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Holidays (2016)

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Holidays

holidaysposterStarring Kevin Smith, Lorenza Izzo, Seth Green, Clare Grant, Michael Gross

Directed by Kevin Smith, Gary Shore, Scott Stewart, Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, Sarah Adina Smith, Nicholas McCarthy, Adam Egypt Mortimer, Anthony Scott Burns


Trick or Treat, Ho-Ho-Ho, and Happy April Fools’ Day! Yes, it’s time again for another horror anthology film that explores the seamy dark underbelly of America’s most beloved holidays.

While I’ll admit I’m fairly fed up with this trend, Holidays is actually one of the better themed omnibus offerings, thanks in no small part to its cinematic feel and better-than-average casts. In the negative column is a forced artiness present in many of the stories, along with a too-cool-for school hipster sensibility from several of the directors. (Still, I’d rather watch cinematic nouvelle vague wannabes doing horror than the sloppily slapped together lowbrow stab-n-slab meets creaky comedy I’m usually subjected to.)

Holidays‘ directors are a collective of some of Hollywood’s most dastardly darlings, including Kevin Smith (Tusk), Gary Shore (Dracula Untold), Scott Stewart (Dark Skies), Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (Starry Eyes), Sarah Adina Smith (The Midnight Swim), Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact), Adam Egypt Mortimer (Some Kind of Hate) and Anthony Scott Burns (Darknet). Let’s break down the segments individually:

VALENTINE’S DAY
– Written and Directed by Dennis Widmyer & Kevin Kölsch
– Starring Madeline Coghlan, Savannah Kennick, and Rick Peters

When high school outcast (think: Carrie White, sans dialogue and pig’s blood) receives an encouraging gesture from her dive team coach on Valentine’s Day, she sets out to get him the perfect gift in return… no matter what the cost. Predictable, but well-made.

ST. PATRICK’S DAY
– Written and Directed by Gary Shore
– Starring Ruth Bradley, Isolt McCaffrey, and Peter Campion

After accepting a tormented trinket from a student, teacher Elizabeth discovers she is pregnant with a something not human. Despite her initial horror, Elizabeth decides to give birth, even if it kills her. Taking place in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day focuses on the Paganist aspects of the legend of the Saint, making him sinister and spooky for the intent and purpose of this tiny tale of terror. The acting is excellent; the story isn’t.

EASTER
– Written and Directed by Nicholas McCarthy
– Starring Ava Acres, Petra Wright, and Mark Steger

A little girl questions the meaning of Easter while being put to bed by her mother with yet another fairy tale. Struggling to explain the celebratory notion of the holiday, mother only adds to daughter’s confusion. That evening as the holiday looms, the girl’s worst fears are realized when a horrifying hybrid of Jesus and the Easter Bunny comes to visit.

MOTHER’S DAY
– Written and Directed by Sarah Adina Smith
– Starring Sophie Traub, Aleksa Palladino, Sheila Vand, Jennifer Lafleur, and Sonja Kinski

A freaky fertility story, Mother’s Day tells the tale of Kate, a cursed young lady who gets pregnant every time she has sex. Every time. Birth control is useless, and abortion is her only course. No doctor or specialist has been able to figure out why this happens, until she attends a fertility ceremony in the high desert, led by a shaman. This is one of those high-minded parables that paints itself into a high concept corner and goes nowhere.

FATHER’S DAY
– Written and Directed by Anthony Scott Burns
– Starring Jocelin Donahue and Michael Gross

After the two weakest stories back-to-back, comes one of the strongest. Holidays thankfully redeems itself with Father’s Day. Meet Carol, a young lady who grew up without a father. According to her mother, her dad passed away when she was very little. But is that the truth? It’s Father’s Day now, and a mysterious package has been dropped off on Carol’s doorstep. Inside, she finds a tape recorder from the early 80s. After replacing aged batteries, she presses the PLAY button… and hears a message from her “daddy” that he recorded many years ago. Unable to quell her curiosity, Carol embarks on a journey down memory lane that results in a reunion that is equally frightening and thought-provoking.

HALLOWEEN
– Written and Directed by Kevin Smith
– Starring Ashley Greene, Olivia Roush, Harley Quinn Smith, Harley Morenstein, and Shelby Kemper

When three webcam girls living under the roof and iron fist of their employer, Ian, have finally had enough with the demoralizing conditions in which they’ve been forced to live, they decide to take control of the house. However, their method of revenge borders on insanity. Here’s another one that starts off with an interesting premise but devolves into a disappointing mess. Also, it’s not really Halloween-themed at all.

CHRISTMAS
– Written and Directed by Scott Stewart
– Starring Seth Green and Clare Grant

Pete is tasked with buying the year’s hottest toy for his son’s Christmas present – the uVu, a virtual reality gadget. When Pete misses the chance to buy the last available uVu in town by seconds, he makes a questionable choice to acquire it. When Christmas arrives, Pete finds the uVu haunting him with visions of his misdeeds but, in his attempts to hide them, discovers that his wife, Sara, has even darker secrets of her own. Fans of “Black Mirror” will love Christmas. While it’s very good – and Seth Green is great – it’s hardly revelatory.

NEW YEAR’S EVE
– Written by Dennis Widmyer & Kevin Kölsch
– Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer
– Starring Lorenza Izzo and Andrew Bowen

New Year’s Eve turns into the worst first date ever when lonely girl Jean accepts a dinner invitation from an awkward (and, oops!, psychotic) sad sack whose last relationship ended in murder. This is one of the best of the bunch, ending the Holidays anthology on a high – and gory – note.

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User Rating 3.25 (12 votes)
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Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product

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DesolationStarring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols

Directed by Sam Patton


I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.

The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.

So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”

As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.

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2.5

Summary

Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.

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User Rating 2.95 (19 votes)
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Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political

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Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside

Directed by Eitan Gafny

Reviewed out of Utopia 2017


Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.

Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.

Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.

The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.

The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.

So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.

Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.

The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.

Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.

  • Children of the Fall
2.5

Summary

While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.

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User Rating 3.27 (22 votes)
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Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama

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Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein

Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker

Reviewed out of Utopia 2017


One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.

The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.

Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.

The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.

While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.

All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.

  • Madam Yankelova's Fine Literature Club
3.5

Summary

Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.

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User Rating 3.45 (20 votes)
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