Mom & Dad Review | Fantastic Fest 2017 | Bryan Taylor, Nic Cage, Selma Blair
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Mom & Dad Review (Fantastic Fest): Ugh, My Parents Are So Lame and They Won’t Stop Trying to Kill Me

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Mom & Dad Screenshot starring Nic Cage and Selma Blair | Fantastic Fest 2017

Starring Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Winters, Lance Henriksen

Directed by Bryan Taylor


Bryan Taylor cranks the violence – and Nic Cage – to 11.

Bryan Taylor’s Mom & Dad is devoid of all pretense. It’s not trying to drive home a point, or serve as some subtle metaphor for the current state of violence in America or the youth of today (it’s there, it’s just not hitting you over the head with it). It knows exactly the type of film it wants to be, and never promises to be anything more than that. The end result is a lean slice of frenetic chaos and violence that delivers laughs and squirms and quiet “Oh holy shit, is he really going to kill that baby?” in equal measure.

The premise is simple: a mysterious signal or virus, seemingly transmitted through static, is causing parents to murder their children. This simplicity is reflected not just in its premise but in how quickly it dives into it. We’re given the bare minimum of introduction to the family: Brent Ryan (Nic Cage) hates his life and longs for a time before his wife and kids, while his his wife Kendall (Selma Blair) laments how she and her daughter Carly (Anne Winters) are no longer close. Their son Josh (Zackary Winters) appears to have a great relationship with his dad, despite the seething rage that bubbles underneath. After the parents in the city start to turn on their children, Carly rushes to save her brother before mom and dad get home and unleash Hell.

Mom & Dad takes a simple concept and cranks it up to 11. Vibes of Detention (review) and The Signal (review) echo throughout, while Taylor’s fevered, hand-held style of direction pulls you into the insanity, giving respite during a few moments of lucidity (though these are equally as insane in their own unique ways). Despite most of the film exhibiting very little restraint (especially during the final half), it only strays into frustrating territory once or twice, an unfortunate victim of the close quarters in which these moments occur. Taylor never spends more time than he needs on these scene, especially those in the film’s violent climax, jumping frantically about as Carly and Josh spend the evening fending off their parents as they leverage everything from a meat tenderizer to the stove’s gas line to get to their children.

A funky synth score flows throughout, serving as an omen for what’s to come. When it does come, it’s replaced by a booming dubstep soundtrack that’s in keeping with the film’s frenzied tone. During the introduction of the film’s conceit, in which a mother stabs her son to death with her car keys, Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” accompanies a mob of parents running down their kids on a school football field as local police to do their best to quell the violence.

Mom & Dad makes liberal use of Nic Cage’s… Cage-iness, allowing his performance to match the intensity of the film in a way that’s not just appropriate, but necessary to sustain the premise; Mom & Dad can almost be seen as a parallel to what Cage is known for. An undercurrent of gleeful madness and intensity pervades the film, made all the more over-the-top by Cage chewing the scenery as if he hasn’t eaten in days. Taylor purposely obfuscates Cage’s mental state to suggest that he’s always been an unhinged psycho, which allows him to just be at peak Cage with the bare minimum of downtime. And Cage doing what Cage does best is always a good thing.

Blair, however, employs a different tack, serving as a grounding element that gives the film just the right amount of pathos before everything goes tits up. She shines throughout, exhibiting a maternal instinct that’s diametrically opposite her husband’s seemingly outright disdain for his family; where she’s caring and, to an extent, a little ignorant of her young daughter’s day-to-day activities, Brent just wants to live the life left behind for a wife and kids. When the mysterious virus takes hold of her, Taylor eases up on the reins and lets her go wild. She peppers her comments with a dry and sarcastic wit that serves as an effective counterpart to Cage’s twisted enthusiasm while simultaneously mirroring it. They’re a perfect on-screen duo, yet Blair is the one who exhibits the real intensity between the two, carrying the emotional weight of the film that slowly yet deliberately evolves into her jamming a knife through a door in an attempt to stab her daughter in the face.

It’s hard to find things to dislike about Mom & Dad. You can nitpick some of the camerawork, and I’ve heard people suggest the film takes a little too long to unleash its premise. As I stated earlier, I’m inclined to agree with the former, but the latter? Bunk. Clocking in at a tight 83-minutes long, the promise of the film’s conceit is rolled out in small yet brutal doses (babies being pushed into traffic is par for the course) before settling in for a flurry of parent-on-child violence. It works you up to it, allowing Cage and Blair to have some (mostly) non-violent fun before unleashing the wolves. Mom & Dad is certainly never boring, consistently fun and funny, and it delivers the promise of its premise in spades.

  • Mom & Dad Review | Fantastic Fest 2017
4.5

Summary

Bryan Taylor’s Mom & Dad is 83 minutes of unbridled carnage, anchored by over-the-top performances by Nic Cage and Selma Blair, a thumping dubstep soundtrack, and the best use of Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” in history.

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The Midnight Man Review – Don’t Hate The Game, Hate The Players

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Starring Lin Shaye, Robert Englund, Grayson Gabriel, Emily Haine, Gabrielle Haugh, Summer H. Howell, Louise Linton

Written by Travis Zariwny

Directed by Travis Zariwny


Travis Zariwny’s The Midnight Man is largely a robotic hide-and-seek slog, yet if dissected in butchered chunks, smaller bites range from delicious destruction to utterly incompetent character work. Judging by the bloodthirsty opening sequence alone, you’d think Zariwny is about to blow our morality-siding minds. A sad misconception, I’m afraid. After our hopes skyrocket, mechanical plot devices are pinned to a storyboard with the utmost lack of exploration. The Midnight Man’s game is afoot, but these players would barely compete against an opponent crafted from brick and mortar. Can someone calculate a handicap for them, please?

Gabrielle Haugh stars as Alex Luster, a caring granddaughter to Nana Anna (Lin Shaye). One night, upon the request of her not-always-there relative, Alex rummages through attic trunks for a silver-backed hand mirror. Instead she finds a nondescript wrapped box with what appears to be a game inside. Her crush Miles (Grayson Gabriel) has arrived by now, and after an incident where Anna requires medical attention from house-call doctor Harding (Robert Englund), the two friends begin playing whatever it was that caused Anna to screech in disapproval. You know, the only rational decision.

At the risk of sounding like a smug CinemaSins video, The Midnight Man would surely bomb any horror IQ test. Zariwny’s *first* piece of introduced information after discovering Midnight Man’s altar is quite simple – DANGER. DO NOT PLAY. IT JUST CAUSED A WOMAN TO FAINT. Nevertheless, our braindead sheeple follow careful rules to summon Mr. Midnight Man into their house – because, as horror movies have proven, tempting occult fates is buckets of fun! At least the characters don’t confess romantic feelings and makeout while another friend who joins the game late – “Creepy Pasta” obsessed Kelly (Emily Haine) – could already be in the Midnight Man’s clutches, that’d be – oh, right. That happens.

Senile Anna is another story altogether – Zariwny’s grey-haired red herring in the worst way. Lin Shaye injects so much destabilized madness into this energetic, midnight-perfect role, elevating herself into a stratosphere well above The Midnight Man itself. Whether she’s screaming about Alex’s disgusting blood, or ominously whispering dreadful remarks through a housewide intercom, or beating Robert Englund to a pulp with wide-eyed psychosis – well, if you’ve seen Dead End, you *know* the kind of batshitery Shaye is capable of. Her genre vet status on display like a damn clinic here.

Shaye – and even Englund – aside, scripting is too procedural to salvage any other performances. Kelly doesn’t even deserve mention given her “bring on death!” attitude and enthusiastic late entry INTO AN URBAN LEGEND’S DEATHTRAP – a poorly conceived “twist” with less structure. This leaves Grayson Gabriel and Haugh herself, two thinly-scripted cutouts who couldn’t find a more repetitive genre path to follow. There’s little mystery to the gonigs on, and neither actor manages to wrangle tension (even when staring our Midnight friend in the face…thing).

Scares are hard to come by because Zariwny opts for a more “charismatic” villain who talks like Scarecrow and appears as a dyed-black, cloaked Jack Skellington. He can form out of clouds and is a stickler for rules (candles lit at all times, 10 seconds to re-ignite, if you fail he exploits your deepest fear). Credit is noted given this villain’s backstory and strict instructions – which does make for a rather killer game of tag – but the need to converse and expose Midnight from shadows subtracts necessary mysticism. He’s a cocky demon with masks for each emotion (think woodland death imp emojis), but never the spine-tingling beast we find ourselves hiding from.

This is all a bummer because gore goes bonkers in the very first scene – with underage victims no less. One young player gets decapitated, another explodes into a red splattery mess (against fresh snowfall), but then a vacuous lull in process takes hold. It’s not until Alex’s fear of blood and Miles’ fear of pain that we get more eye-bulging squeamishness, then again when Kelly’s bunnyman appears. A no-bullshit, bunny-headed creature wearing a suit, which plays directly into Kelly’s deepest fear. When Zariwny gets sick and surreal, he scores – but it’s a disappointing “when.”

I take no pleasure in confirming that any small victory The Midnight Man claims is negated by kids who should’ve been offed for even thinking about a quick playthrough of Anna’s old-school entertainment. Invite him in, pour your salt circles and try to survive until 3:33AM – sounds easy, right? If the demon plays fair, you bet! But why would ANYONE trust a demon’s word? Makes sense given Alex and Miles’ ignorance of more red flags than a Minesweeper game, and a thrilling chase these bad decisions do not make.

  • The Midnight Man
2.5

Summary

The Midnight Man begins by striking a meteoric horror high, only to plummet back down towards repetitive genre bumbling once the game’s true – and less enticing – plot begins.

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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review

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Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo

Directed by Colin Bemis


Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.

The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.

As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.

Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.

In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.

On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.

In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.

Until then, check out the film’s trailer HERE, and follow the movie on Facebook.

  • Strawberry Flavored Plastic
3.5

Summary

Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.

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Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)

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We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.

In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!

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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