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Last Girl Standing (2016)

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Last Girl Standing

Last Girl StandingStarring Akasha Villalobos, Danielle Evon Ploeger, Brian Villalobos, JD Carrera, Ryan Hamilton

Directed by Benjamin Moody


Every year at Texas Frightmare Weekend there’s one movie that screens that stands above the others. One film, frequently a premiere, that’s just better than the rest. In 2016 that movie is Last Girl Standing.

It’s a difficult film to describe.  The setup is simple enough: After a traditional slasher film, what happens to the “final girl?” We’ve seen that answer in sequels; she usually winds up dead.  What would happen, though, if she exited the world of the standard 80’s-style slasher and went into the real world, where PTSD and survivor trauma were real?

That’s what first-time (?!?) writer/director Ben Moody brings us with Last Girl Standing.  I’d say it mostly registers as a thriller, but it’s also very much a character drama.  It’s a very bold step, especially when making what is definitely a horror film, but Moody nails the goal precisely.  Camryn (Villalobos) survives The Hunter, who murdered all of her friends in the woods as part of a failed ritual.  Five years later, though, she’s barely surviving.  You can’t call it living.  She works a menial job, avoids contact as much as possible, and is plagued by never-ending nightmares and flashbacks.

A new employee at her job causes her to reach out to another human as the five-year anniversary of the killings hits and she starts experiencing mysterious attacks that suggest the killer may not be dead.

That explains the “thriller” side of the film, and had Moody relied on that plot alone, he’d still have a good film.  What makes this a brilliant film, though, is that he doesn’t.  We’re taken inside Camryn’s world as she starts to come out of hiding and lets other people in.  She meets a kindred soul in Danielle, one of a group of friends she becomes a part of, and this leads her to confront her fears.  She survived The Hunter; can she survive herself?

What follows is nothing short of genius which hearkens back to Ripley in Alien and even Zach Snyder’s Sucker Punch.  Whose story is this?  What are we really watching?

The heart of this movie is in how it treats and displays survivors of trauma.  Unfortunately, I am married to a survivor of trauma and know many others, and in Camryn and Danielle, the reality is portrayed perfectly.  The constant struggle, the effort required to just get on with things… it’s all there.  I have to call out the performance of San Antonio’s own Danielle Evon Ploeger as Danielle, specifically.  Camryn is the lead and has all the fireworks, but Danielle’s story, though quieter, catches the viewer by surprise and just guts you with empathy.  We know what Camryn went though… we see it.  All we see of Danielle’s suffering is what she shares with Camryn in a moment of quiet conversation.  It leaves you heartbroken, as Danielle seems to have it all together and is doing well.  It’s extremely powerful stuff by writer/director and actress, and I still get goosebumps just thinking about it.

A story I have to share about the screening: Right before the third act there was a problem with the disc, and the movie froze.  I’ve only seen a crowd close to a riot bigger than this once or twice.  People were engaged and openly upset that they may not be able to see the end of the film.  When they got the problem fixed, there was a cheer worthy of an NFL title game.  This is a jaded, hardcore horror crowd, mind you. The film is just that strong.

While it seems this one was made for $5 and the goodwill of friends, it absolutely doesn’t look it.  I had no idea it was a micro-budget movie until after the screening, and I was shocked.  This is a solid, professionally made film.  Outside of the standout leads, a couple of the background characters have uneven performances, but it’s nothing that throws you out of the film.  Even the gore effects are solid.  My only real complaint is minor: The Hunter design is a little goofy.  I get what they were trying to do – make the slasher part of the story as traditional and silly as always and then throw you into reality for maximum shock, but the jackalope mask is a bit much.  He’s a menacing slasher and effective for what he needs to do, but damn… those antlers.  Just sayin’.

Last Girl Standing is an incredible debut from Moody.  He’s given us a touching character study that manages to satisfy fans of drama.  When things go bad, and they do go bad, he satisfies horror fans just as much. It’s a tight, touching, intense thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat.

One last tip: Do NOT Google this movie.  There are some big spoilers sitting out there in text and images. This is definitely one of those films that’s best experienced cold, like I did.

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Us and Them Review – Fantastic Acting Bolsters a Tense Standoff

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Starring Jack Roth, Andrew Tiernan, Tim Bentinck, Sophie Colquhoun

Written by Joe Martin

Directed by Joe Martin


The age old debate of “Is this movie actually horror?” has been around for decades and will probably carry on for the rest of eternity. As Kristy Puchko recently tweeted, “Just because you think it’s also art doesn’t mean it’s not horror. It just means your definition of “horror” is too damn narrow.” Horror should be able to cast a wide net, just as films in the comedy and drama genres are able to. Where that goes awry is when a film simply doesn’t know its own identity, as is the case with Joe Martin’s feature-length directorial debut Us and Them.

The film follows Danny (Roth), a young man struggling in his lower class status and bristling with untapped rage at the 1% who use the downtrodden as footstools for their enterprises. Hatching a plan with his pals Tommy and Sean to break into the home of a wealthy banker, that scheme quickly becomes unraveled as thread after thread beings unraveling from the original tapestry. Determined but without a Plan B, Danny attempts to use the opportunity to drive home a message to the masses via social media to show that the 99% need to rise up against the 1% and create, as he says, some consistency. But as tensions arise within Danny, Tommy, and Sean, it’s questionable whether or not the night will end in triumphant rebellion or sadistic revenge.

Clocking in at a lean 83 minutes, Us and Them doesn’t waste any time getting straight to the point. Within the first few minutes, we’re already deep mix and ready to watch Danny take on the “man”, to see him wage war against the establishment. But as the film goes on, his mission begins to feel empty as his lack of a plan is mirrored by the misdirection of his anger towards a family that, for all intents and purposes, might be snobbish but haven’t been shown to hurt anyone personally.

This resulting conflict then raises questions about the greater fight that Danny has decided to undertake and champion. Who is the real villain of this story? Who is the hero? Who are we even supposed to care one bit about? While Danny spouts on and on about the injustices of the world, his tortuous methods are cruel and manipulative, undermining his own self-righteousness.

Us and Them practically screams its Ritchie, Tarantino, and de Palma influences. From split screen scenes to “hip” and “cool” licensed background music, Martin clearly wants to be seen in the same realm. The problem is that his script leaps around with reckless abandon in an attempt to overly explain the simple story instead of finding ways to break it into new and exciting territory.

Despite these issues, it must be said that the performances are fantastic across the board. Roth shines as Danny, torn by his own personal griefs that can easily draw sympathy, while Bentinck’s almost frothing, slobbering disdain splashes across the screen. Even with only a few lines each, both Colquhoun as Phillipa and Carolyn Backhouse, who plays her mother, Margaret, revel in their terror. And while I have my critiques about the violence Danny inflicts, I cannot deny that it is brutal and makes for a squeamish experience. Martin milks every drop of the family’s fear to great effect.

While Us and Them comes at a time when financial inequality is undeniably an issue, the film loses its purpose just as it fails to cement itself as a heist thriller, a horror home invasion, or even a black comedy. Its unwillingness to embrace any, or even all, of these genres makes it a lacking film experience.

  • Us and Them
2.5

Summary

Us and Them is anchored by stellar performances, Roth especially, but it can’t decide what it wants to be or whom it wants to champion.

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SockMonster Short Film Review – The Day The Laundry Fought Back

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Starring Briana Evigan, Derek Mears, Soso Bianchi

Directed by Wesley Alley


While some might detest the prospect of doing laundry, I personally find it quite therapeutic – the act of separating the whites from the colors, the perfect amount of detergent to spruce up that awkwardly funky favorite shirt of yours, and then there’s the dryer…a beast all its own. Too long a cycle will have your garments shrunken down to the point where they could become a fashion accessory for a chihuahua – too short will have them wet, wrinkled and limp to the touch, kind of like grandma tucked away in the basement – okay, forget that last part. But what if one day, your laundry had just enough of your shit and decided to strike back in blinding semblance?

Enter Wesley Alley’s short film, SockMonster – produced by Darren Lynn Bousman, this 4 minute front-row seat to “laundrycide” if you will stars Briana Evigan as a grieving woman who looks longingly into the tumbling cylinder of her cellar dryer, almost as if something of hers has gone missing. Crouched on a cold-slab cement floor, she awaits for the door to open as soon as the appliance has run its course…and the results are less than spring-fresh. Alley’s direction coupled with the horror know-how of Bousman all add up to a seriously fun few minutes, and toss in the towering, menacing form of one Derek Mears, and you’ve got yourself an insanely concocted quickie that only has one glaring negative – it’s too damn short! Overall, I can’t recommend this one enough to those wanting a little blood with their bleach…just make sure to use the appropriate amount of stain-lifter, or that shit will NEVER come out.

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4.0

Summary

Hate doing the wash? Well, maybe for one hot minute did you think about how much your wash hates you right back?

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Who Goes There Podcast: Ep159 – Demons at the Door

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For the last year, Producer Shane has been bugging the shit out of us to give him a “Producer Shane Pick”. After doing everything in our power to get him to forget about “his pick” Shane got his wish. This week we’re discussing 2004’s Demons at the Door, a movie who’s entire soundtrack is provided by none other than the Insane Clown Posse. Yup, it’s gonna be one of those shows!

You think you’ve got what it takes? I’ve been guarding my gate for a long time, bitch. It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 159!

If you like what you hear, please consider joining our Patreon subscribers. For less than the cost of a beer, you get bonus content, exclusive merchandise, special giveaways, and you get to help us continue doing what we love.

The Who Goes There Podcast is available to subscribe to on iTunes right here. Not an iTunes user? You can listen on our Dread Central page. Can’t get enough? We also do that social media shit. You’ll find us on FacebookTwitterInstagramTwitch, and YouTube.

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