Starring Ziad Abaza, Reece Noi, Darren Morfitt, Ewen MacIntosh
Written and directed by Dan Pringle
K-Shop is a gritty and satirical urban horror film. It is a damning social commentary on a demographic of people in Britain, and their contemptible behavior when participating in the country’s binge drinking culture. It is darkly humorous at times, but mostly plays it straight; its true to life depiction is frighteningly accurate, and depressingly relevant. Being British myself, I can confirm this. Its imagery is gruesome, as it takes inspiration from the old Victorian tale and London urban legend of Sweeney Todd, giving it a Kebab shop spin. As its tagline says – “You are what you eat.”
The structure of the narrative is divided into a prologue and thirteen sections, each with its own chapter heading.
When his kebab shop owner father is killed in an altercation with a group of drunken yobs, sociology student Salah (Ziad Abaza) is forced to run the shop on his own. Struggling to cope with the rowdy nightlife on his doorstep, mostly coming out of a newly opened nightclub that has quickly grown popular, it eventually leads to a fight with an intoxicated angry customer that ends fatally. Not having faith in the law, Salah disposes of the body using his expertise – by chopping up it up, and turning into doner kebab meat.
This gives Salah the taste for the kill, and the combination of the grief of losing his father, and the constant verbal and physical abuse he is subjected to, sends him right over the edge into the dark abyss with the want for revenge. When the source of his meat supplies cannot provide, he finds the answer by killing two birds with one stone. Dealing out vigilante justice on the plague of drunks constantly turning up at his shop for their drunken munches, he stocks up on their flesh for his tasty new recipe. The unique flavor makes for a booming business, keeping the boozed up undesirables coming back for more… and to often meet grisly ends.
Making his debut feature – writer, director and editor, Dan Pringle, creates the authenticity of these sordid proceedings of alcohol abuse. Set in a nameless seaside town, and filmed entirely on location on the streets of Bournemouth, Dorset, on the South Coast of England, there are montages of shots consisting of fly-on-the-wall footage, giving a candid insight into the town’s real nightlife over the weekends… and it is not a pretty sight. All the primal knuckle-dragging anti-social behavior is here – the fighting, the shouting, the staggering about, the passing out, the public sex, the urinating, and the vomiting. This punctuates the fictional story set against this backdrop, emphasizing upon the filthy realism of it all.
The solid cast all turn in immensely effective performances. The lead, Abaza, effortlessly carries the film with such conviction as the brooding, damaged, and unhinged, Salah, showing a lot of maturity for such a young actor with a limited filmography under his belt. He has made the smooth transition from a bit part in just last year’s James Bond blockbuster Spectre, as “Train Barman”, to the lead in a low-budget independent feature with impressive production values. The characters the supporting players portray, successfully antagonize us, as we long to see these boozy low life thugs get their comeuppance. It makes for cringe making viewing as well, especially if you are a Brit like myself, to see this disgusting binge drinking culture come realistically to life right in front of you.
While the actions Salah takes in order to tackle these hideously stupid people is extreme, and while we might not agree with these acts of bloody violence, his situation in having to deal with this bullshit night after night, is palatable, as we all have experienced the unpleasantness of these obnoxious and belligerent types under the influence of alcohol. Imagine these occasional encounters becoming a regular thing every night, and then you know where Salah is coming from. He is definitely an anti-hero, and we feel no sympathy for his wretched victims.
Much like Sweeny Todd, Salah struggles with his conscience, while rationalizing that what he is doing is logical and justified – in keeping his business going by recycling the corpses for stock, and at the same time, dealing out the justice. Although instead of becoming desensitized to it all, he actually becomes more sensitive, with the realization that his murderous war on the street scum, is not making his life any better. It shows Salah still has a humane side, despite the vengeful vigilante that has consumed him. This is an important component in making this anti-hero work; he is a complex and sympathetic protagonist.
Pringle also shows such maturity as a young filmmaker, with a genuine emotional lending to the material. In a truly inspired moment of pathos, Salah sympathizes with the most unlikeliest of people – a repulsive character and potential victim. Chained to the freezer in the shop’s basement, is the foul-mouthed and aggressive, Steve, played by the excellent Darren Morfitt (you might remember him as Spoon, in Neil Marshall’s 2002 modern werewolf classic Dog Soldiers). They both open up about their miserable childhoods as Steve’s father is dying in hospital. This is his weakness that has led to his wild partying to cover up his insecurities. Tender moments like this give the film heart; these scenes help to elevate it above being just geek show genre fare.
Local celebrity, Jason Brown (the convincingly loathsome, Scot Williams), is the main antagonist – the arrogant and flash former Big Brother winner turned nightclub owner. His popular nightclub is the cause of Salah’s problems, and after several years, Brown is opening an even bigger club. Pringle explores the dark side of British nightclub culture even further here. Brown is not only exploiting his clientele’s need for catharsis on the weekends after a long week’s work, he is also peddling drugs to them. The character also highlights Britain’s problem with racism on ethnic minorities. He gives a disturbing monologue to Salah in the climax, about he thinks immigrants are jealous of how British people are able to have a “good time” as “his kind” are incapable of having one. Brown embodies the social ugliness in Britain’s culture. He also being an ex-reality TV star is no coincidence either.
The gore SFX is realistic and there are generous amounts of it. The director knows to show just enough though that it does not become gratuitous, as it is always relative to the story giving it a brutal and uncompromising vision. The basement where the murders take place is suitably grimy.
This is far from being a perfect film though. Salah’s transformation from a bookish university student burdened with running the family business, to a killer of vile binge drinkers, somewhat just happens with an abrupt flip of the script. He just snaps and turns nasty in not much time at all, and then there is a narrative jump of several years, having spent all this time trying to clear up the streets of this alcohol-filled vermin. This is disappointing, as it would have been far more interesting if there were more character development in watching the dark evolution of this tragic character. With a 115-minutes runtime, screen time could have been made for this.
Instead, there is a sub-plot seemingly heading in the direction of a romance between Salah and a kindred spirit – Sarah (Kristin Atherton) – but sadly, it goes nowhere. It is interesting while it lasts, but it is strangely dropped in the last act with no resolve. This was either how the screenplay was written, or scenes ended up the cutting room floor. Either way, this makes for frustrating viewing.
While flawed, K-Shop is a captivating film. It does for binge drinkers what James Watkins’ terrific 2008 Brit flick Eden Lake, did for hoodies. It might not be quite as good as that, but it is an intelligent and honest observation of the dark side of drinking culture that is bleak, horrific, intense, and emotive, with some black as coal humor that makes for a satisfyingly entertaining watch, all the way to its tragically ironic ending. It is an assuredly executed debut feature, showcasing the potential that gifted young filmmaker, Dan Pringle, has to go on to greater things.
Released in the UK this past summer, K-Shop has just had its US premiere at the NYC Horror Film Festival. An American distributor is to be announced.
Atlantic Rim: Resurrection Review – The #MechToo Movement Has Little Regard for the Ladies
Directed by Jared Cohn
WARNING: This review does contains spoilers! It’s also a review of an Asylum mockbuster of Pacific Rim: Uprising so I’m not really sure it matters. You pretty much know what you’re getting. People inside giant robots punching giant monsters in the face. Sometimes shooting at them. Duh!
It truly is a bold creative decision in this era of #metoo to have the third act of your movie begin with two male characters, neither of whom has been shown piloting a giant robot previously, grounding the two female robot pilots by locking them in a room in order to go do their job for them and kill the giant monsters that have previously defeated the ladies. Oh, sure, there’s some “mechsplaining” as to how these two guys are sidelining the gals for their own well-being, but even then there’s something unintentionally hilarious about these fellas seemingly deciding to not even trust the women to succeed in what is tantamount to a suicide mission.
Not to mention that one of these young ladies has been infected, potentially fatally, by monster venom and hardly anyone seems terribly concerned about this.
But then I am talking about an Asylum production entitled Atlantic Rim: Resurrection about military officers and scientists piloting giant battle bots (that kind of look like 1980’s Tonka robot toys) to fight giant mutant crawdad-like creatures (that look like perfectly acceptable Ultraman foes) along the East Coast of the United States, even though the city being attacked looks suspiciously Californian. In fact, The Asylum website’s own plot synopsis seemingly forgot it was supposed to be set on the Atlantic seaboard and outright states the monsters are destroying Los Angeles. Their website also wrongly lists the film’s release date as February 15, 2017.
Keeping with those high Asylum standards of continuity, Atlantic Rim: Resurrection is The Asylum’s mockbuster sequel of the forthcoming Pacific Rim: Uprising, even though the original Atlantic Rim, released in 2013 to coincide with the original Pacific Rim, was actually distributed in North America under the alternate title Attack from Beneath for reasons I presume were to avoid matters of a litigious nature. Nonetheless, here’s a sequel with a very sequel-y sounding title despite most American viewers probably not knowing the previous film by that title.
And you know what? Absolutely none of that matters.
What matters is that this mockbuster follow-up finally answers one of the great scientific questions of our times: Robonet or Python – which neural operating system is the best for psychically synching Go! Go! Gobots! with their human operators? Or, as I found myself thinking after nearly 20+ minutes of technobabble that is truly more babble than techno, “Are they ever gonna shut up and punch a giant monster? I’m here to see big ugly monsters get face punched by big ugly robots, dammit!”
In the time it takes this sequel to finally get around to its first full-on robot vs. monster battle, the first Atlantic Rim had already seen more monster destruction and chaos, more molten hot robot on monster action, and far more entertaining scenes of a trio of monster-mashing robot pilots hanging out in bars getting plastered. The first had more of everything you would want from an Asylum knock-off of Pacific Rim about insubordinate alcoholics operating giant robots to save the East Coast from gargantuan sea dragons. Despite the main scientist brought in to get the robots and pilots fully synched up looking perpetually hung over, this sequel lacks the “Mighty Drunken Broski Ranger” attitude, the cartoonish delirium, and ham-fisted acting of the original that led me to pen a three-star review.
Not to say there isn’t any fun to be had here; just nothing that entertains quite like watching David Chokachi swaggering through a film like a drunk broski in dire need of an intervention as he and his fellow hard-drinkin’ robot pilots beat a seemingly lost and confused giant monster over the head with huge metal hammers while an unhinged, one-eyed military officer holds his commanding officers at gunpoint demanding they allow him to nuke something, anything. None of the stars of the go-for-broke original returns for this mostly by-the-numbers sequel I almost want to say makes the mistake of being too grounded in reality than its wacko predecessor except it’s hardly realistic.
For a film that devotes so much time to over-explaining the concept, I found myself baffled as to why the pilots still had to manually work gear shifts and push all manner of dashboard buttons to operate robots supposedly powered by their minds. Did my mind sink into the Drift during this endless mind-melding chatter and I missed something clarifying this sticking point?
Anyhow, let’s meet our heroic robot pilots:
- “Hammer” – The black guy. That means he dies first. There’s also another African-American who’ll climb into a robot cockpit for the final battle. He’ll also die. The main Jaeger pilot in Pacific Rim: Uprising is black. Willing to bet he lives. Not woke, Asylum. So not woke.
- “Badger” – Speaking of not woke, the men of the #MechToo movement will come to decide they don’t need no stinkin’ Badger.
- “Bugs” – She’s got a lot of attitude. Claims her nickname is because she “stings like a bee.” She gets stung, alright.
The always dependable Paul Logan makes a brief appearance as a soldier because – why not? Paul Logan always plays a soldier. He isn’t given much of anything to do here, and that’s a shame. Logan already looks like the lovechild of G.I. Joe and He-Man. Why not go for the Transformers trifecta by strapping him into a mech and let him get his Rock’em Sock’em Robot on?
Logan’s primary function is to show only a passing regard for the well-being of his wife and daughter, a tacked on subplot that sees the two women fleeing on foot as kaiju of various sizes rampage in the vicinity. Of course there has to be a family separated, desperately trying to survive and reunite amid the calamity because, of course there is – it’s an Asylum movie!
The resolution to this subpar subplot could not have been any more anticlimactic if dad had just sent an Uber to pick them up from the danger zone, which, honestly, isn’t that far off from what actually happens.
One nifty twist is that a colossal crawdad from aquatic hell spews forth hundreds of little buggers into the streets of East Coast L.A. The characters will refer to these lesser chitinous kaiju as “insects,” “spiders,” and “arachnids” but never “bugs,” presumably to not cause audience confusion with the character who already sports that call sign. They mostly call them “spiders” in spite of the fact that they really don’t look like spiders. More like oversized earwigs. I’m not even sure they had eight legs.
Don’t even ask me to explain what the “Resurrection” in Atlantic Rim: Resurrection means, either. Since this is a mockbuster of Pacific Rim: Uprising, they should have gone with Atlantic Rim: Rising Up since the film begins with giant monsters literally rising up from the sea. Would have made more sense.
On the plus side, any movie where humans using state-of-the-art mind-controlled giant battle bots armed with super science weapons to fight otherworldly giant monsters from the ocean depths yet still has a moment where an injured pilot cracks open a control panel inside his futuristic robot and takes out a plastic blue case labeled “First Aid Kit” that is overstuffed with almost nothing but Band-Aids still earns a merit badge in audacity from me.
Not nearly the Rimjob I was hoping for.
The Cured Review – Ellen Page Fights for Her Life
Written and directed by David Freyne
Taking a cue from AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the new Irish horror film The Cured begins where most zombie stories end. Drawing more comparisons, the themes of mistrust and social upheaval are front and center here as well. We’re the real villains, and the infectious disease turning humans into monsters is only there to hold up a mirror to show the worst sides of ourselves. The Cured uses the zombie mythos as Romero intended as a commentary on culture, with a little cannibalism thrown in for good measure.
Against the backdrop of a military takeover attempting to reintroduce the recently cured back into society, two people try to return to some kind of normalcy in a war-torn Ireland that’s been turned upside down by the zombie menace. Recently widowed, Abbey (Page) allows her now virus-free brother-in-law Senan (Keeley) to live with her and her son, even though most survivors are forced to live in an army encampment. Under constant surveillance, Senan’s old friend Conor (Vaughan-Lawlor) radicalizes the mistreated survivors of the virus into open rebellion.
The treatment of the survivors isn’t entirely unfair considering that they still have a connection and are not detected by a small percentage of the infected that haven’t responded to the cure. As both sides size each other up, Abbey and Senan are caught in the middle as they try to restore their humanity before the powder keg around them erupts.
Given its far out premise, the story stays firmly grounded in reality, focusing on the growing resistance and its political implications, drawing parallels to the protest movements such as the “Black Block” that have dominated some recent news cycles. When the virus divided the population, it was easy to know what side you were on; now, the cure has created a new class structure where the lower class is maligned until they cross the line and overthrow the uninfected. Clearly still affected and haunted by the heinous acts they committed when they were infected, the cannibalistic rage they still carry reflects the rage felt by the mistreated masses hellbent on overthrowing the powers-that-be.
Whether for budget reasons or simply a style choice, the eating frenzies that occurred before the cure are never fully shown so any gore and graphic images that could’ve been showcases for effects are left to the imagination. Maybe they weren’t shown because these acts were so unspeakable that they are too horrific to see and too painful to fully be remembered by the survivors. The top-notch sound design ratchets up instead and roars to life to the point where just hearing the carnage is enough to make you turn away.
Page’s performance is the emotional core of the film as she goes from understanding to fear to dealing with the ultimate betrayal. It’s important for a slow-developing story like this to have an actress with some star power, and director David Freyne and his team were fortunate to have a high caliber actress ready to deliver in some of the film’s quieter, more intense moments. Freyne directs these smaller character moments with care and also delivers once things open up to show the inevitable anarchy brimming under the surface.
The Cured may feel too closed off at times to allow its bigger ideas to fully breathe, but it never pretends to encompass a more epic scope that would be more in the vein of something like World War Z. Without ever addressing it directly, Freyne, as an Irishman, seems well aware of the history of the country; and he and cinematographer Piers McGrail inject their film with a pathos that makes Dublin come to life inside the world of the undead.
The Cured is a gritty take on the genre that fits nicely into the new type of storytelling that these stories need to embrace in a post-Romero world.
Bad Apples Review – Rotten Fruit, Indeed
Starring Brea Grant, Graham Skipper, Alycia Lourim
Directed by Brian Coyne
Like a seriously bad rash, some films stick with you regardless of whichever topical ointment you slather in generous fashion over your regions – ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce today’s orbital irritant: Bad Apples.
Directed (rather misdirected) by Brian Coyne, this lamentably sterile piece of celluloid follows a couple of murderous sisters, donning horrific (and not in a good sense) masks, and generally putting the sharp edges to random folk on Halloween night…case closed. Only problem here is this: the film has no pulse, no interesting characters to speak of, and basically nothing to redeem or recapture the time that you’ll have spent watching this complete dud. A husband and wife duo has a spotlight on them as well, but their tempestuous relationship makes rooting for them about as pleasing as sitting through 3 hours of Olympic curling…absolutely brutal. Also, you’re reading the babblings of a guy who loves to put the boots to any film that has been deemed “unwatchable”, but this complete wreck of a production is entirely that – something so remedial and uninspired that to type an endless array of rightful vitriol would be an utter waste of time.
So I’ll go on a bit longer with my public display of vehemence, as the casting seems WAY out of whack, and the production? Whoa…don’t even get me started on this – okay, I’ll go on a bit. With differing levels of sound editing, you’ll get the feeling at times like you could pick up a needle drop inside of a concert hall, and other frames of dialogue are so muddled they’re incomprehensible (not like you’ll feel the need to know what’s going on). Wonky camera angles and following shots are so horrendously captured, you’ll be wishing to watch your Mom and Dad’s old home movies just to gain a sense of stability. I normally pride myself on not begging this particular audience to take what I say to heart, or to shy away from something that could potentially ruin their eyesight, but believe me when I plead with you: do not waste your valuable time on this shipwreck – even if your time isn’t all that valuable: don’t waste it. Find something else to do and take a big ol’ pass on this wannabe slasher.
I don’t mean to pick on the low-hanging fruit, but these Apples should be batted away with a Louisville Slugger.
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