


The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.

The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.

The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.

From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.

The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.

Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.

The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.

  • Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
2.0

Summary

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.

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